Thursday, 3 April 2014

THE LEGACY OF AN EDGY AND DYNAMIC MOVEMENT: FROM NORTHERN ITALY TO THE NORTH WEST COAST

THE LEGACY OF AN EDGY AND DYNAMIC MOVEMENT: FROM NORTHERN ITALY TO THE NORTHWEST COAST

I like using the places I am visiting to create different blog topics, and having just returned from Northern Italy I decided to consider that country’s art history in conjunction with themes in Canadian art. Last June when visiting Norway this was simple because of the documented Scandinavian influence on the Group of Seven. However, when it came to thinking about Canadian artists in Italy or how Italian and Canadian art might share influences I at first came up short of ideas.

By the time that ‘Canadian Art’ had developed beyond something colonial and into its own being in the mid-to-late 19th century, the centre of western artistic production had long since shifted from Italy to France. Thus, Canadian artists kept their attentions on the a la mode French art scene during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when visiting Europe. Some British artists during this time visited Northern Italy, such as John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, but it was difficult to find works by Canadian artists throughout much of the past century and a half who had also done so.

James Morrice was one exception, as he spent a good amount of time painting in Venice. Some of his most ethereal and enigmatic works are Venetian scenes. Morrice had the luxury of more frequent travel around Europe as he was permanently living in France. There are also two lovely early impressionist paintings by A.Y. Jackson in Assisi that has been illustrated in publications. Yet that is all I found of significance.

James W. Morrice Venetian Scenes

A.Y. Jackson Assisi Scenes

Then it hit me as I sifted through a forthcoming catalogue of The Grosvenor School and Avant-Garde Printmaking that the legacy from which one of Canada’s most celebrated printmakers, Sybil Andrews, stemmed from where I was visiting. In 1909 the Italian Futurism movement was born in Northern Italy. Futurist artists and literary figures were sympathetic towards fascism and rejected looking to the past fervently. Forward thinking, these artists stylistically depicted themes in a geometrically abstract manner (akin to cubism) that was to suggest action and movement. They concentrated on themes of war, urbanism, speed, sport, industry, and technology.

Manifesto Futurismo in Le Figaro

Giacoma Balla Expansion Dinamican Velocidale (Futurist)

Giacoma Balla Velocity of Cars and Light, 1913 (Futurist)

Umberto Boccioni Forces of the Street 1911 (Futurist)

Gino Severini Lancers (Futurist)

Gino Severini Memories of Travel 1911 (Futurist)

Gino Severini Le Boulevard 1910-1911 (Futurist)

Giacomo Balla was one of the leading artists of the movement. Italian Futurism was quite stylistically distinct, and extremely influential on British artists before the onset of and during the First World War. Wyndham Lewis paved the way for the British equivalent of Italian Futurism, called Vorticism. Vorticists adhered to the same principles and stylistic traits as the Italian Futurists. Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti assisted CRW Nevinson in creating a Vorticist manifesto similar to that created for the Futurists a few years earlier.

CRW Nevinson Transatlantic (Vorticist)

Wyndham Lewis A Battery Shelled 1919 and Composition 1913 (Vorticist)

CRW Nevinson Returning From the Trenches 1914 and 1915 (Vorticist)

However by the end of the war artists were no longer as enthusiastic about their war-praising manifesto nor representing warfare in such a favourable manner, and the solidity of the original vorticist movement dwindled. Yet the avant-garde stylistic traits and non-wartime themes associated with modernity (such as sport, industry, and transport) remained popular and carried on in British art. Vorticist artists utilized printmaking to disseminate their wartime art, as seen in the work of CRW Nevinson, Edward Wadsworth and Paul Nash. Approximately a decade later the newly formed Grosvenor School of Printmaking drew heavily from Vorticism and Futurism for much of their stylistic inspiration. They did so without the interest in warfare, but rather focused on aspects of modernity such as sport, industry and transport as mentioned above. They also employed the former movements' use of simplified linear and curvilinear geometric abstraction. Teacher Claude Flight pioneered the Grosvenor School, and other excelling artists included Cyril Power, Claude Flight, Lill Tschudi, and William Greengrass.

Claude Flight Speed 1922 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Claude Flight Tube Station c. 1932 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Cyril Power The Escalator 1929 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Cyril Power The Eight c. 1930 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Sybil Andrews Speedway 1934 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Lill Tschudi Fixing the Wires 1932 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Sybil Andrews Bringing in the Boats 1934 linocut (Grosvenor School)

Sybil Andrews is one of the most highly regarded Grosvenor School artists. She immigrated to British Columbia in 1947, and spent the 2nd half of her proficient career working from her oceanfront cottage in Campbell River, British Columbia. She continued to produce work in the Grosvenor School tradition, and often incorporated the imagery associated with her adoptive west coast home. Themes of movement remained steadfast in Sybil’s work, though less abstraction and scenes of the agricultural industry became more prominent. Sybil mentored many art students on Vancouver Island, passing on her expertise of linocut printing. Thus the legacy of the Grosvenor School and its predecessors, the Vorticists and Italian Futurists, has lived on even in British Columbia until present day. This is seen in the work of Andrews former students Richard Calver and Gary Ratushniak.

Sybil Andrews Indian Dance 1951 and Dance of the Birds 1975 linocuts (Canadian years)

Richard Calver Thistles 1991 and The Wizard Tree 1998 linocuts (Campbell River artist)

Gary Ratushniak Protest March 2012 and Swimmers 2012 (Campbell River born linocut artist/ active in UK)

BY: JILL TURNER

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