Re-imagining the Landscape: Lawren Harris

I studied Canadian poetry at university (Margaret Atwood, take a bow!) and I have been reminded today of one of my assignments: Black Spruce by Don McKay: a re-exploration of the landscape.  Don McKay, according to my thesis, gave ‘voice’ to the landscape and this idea finally made sense when I was looking at the work of Lawren Harris.

Lawren Harris was unknown to me until I went to a talk last month at the Barber Institute entitled, ‘Images of the Wilderness: Artists in search of the sublime from Turner to Friedrich’.  Professor Ann Anderson introduced The Group of Seven; a group of Canadian artists who explored the beauty of the Canadian landscape. It was Harris’s work, in particular,  that caught my eye.  This is Isolation Peak:

imagesThe smooth brushstrokes give us the essence of the scene as opposed to an accurate representation.  Harris was looking, not to give us the mountains and seas, but to show the spiritual release that comes from time away from the hustle of the city, and that only comes with the serenity of nature.  Harris wanted to show  “its implicit loneliness and replenishments, its resignations and release, its call and answer – its cleansing rhythms.” and in the works that are on display in LA at the moment, he succeeded in his quest.

This painting is the one that brought my assignment back to me:

17cdadde-fea7-4038-94b6-49e5283b9f7bEntitled ‘Clouds, Lake Superior’, it brought to mind some lines from McKay’s poem, The Black Spruce:

from Black Spruce
Along the shoreline, shelves, soft
curves as the rock
erotically enters water. Shoulder
knuckle skull hip vertebreast combined and
recombined: three
hundred million years before the animals
appeared in the Triassic
they were dreamt of in Precambrian
volcanoes. Feel the muscle
slide over bone as you crouch
beside a Harebell, think of rootlets
reaching into rock, licking its slow
fury into food,
hoisting this small blue flag

There is a gorgeous exhibition on in LA at the moment, curated by Steve Martin, who is a collector himself – think we would get on famously as he is a big lover of Edward Hopper and Charles Sheeler! –

The Toronto Star gives this a glowing review

The early and later works of Harris are quite different from this middle period of his life.  The lecture I attended discussed the sublime in painting and with Burke’s definition that the sublime is ‘that which is wonderous, mysterious, showing darkness, both psychological and in subject, tumultuous scenes on a grand scale’, it is clear that Harris succeeded in creating the sublime within his work.


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