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Uninvited at the McMichael

By Wayne Doyle

As you weave your way through the McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s latest exhibit, Uninvited, you’re struck by two things – first, the vast quantity of work on display and, second, the incredible skill with which it was made.

Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Movement features a couple of hundred works – paintings, sculptures, textiles, baskets and photographs – from approximately three dozen artists active in the first half of the 20th century.

The show is spread out over the entire venue and even at a quick pace, you’ll want a few hours to take in this show and fully appreciate it for what it is – an excellent showcase of work done by immensely talented artists. Most of them, unfortunately, never reached the level of stardom afforded some of their male counterparts.

That being said, even a casual fan of Canadian art will recognize more than a few of the artists in the show. Painters include Paraskeva Clarke, Prudence Heward, Yvonne McKague Housser, Pegi Nicol MacLeod and, of course, Emily Carr. Elizabeth Wynn Wood, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle contribute some fantastic sculptures and Margaret Watkins gets a starring role in photography.

Interestingly, while this period’s male artists were busy celebrating and chronicling the Canadian landscape, this show seems to suggest this group was just as, if not more, interested in depicting the human condition.

Pegi Nicol MacLeod’s self portrait is an intense study – her clear eyes searching for a truth only she knows. Prudence Heward’s Sister’s in Rural Quebec and The Immigrants are as engaging and intense as any picture you’ll see. Yulia Biriukova’s The Riverman, Frenchy Renaud takes on mythological proportions – a Canadian Paul Bunyon if you will.

That’s not to say this group ignored the landscape – far from it.

Anne Savage, Mary Wrinch, McKague Housser and Carr all find inspiration in the landscape, with Carr being given the star treatment she rightfully deserves.

The last gallery of the show features a dozen or so large paintings by Carr that are worth the price of admission on their own.

And while the bigger names are responsible for most of the highlights of the show,there are works by lesser known talents that are amazing, including The Coast Salish baskets, made by Sewinchelwet (Sophie Frank). The designs – depicting mountain and landscape motifs as well geometric patterns – are mesmerizing.

Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Movement continues at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection until January 16, 2022.

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Wayne Doyle is the manager of marketing and communications for the York Region Arts Council. A former journalist, Wayne is always looking for great stories to share with readers of experienceyorkregion.com. If you’ve got a York Region story to tell, contact Wayne: wayne@yorkregionartscouncil.com

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