LOT 006

1919 - 2020

Seymour #1
acrylic on canvas
signed and on verso titled and dated 2011 on the gallery label
60 x 67 in 152.4 x 170.2 cm

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Equinox Gallery, Vancouver
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver

Anthony Emery, “Artist in Perspective: Gordon Smith Interview,” Canadian Art, July 1966, page 36
Robert Enright, “Entanglements: Gordon Smith and the Art of Picture-Making,” Border Crossings, September 2012, para. 3, https://bordercrossingsmag.com/article/entanglements, accessed February 1, 2021

During the 1940s and 1950s, Gordon Smith was an active part of a group of painters, architects, poets, musicians, writers and designers on the west coast of British Columbia that supported the modern movement in the arts. His trip to San Francisco in 1951 to attend the California School of Fine Arts, where Abstract Expressionism held sway, was a pivotal moment for him. He worked abstractly, inspired by teachers such as Elmer Bischoff, and found it a liberating experience. Back in Vancouver, his evolution continued. However, the landscape was something he never could leave behind; as he stated, “Even when I’ve tried to get away from it, to keep my work non-figurative, the landscape usually crept in.”

From 2000 to 2019, Smith executed a magnificent group of snow paintings based on forests in winter. These were forests on Seymour Mountain, in North Vancouver; on Hollyburn and Cypress Mountains, in West Vancouver; and in other North Shore locations that included his own backyard, above Klootchman Park. Smith’s snow paintings are an outstanding example of how Smith fluidly slides between abstraction and representation. Some of these paintings from around 2008 to 2009 depict close-ups of snow-laden boughs and are reminiscent of Lawren Harris’s extraordinary snow paintings from 1916 to 1918. Smith knew Harris well after Harris moved to Vancouver and would have been well acquainted with his work. Other snow paintings were quite abstract, while works like this are more realistic, yet still working with abstract properties. The variety of his treatments was inventive and extraordinary. As Robert Enright commented:

Smith is easily the finest painter of the range and subtleties of snow that this snow-bound country has ever produced…All landscape painters share a common problem; how to find the combination of gestures, marks, colours, textures and forms that convincingly render the landscape they are looking at and hope to approximate. In this regard, Smith’s snow paintings are the white gold standard.

What dominates in this masterful work, and others from about 2010 to 2012, is the exquisite scattering of marks and branch tracery over the snowy ground. Typical of these works, Seymour #1, from 2011, is monochromatic; Smith deployed a carefully curated palette of white, black and brown, which lends a formality to the work. He used just a few daubs of carefully scattered orange and gold to generate sparks in the coolness. His white is not just a simple field, but a modulated surface with soft smudges that intimate what lies beneath the snow on the forest floor, pushing up and creating soft textures. There is no sky, only snowy openings through the trees that reflect light from an overcast winter sky, and the forest floor dominates. The trees are the vertical signposts of structure, dark anchors in the landscape, with only their lower branchless trunks showing.

In the fields of space in the inner forest, Smith created his marks on the landscape, asserting his subjective interpretation of what he saw and the materiality of the paint itself in his gestures. Seymour #1 is a virtuoso and elegant expression of Smith’s sophisticated approach in his snow paintings, illuminating both the artist’s masterful brushwork, and his modernity in simultaneously capturing the abstract and representational properties of his subject.

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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