If there were ever two voices determined to amplify the voices of artists in the Durham Region it is the voices of Margaret Rodgers and Steven Frank. Both are artists in their own right and both have been deeply involved in this area’s art scene for decades; Rodgers as a member of the IRIS Group and Frank as founder of Oshawa Space Invaders. Both, too, have exhibits of local artists on now at galleries in downtown Oshawa; Rodgers curated ’Legacies’ at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery and Frank’s ’Durham Art Fest 25: REFRAMED’ is at Gallery 67 (main floor of the Holiday Inn downtown Oshawa.)
Rodgers' 'Legacies' features works by early abstract art pioneers Alexandra Luke and Isabel McLaughlin, alongside reinterpretations of those works by two present day artists, Teri Donovan and Gwen MacGregor.
Frank’s Durham Art Fest 25 - Reframed, opening this weekend, marks the anniversary of an independent art fest he curated in the same downtown two and a half decades ago. His original Arts Fest featured works by Bill Lishman, Edward Falkenberg, Sean McQuay, Jay McCarten, Maralynn Cherry and others. Many of them are showing again at Reframed
Five years ago the Durham Art Fest 20th anniversary was marked with another downtown invasion of art pop-ups and music performances, called Oshawa Space Invaders. Space Invaders inspired this year’s RMG 50th anniversary event, ‘Durham Reach’ featuring over 70 regional artists (including many of whom took part in the O.S.I. pop-ups and Art Fest.)
This is the legacy of DAF 1992.
40 years earlier in 1952 Alexandra Luke took part in Canada’s first Abstract art exhibit at Hart House in Toronto. Many of the artists exhibiting would form Painters 11. They met regularly at Luke’s cottage on Thickson’s Point in Whitby. Oshawa resident Ronald Malcom Lambert was also at those gatherings and took part in the Hart House exhibit. It was his last showing until this year when new works went on display at the Kent Farndale Gallery in Port Perry. Lambert had studied with colour theorist Hans Hofmann down in Rhode Island at the urging of Luke. At just 20 years old he had created abstract works which are in the Permanent Collection of the AGO and the RMG as well as in private hands. But he retired from painting to find paid work and raise a family in Oshawa. This is the legacy of being a professional artist in the Motor City.
Not much has changed for the professional artist of any genre in this city in the interim 60 plus years.
There is one work, In Margaret Rodgers’ curated ‘Legacies’ which speaks volumes about how art is looked at in this city. Push Pull 1 by Donovan is a riff on Hofmanns’ colour theories about the push and pull of colour fields and how colours create their own spaces on a canvas.
In Donovan’s work Luke is the colour, she is the one being pushed and pulled. A suited man, (her husband, C.E. McLaughlin?), standing behind her, grips her arm. Children are on one side, paintings are on the others. Those same paintings by Luke are on display on the wall beside Donovan’s piece. Luke looks resolute in pushing onward out of the image towards us but the man is pulling her back? He is a symbol of the paternalistic mindset of stewardship and authority of the time but is still very much part of these times too. Yet Art marches on.
Perhaps the legacy of Luke and Isabel McLaughlin is that steely determinism to push on past the past, to the future, to be heard, to create, to build, to not be pulled back.
Perhaps the legacy of Luke and Isabel McLaughlin is seen in Frank’s and Rodgers' determination to champion artists, over and over and over again. Because the work is that good. It has been for decades.