The Canadian Art Database
 

   

Ted Fraser

Kenneth Lochhead: Garden of Light
The MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan,
January 29-May 23, 2005

from the catalogue
[ 30,938 words ]


Foreword

2005 marks the Centennial of the Province of Saskatchewan. Kenneth Lochhead: Garden of Light is a fitting way for the MacKenzie Art Gallery to celebrate the outstanding visual arts achievements of Saskatchewan's first 100 years. This major retrospective, curated by Ted Fraser, reflects the growth of an artist who is an integral part of Regina's heritage and our regional and national art history.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the MacKenzie Art Gallery had the good fortune to be a focal point for one the most dynamic groups of artists in Canada. The Regina Five, including Art MacKay, Ronald Bloore, Kenneth Lochhead, Douglas Morton and Ted Godwin, and those artists closely associated with them, including Clifford Weins and Roy Kiyooka, provided stimulus to the arts still felt in Saskatchewan. Ken Lochhead arrived in Regina in 1950. This 24 year old young man was hired to direct the School of Art at the University of Saskatchewan, Regina College. He was also charged by Dean William Riddell to develop what would become the Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery. And now, 55 years later, the MacKenzie Art Gallery is proud to honour Ken and his life's work.

Garden of Light engages the viewer with one of The Regina Five, Kenneth Lochhead. The seminal stem paintings are highlighted, as are other works produced during his prolific time in Regina. However, Ted Fraser has brought together works from collections across Canada in order to present a visual history of Lochhead's full career — from his student days in Philadelphia and Europe, through to his accomplishments as an artist working in Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and in his Gatineau studio. This expansive experience demonstrates, as Fraser states in his respectful text, that Lochhead balances regional, pan-national, and international influences, believing that place, family and community are essential to personal expression and national identity.

The MacKenzie Art Gallery is honoured to present this exhibition as a special Centennial celebration project. Many professionals came together to make this a successful project: thank you to guest curator Ted Fraser, curatorial project manager John Peet, and catalogue production manager Andrew Oko, who assisted the team throughout the project in many ways, head curator Timothy Long, registrar Bruce Anderson, conservator Brenda Smith, administrative assistant Heidi Karlonas and preparators Ralph Skanes, Steve Reilly and Glen Hubich, catalogue designer Erik Norbraten of Brown Communications and photographer Don Hall, and senior colleagues and advisors David Thauberger and Tony Urquhart. Thank you to the University of Regina Archives for their invaluable assistance in the research component of the project. Thank you to the private collectors and public galleries who lent works to the exhibition, with a special thank you to Dr. Jacqui Shumiatcher. Thank you to the Don and Claire Kramer Foundation for their support of the exhibition catalogue. Thank you to Joanne Lochhead who contributed so much throughout the development of the project and in the selection of the work. And thank you to Kenneth

Lochhead for his gracious and generous nature, his creative insights and his life's work.

Kate Davis , Director




Ted Fraser on Kenneth Lochhead

'And I like frivolousness. I love that effervescence. And that is what is sort of fun, to get away from what I call the Presbyterian ethic of being exact, which may have made a great contribution to science but not to remarkable life.'
Kenneth Lochhead, 2001 (1) 

The two-floor studio, designed by his architect son Allan in 1989, is cantilevered above a forest floor of root piles and ferns. Shafts of light and the silhouetted trees of wetland terrain lead to the wide, slow-moving and inexorable Gatineau River. In the studio, narrow stairs rise past the picture storage and an off-corner shower stall stands near the entrance to a second-floor space filled with books illustrating world art, where a suspended mobile greets the visitor with brightly coloured angels. Paintings in stages of completion flank the artist's painting table, which displays brushes and paint tubes in regimental order: 'You've got to know where the keys are on the piano. Cool colour on one side, warm the other. With white and black, there's your tone. There is nothing more to know.'

A picture window frames deep green forest, the focus of his parents' love, which the painter explores. His father, Dr. Allan Grant Lochhead, was head of the Bacteriology Division of the Department of Agriculture at the Dominion Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. He and two botanists from the department bought properties adjacent to one another for their summer cottages on the Gatineau River, north of Hull in Quebec. Lochhead's current cottage-cum-studio abuts his father's former property, where he and his brother, poet Douglas Lochhead, nurtured their love of nature and art.

Student watercolours and drawings of root piles and clearings, such as Hemlockeed (May 1950), anticipate a response to Emma Lake a decade later. 'Hemlockeed' was actually a neighbour's spelling. Landscape remains a touchstone, providing an umbilical link to place and identity.

Landscape is an organic reference that suggests the widest possible alternative. One can twist it, turn it, and alter it, in any way imaginable, and it still remains a landscape. Landscape provides freedom to deal with the exploitation of shape, colour, light, and space. Matisse mastered this, in a growing, evolving manner that allowed him to discover new spatial and formal juxtapositions with colour. What a genius!

