Edward Day Gallery presents
Arthur Steven: Landscape
May 1st – 31st, 2014
Opening Saturday May 3rd, 2-4 PM
You are a graduate of the Ontario College of Art [1946-50]. Was that a good experience for you?
Oh yes, it was a very good place to study art. In that first year I was part of a huge group of returning veterans, from all services and all ranks. We were a few years older than the average students, a little more relaxed and lively, shall we say. Some of the teachers had a bit of a time adjusting to us and really piled on the work.
It was a very demanding program. I remember one time a delegation of students paraded in to see the Principal. We told him that we had just been given 52 hours of homework – that was too much. But eventually we all settled in and the serious students eventually graduated and got jobs.
I had always been interested in drawing, including quite a bit of sketching when I was in the R.C.A.F. during the war, in England, then into Holland and Germany. But at OCA we really studied hard and I gained the skills and the confidence.
Who were you influenced by when you started painting?
The most important people for me were the painters Adrian Dingle and Hilton (Mac) Hassell. They were a few years older and had already established themselves, doing both commercial illustration and having regular exhibitions of their paintings. They also travelled a lot, especially in those years to the Maritimes, New England, and later to Ireland. I started travelling as well, inspired by their example. We all lived in the Port Credit area and became very good friends.
On a very practical level, the very fine easel that I used in my studio for many years was a gift from Mac. He was an excellent carpenter and had made it from an apple tree that came down in a storm in his yard.
You also got to meet many artists through your work as Art Director at the Ryerson Press, in Toronto [1949-1970] and through the Arts and Letters Club [1956 - present].
I was the first full-time Art Director at a Canadian book publisher so I was able to hire many illustrators and other fine artists. I met all the members of the Group of Seven, and got to know A.J. Casson quite well -- also some of the best Canadian illustrators and designers like Archie (Franklin) Arbuckle and Charles Matthews -- also true friends and very fine artists Tom McNeely, Ray Cattell, in Quebec, Claude Simard.
Every landscape painter in Canada at one time or another gets compared to the Group of Seven. How do you feel about that?
Well, a great deal of their work was done in northern Ontario and it has a certain look and feel. That was fine for them but my generation certainly didn’t want to repeat that. If I had painted up north my work might have looked similar. A landscape painter doesn’t think much about whether their work looks like someone else’s. You just concentrate on looking closely at what you are seeing and what you are feeling -- capturing the mood of the place.
In the early years I really preferred the landscape of southern Ontario, and preferred my landscapes to have some signs of human activity -- to give the feeling that there are people around. But I wanted to show some of the specifics of the place too, that what you’re looking at is the Maritimes, and not Britain or southern Ontario.
You try to interpret in your own way. I like to think that when people look at my work, they might say “Oh, that’s an Arthur Steven.”
So, how do you approach a landscape?
You look up. That’s the first thing to do. You study the sky, because everything else in the painting will be affected by the sky, the clouds, and the light. The way things look and the entire feeling comes from what’s happening in the sky. That’s certainly the case with my Irish paintings! The atmosphere is unmistakable.
The more you work the more relaxed you get. As you gain experience you realize that many of the things you’re looking at the scene in front of you don’t really need to be in the painting. You eliminate all kinds of unnecessary details -- you focus.
For some of my paintings I force many of the elements, such as the perspective, or I accentuate shapes. That orange road in the middle of the painting in reality only had a touch of red in it.
*Conversation with Peter Steven, April, 2014