A Northern River

Here is a story of how I first came into contact with the work of the Group of Seven and specifically Tom Thomson. At around age 23 I had a part time job framing in a local gallery in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, the owners were keen on Canadian Art. I had been painting for about 5 years by this time and had been in Canada less than 4 years. On their bookshelf was a large thick book on Tom Thomson, which I became enthralled with, I used to look at it on my breaks, in between making frames. I knew very little about the Group of Seven at this time.

Sunrise-sketch-algonquin-park-5x7-oil-2009-vsmallThe above small sketch is from my trip to Algonquin in 2003, 5×7 oil on board, Sunrise.

If we go back a few more years to the late 1980’s when I first came to Canada with the Royal Navy, I was so keen on seeing the county’s wilderness that I was willing to take a taxi from Halifax dockyard to the Waverly Game Sanctuary to see and experience some wildlife, quite a long way! I never did, but little did I know that in a couple of years I would be living here. I have always had this connection to wild things, growing up in Scotland and being exposed to such an adventurous childhood had caused something to seep into my soul.

TEA-LAKE-DAM-OIL-6X8-2004-Algonquin-Park-vsmallAbove, my ‘old’ rendition of Tea Lake dam, Algonquin. oil sketch 6×8

Not long after I began work at the gallery, my wife and I managed to pull together some money to take a train trip from Truro, Nova Scotia to Vancouver. It was two weeks of looking out the steamy windows of a train as it rumbled through Northern Ontario, the Prairies, the Rocky Mountains and finally into Vancouver, then all the way back again! Luckily, on a one night stop in Toronto, we took a frozen, March evening walk from the Royal York Hotel to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where lo and behold there was an exhibition on the work of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson.

thomson-northern-riverAbove, Thomson’s magnificent Northern River,

Seeing this show opened my eyes to what was possible with art and I don’t mind admitting that Tom Thomson’s, ‘Northern River’ had me in tears, he had somehow captured what I had felt about wild Nature! Remember, I was no Canadian, I had never seen an original Group of Seven painting with the exception of small images in books! When you are an aspiring artist and you see work like this, you realize how far you have to go, but it planted a seed at that time, one that I will likely continue to nurture for as long as I can paint.

gassed2Not long after this, I saw Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, Monets ‘Water Lillys’, Renior’s ‘A Bather’ and the paintings of Seurat, Turner, Constable, the war art of John Singer Sergeant with his incredible work, ‘Gassed’, all in London. There was even a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But, it was Thomson’s work that spoke to me the most, and likely because of a childhood spent immersed in Nature, a childhood, which at that time, I seemed to be leaving further and further behind.

The photo at the top of this page is myself visiting Tom Thomsons original gravesite in Algonquin Park.