Around the dinner table at the cottage each summer, family discussions might centre around art and politics. In the city the sound of his mother's piano in the background was wonderful. Even then, the brothers would conspire with words and images in what became a life-long collaboration, often a mere game, that reached its apogee in Millwood Road Poems (1970). Lochhead produced his black-and-white paintings in 1961 following receipt of the Millwood poems from Douglas. A second edition was published in 1998.


One

My high school basketball coach R.D. Campbell at Glebe Collegiate in Ottawa said many times, 'Bend your knees, Lochhead, and follow through!' Although my knees are not as bendable as they once were, I'm still able to follow through, particularly in my oil painting.

Lochhead first studied art in 1944 at the summerschool offered by Queen's University. 'I took lectures (great ones!) from John Alford, who introduced me to nineteenth-century Canadian painting, and studios with Caven Atkins (great ones!).' (2)  A watercolour painter influenced by German expressionism and American artists John Marin and Charles Burchfield, Atkins was drawn to the bustle of the Kingston harbour and encouraged his students to work quickly in rendering essential form. Lochhead painted the dramatic bend in the river near his parents' Gatineau cottage and the monuments in front of the Elgin Building in Ottawa and Carpenter Hall in Philadelphia, the two images of nature and culture that would recur in his work throughout his life.

With servicemen returning from the war, he enrolled in 1946 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and produced sketchbooks filled with drawings and paintings that illuminated interests and travels. Roosting, scavenging gulls, fish fillets and slabs of beef typify the market in Philadelphia. Restless caged animals from the zoo appear in rapid pen-and-ink drawings, accented with brushed colour. Effortless prowess with line and colour and providential joy upon the emergence of images are apparent. The world teems with vital surprise. Painting is like breathing to him, foretelling an unbroken stream of future work: 'I was a water-based painter and liked the surface of a well-prepared gesso ground and going into it. I have liked that ever since, even with oil paint.'

We feel his alert brush sweeping, edging pigment across the surface, encouraging the passage of translucent colour and structure. The artist possesses a heightened sense of hue, rarely mixing, preferring chance meetings, trysts and truancies that transgress formal boundaries. Hull School Yard (1949), a sketchbook watercolour, illustrates the future. Colour charts children at recess, kicking snow. Beyond the school yard and the gaze of teachers, the artist's astonishment over the colour and movement of these games is apparent.

In Philadelphia he studied with a social realist WPA muralist, marine painter George Harding, who touted old master Italian artists Piero della Francesca and Giotto as 'just as modern as the painters of today, more so.' Harding talked like the burly Hans Hofmann, a legendary teacher and abstract expressionist painter from Provincetown, Massachusetts, who averred that colour and movement determine space, form and surface. According to this artist, the socially conscious murals Harding produced under the aegis of the 1930s Works Progress Administration rank among the best in the United States. About Harding, he remembers:

I was having trouble understanding him in class. He brought books and reproductions, and talked about this artist and that one. After the first few lessons, I asked one of my fellow students, Diana Denny, wonderful lady... . She said, 'Oh don't listen to him, just watch his hands; he's talking composition with his hands.' I cottoned on to that early, and it's true. I tried to work on ideas, impressions, dynamics, and movements.

This understanding of the making of art as bodily expression rather than illustration was an important lesson. As a student of the Barnes Foundation at Merion, Pennsylvania, beginning in 1946, Lochhead was influenced by Dr. Barnes' idiosyncratic display, stressing plasticity of form above all else. The owner cherished his treasures and believed in art education. 'I loved

Cézanne paintings. Our lecturer and head of the education programme, Violette de Mazia, would spend up to three hours analyzing one Cézanne of the collection. Wow, was that ever an eye opener. Part of my eclectic nature has been fostered by my education in looking at paintings and being associated with people who looked at paintings with discernment. This was exciting for me.' Lochhead avidly applied what he had learnt. 'It is my Cézannesque period, and I am pleased with my Bonnard. It is an Ottawa street car and a kid with a hockey stick. And that's my Manet. I was trying all kinds of things and I never stopped.'

Funded by the Emlin Cresson Memorial Scholarship from the Philadelphia Academy, Lochhead toured Europe in the summer of 1948, visiting England, France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland. His journal reads: 10 days in London, 35 Paris, 5 Holland, 4 Belgium, 13 the South of France, and 6 Spain. This determination to plot his own life is attested by journal entries. January 26, 1949, he outlines 11 tasks: sketches for murals, details, and portraits and landscapes around the Philadelphia waterfront. (3)  He was determined but open to new experience — a fine balance.

An early photograph records the aspiring painter standing outside the Museo el Greco. Goya's great pictures at the Prado predictably overwhelmed him. With the small journal watercolour Cagnes Sur Mer he 'let off steam after seeing Goya' in the south of France that August. While in Cagnes sur Mer, he met a friend of Picasso who arranged for him and fellow student Robert Baranet to visit the master, who was granted the use of the second floor of the Antibes Museum as a studio for the summer period. Luckily, three friends of Picasso were visiting him and translated the French and Spanish discussions. It was a paramount experience. He now knew his calling, and only hoped that he could make a living back in Canada. Another photograph shows Lochhead sitting at a table outside a café in Paris, watching life pass in grand procession on the boulevard.

