A Recollection of Frank Johnston

Frank Johnston is a burly sort of fellow. Athletic and a practical joker too.  I met Frank at Cruikshank’s art classes and not long after he started to work with us at Grip under Albert Robson in 1910.

At Grip, we were all fascinated by the Art Nouveau movement and Frank was no exception.  He left Toronto for Philadelphia  to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, but came back to Toronto in 1915. We saw each other once again at the Arts and Letters Club. Frank told me about his experience with the Ash Can school of painters and how he was impressed with the Armory Show back in 1913.

Frank and I would go on painting trips on the outskirts of the the city. We learned from each other. My first outdoor oil sketch was painted while I was with Frank.

Frank had a studio place above the Arts and Letters Club. He didn’t want the space at the Studio Building, but he was a frequent enough visitor. When I moved into the Shack, he’d come by for a few drinks and spend time looking at my efforts and giving me advice. He had gotten some first-rate training in Philadelphia and he was keen to share new ideas with me. Arthur Lismer, amused at the frequency of his visited, pencilled a serie of cartoons, “Frank Johnson in T.T.’s Shack”. Frank was good friends with Arthur Heming, another artist in the Studio Building, but Arthur and I never saw eye-to-eye so you’d never see the three of us together.

It was Frank that I learned the ideas of Seurat and Pointillism. Alex had made me aware of Seurat, but Frank had an intriguing way of explaining the concepts.  I was working on Northern River when Frank had just returned.  We talked about mysticism, symbolism and poetry amongst our smoking and whisky. We must have done something right because the National Gallery bought Northern River for $500.00


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