1917 OSA Spring Exhibition and I Sent Nothing.

The 45th Spring Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists is all set to open this upcoming Friday, March 9th.

I sent nothing this year. I’ll tell you the reasons why.

I had exhibited in OSA exhibitions previous years: 1913, 1914, 1915, and 1916. I had also exhibited at the Toronto C.N.E Exhibition, and most recently in Montreal. At first I was very enthusiastic to participate. To become member of the OSA was an honour. It was a validation of sort, but the honour started to wear off when I attended the socials. I felt like an uneducated fraud.

Despite the encouragement , if not outright pressure from Jim and Dr. MaCallum, I refused to budge. I had enough of the critics, especially the fierce attack by Carl Ahrens. Despite being quite satisfied by my works, I don’t feel up to the barrage, There are two things worse than having your name spelled wrong in the newspaper (“Thompson”) it’s being called a hermaphrodite or being served with a white feather.

Talk of conscription is louder than ever. Borden is in England and it’s a surety that when he returns, he’ll make the call up mandatory. Despite the white feather treatment, no one is volunteering anymore. I did have some enthusiasm at the beginning of the war, but after reading Jackon’s letter and seeing the endless reels at the Regent. I’ve determined it’s all a rotten waste.

With all that going about, sending something to the Exhibition is like fiddling while Rome is burning. I am going on to being four months in Tornto, after seven months away – my longest absence ever.

I need to leave soon and I might never return

December 2, 1916

I woke up early this morning dreaming about Mowat Lodge. I am looking forward to returning North in the spring. It was still too early to get out of bed so I lay there and stared at the beaverboard ceiling. It’s rather close as my bunk is up on the upper level. I can almost reach up and touch the ceiling. If I had a paintbrush in my hand I certainly could.

Later in the morning I did little but smoke my pipe and read the paper. I won’t spend the money to get the paper, so I read the day-old from the foyer at the Studio. I get my mail there too because the postman won’t deliver to the Shack. Wise choice for him.

Florence visited again today. I never know when she is in the city. She takes the train in from Whitby and stays with friends in the City.

Winter in the Shack

I worked alone in the shack behind the Studio Building during the winter of 1916-17. That winter I applied myself very diligently to produce eight of my most important canvases. These are known today as Petawawa Gorges, The Pointers, The Drive, Birch Grove, Autumn, The West Wind, and my most known piece, The Jack Pine.

The winter was a great time of struggle and discovery for me. I was productive to say the least, but I had not resolved myself to a consistent approach to my works. I painted what I felt and saw; I expressed bold form and my techniques of bright and vibrant colours seemed to be a heresy beyond that of my friends Jackson and Harris.

The War had broken us up. Lismer moved to Halifax with his family to be the head of an art college. Lawren Harris was stationed at Camp Borden, and only Jim MacDonald and Fred Varley remained in the City. Poor Jim was too preoccupied with his family’s poor health and tight finances to be much of an inspiration. And Varley, well we didn’t go out of our way to see each other, since the argument we had earlier this year.

I tried to remain oblivious to the world falling apart around me. The canvases I worked on consumed all of my energies both negative and positive. Unlike my sketching outdoors, an almost automatic impulse to me, painting canvas within a studio, I needed to draw upon within me a discipline of something that came naturally to me when I was outdoors, but not within a studio.

I was never sure what I painted was good. Despite the endearing comments of others, I always felt that they rang hollow.

Alex

Alexander Young Jackson or Alex, as I called him. I first met him in November of 1913. He had recently arrived from Montreal and was at Lawren Harris’s studio at Bloor and Yonge. I knew of him, I had seen his work, Edge of the Maple Wood at the OSA Spring Exhibition.

When I first met Alex, I was nervous and felt like a country school boy, because he had returned from the European Painting schools when all I had done were sketches and still-shoots (photos) up North. At first, he didn’t think too much of my work He thought it was a bit dull and muddy. Colours of Dutch landscape painting, but without the Dutch landscape.But he was impressed that I had only taken up painting seriously only the year before. He said my technique was good and he would only be too happy to show me some of the new colour theories coming out of Europe.

I owe much to Alex as his persistence was greater than my stubbornness. If it wasn’t for him I would have been drifting between commercial art firms and living out my days in rooming houses. Dr. MacCallum had repeatedly offered me a year’s stipend to focus on my art. I repeatedly refused, but with Alex’s constant jibbing, I accepted and soon Alex and I were sharing space in the Studio on Severn Street. We were both tight on money, save for the money from Dr. MacCallum, but we were doing exactly what we wanted and in a place where we’d rather be.