|Shannon Lee, I Groped the Magnificent Seven|
Installation for I Killed the Group of Seven is almost complete and today is officially the first day of the show. We are questioning the thematic importance of the show by posing a series of questions to our artists and other Ottawa-area art professionals. This has stimulated an interesting dialogue on the relevance of the Group of Seven’s work, their legacy, and our contemporary re-conceptualization of it through the theme of “murder.”
Mathieu Laca, Shannon Lee, Patrick Greene, and Tony Martins (editor of Guerilla Magazine) responded to the following questions:
1. What significance do you feel the Group of Seven has had on Canadian culture?
Laca: Well, I believe the Group of Seven has succeeded in creating a trademark image of Canada through painting. No wonder their paintings are so nice on post stamps. It's surprising to me though how their work is still so popular and so deeply perceived as being true Canadian art.
Lee: It's just a sense but I think the Group of Seven stifled Canadian culture because they were the only show in town and appeared to have the backing of patrons and the Canadian government to the exclusion of others. There seems to have been some jealousy and resentment created and I wonder how useful this was.
Martins: Huge significance, obviously, although the hugeness is perhaps not positive in every regard. Promotion of the Group of Seven was so effective that the place that the art and artists came to occupy in Canadian culture was in ways to cumbersome and limiting ... it was as if Canada had nothing else to offer except landscape oil paintings.
2. Do you feel that the Group of Seven’s influence is as relevant today as it was one hundred years ago?
Laca: No. I'm not even convinced it was relevant in its own time. It's relevant if you read Henry David Thoreau's Walden maybe. But the romantic dream of the infinite goodness of Mother Nature is not something I consider to be relevant at any time. Nature is neither good or bad, it just is.
Lee: The thing I find relevant about the Group of Seven today is the bit of Canadian history they encapsulate. We don't hear much about Canadian painters before the
Group formed in 1920. And when they folded in 1935 upon the death of J.E.H.
MacDonald, another group was formed, the Canadian Group of Painters in 1933.
Subsequently, several artists in Montreal formed the Eastern Group of Painters who espoused, "art for art's sake" in opposition to the landscape style the Group of
Seven had been intent on popularizing.
And then there was the Contemporary Arts Society formed by John Lyman that lasted from 1938 to 1948. The Group got things going, it seems. Other artists wanted a piece of the pie so they set about self-promoting. In this way, the Group has achieved a legacy that surmounts their actual art.
Greene: Yes I do believe the group of seven still has a variable impact on Canadians. After all, we are known worldwide for not only our natural resources, but also for our beautiful landscapes, which are unfortunately being demolished by the never-ending demand for natural resources.
Martins: Of course not, because the art world moves on ... but the influence will always be a foundation in our art history and in the fabric of our national identity.
3. As an artist, how has the Group of Seven influenced your work?
Laca: In no way was I influenced by them. Understand, I come from Montréal. The
Group of Seven is nothing in Québec aside from post stamps and a quick mention in Art History class. When we talk about modern Canadian art, the trailblazers are more likely Borduas and Riopelle along with the signatories of the Refus Global manifesto. They had a profound impact on art by making it in tune with international avant-garde but they also had an impact on society itself by refusing the shallow moral constraints of their time. For me, the day one of Canadian art really begins with the automatists.
Lee: I created to the theme, as stated by the gallery owner, and since I am a literalist, I conceptualized murder. In one piece, I made voodoo dolls and pierced them with paintbrushes. There are nine hanging in a mobile, two extras to include
Tom Thomson and Emily Carr, who for all intents and purposes, was left out of the group because she was a woman.
In another, I thought, why stop at the Group. Let's get Renoir, too. I just happened to have a battered Renoir print so it became my canvas, so to speak, and I sawed into it. Transmission fluid became blood.
Greene: As an artist, I do believe the Group of Seven has had a profound effectiveness in the art I produce, may it be landscapes of beauty or a picture of what seems to be grossly out of touch to the average viewer. [My work is] true to life and not a little fairytale told to a child with sugar coated candy. Maybe I sound to most as a cynic, but I feel as an Artist that I should do my part and not only tell my story, but to educate others through the emotionally impacted art I'm producing no matter what it may be!
Martins: I'm not a visual artist, however I do find myself making lots of references to rugged nature in my songwriting ... who knows if the Group of Seven played a part in that.
4. What are your thoughts regarding the show title, I Killed the Group of Seven?
Laca: For me, it basically means to destroy what the Group of Seven represents.
For the show, I did this in a very literal way by painting their portraits and butchering many of their dandy-looking Victorian faces. I also trampled underfoot their vision of Canada by painting our nation's founding moment: a caustic scene where the English are fucking the French. This may come as an unpleasant surprise but yes, this land, unlike what the Group of Seven shows us, is inhabited. Yes, our concerns have value. As much as the landscape that surrounds our cities. We exist.
Lee: The title of this show, I Killed the Group of Seven, is open to interpretation.
At first, I took it that artists might try to out-do the Group. As when a comedian says, "I killed them, I really killed them," meaning that the audience enthusiastically approved. And then, I thought that it was incumbent for us to try to wipe out the residue of blandness left behind by the Group some 80-years since they started to hold sway over our artistic cultural identity. Now, I think it's a combination of both.
Greene: Well I do know some people may take it as distasteful, what they do not understand is that the title is a metaphor. We do mean to shock but not to insult, what we are doing is to educate people. If [it’s not] us, someone else [would do something like this], so [viewers should] enjoy the beauty of the brush strokes, the curves of the sculptured work that we as Artists have caressed within the soul of the individual. That surge of energy [cannot] be described as anything but pure ecstasy.
Martins: I don't think the Group of Seven needs to be or can be killed. Perhaps some artists resent their lingering presence or limiting influence, but get over yourselves, people, and start making new art.