Upon his return to Philadelphia, the uplifting linear colour of Raoul Dufy became an early influence, inspiring thumbnail sketches of daily sights such as the Ringling Brothers Circus. In his watercolours the radiance of these layered colours, where colour-line breaks free of shape, is insouciant; the pen or brush darts across the page to capture movement and form.

Whether it was gulls soaring in the azure sky, as in Seagulls, Camden, New Jersey (1949), or a songbird alighting on a prairie fence post, flight symbolized risk, a leitmotif that has persisted throughout his life. Lochhead suggests a familial source. 'One would be the fact that my brother was an amateur ornithologist, a bird watcher, and I became conscious of birds. We would see them up at the cottage in the Gatineau. And then I came to relate to gulls. I loved the gull and the idea of it, the sense of flight and fancy. I am a Gemini, and that is a flighty character.' In 1949, as well as depicting hockey players on a rink, he painted children flying a kite, high in the wind. The kite amid scudding clouds presages other images he would create in Regina, notably The Kite (1952). And the recurring image presaged his success in securing, in 1957, the mural commission for the international airport in Gander, Newfoundland. However, the visual possibilities of flight are only one of his early attractions to visual art. Even when he turned to geometric abstraction in the 1960s, the artist's dynamic line, now a formal and colour edge, persisted in his off-centre colour rectangles.

A 1949 self-portrait shows the recent graduate drawing with a quill pen and holding an ink pot. His execution clearly refers to the work of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso's uncanny, fluid line. He had sketched a Matisse painting of a woman posed at a window and replicated the artist's signature, an indication of his devotion. A watercolour of his brother Douglas dated May 21, 1950 mimics Cézanne's faceted light. Overlapping translucent hues and strong directional line recur in many of the young artist's pictures. He made few self-portraits, preferring to define himself through his relationships with people and his work as a painter rather than the introspection of the self-portrait.

'There's a little of me in there somewhere.'

The student viewed art at the Barnes Foundation and later at European museums and galleries. He developed a cross-cultural understanding of the history of art. His mural teacher George Harding liked Giotto, although Piero della Francesca was more discussed in class. During WW II, Harding was a Marine in the Pacific with Ernie Pyle, the American author. The unchanging installations at the Foundation combined Pennsylvanian furniture and wrought iron with paintings by Soutine, Matisse, and Renoir. The bifurcation of high and low art and of painting and drawing seemed doctrinaire to the student, as did the much ballyhooed 'progress' of modernist painting that was being espoused by American critics. Furthermore, the Foundation exposed him to the value of folk art, a receptivity that would help him as a teacher and artist in Canada.

In 1949 he received the Ware Scholarship to travel across Canada. That June he produced his impressive extended series of watercolours of military life at Fort Churchill, Manitoba. One work, in electric purple pencil, depicts the spectacle of the awe-inspiring northern lights with uncommon graphic, tonal verve. A June 24 watercolour of trucks filled from a water tower is reminiscent of the modernism and accurate representation practised in the 1930s by Canadian painters such as

Carl Schaefer, Charles Comfort and Caven Atkins, who were influenced by the American scene painting of Midwest artists like Charles Burchfield. Lochhead's military watercolours are direct impressions and look ahead to his 1954 Regina mural commission, Lest We Forget, commemorating Saskatchewan's contribution to the war.

In Calgary he met Jack Byers, a federal cattle inspector, who drove him in his new Chevrolet to Pincher Creek and through the mountains to Penticton, B.C., a terrain that previously had lured A.Y. Jackson. He saw cattle auctions and endured a terrifying trip to Rossland. He journeyed east as well as west. He drew lobsters in the Maritimes, probably on a visit to see his grandparents in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and sketched railway switches and iconic grain elevators in Saskatchewan. It was the West that captivated his imagination. Portage La Prairie in Manitoba and the rolling Alberta foothills of Canmore, near Banff, inspired him. The vast horizon and architecture of the prairie towns reminded him of Renaissance murals by Piero della Francesca in Italy — a projection of an ancient civilization onto a recently settled continent. Yet there was a truth here. He found himself in a brave new world where a fixed vantage point anchored stark geometric buildings defined by limitless sky and horizon. Little did he know that he would come to live in Balgonie, outside Regina. There, at the juncture of the railway station and three grain elevators, he would meet the future folk artist W.C. McCargar, who became his friend.

In 1950 he was appointed director of the School of Art at Regina College, a campus of the University of Saskatchewan, and first visited the summer school at Emma Lake. At 24 years of age he succeeded the founder, the venerable Augustus Kenderdine, who had directed informal classes in the Physics Building of Regina College and, by 1936, had established the Murray Point Summer School of Art at Emma Lake. Kenderdine, a legendary artist, believed that nature was a suitable subject to paint, a credo that Lochhead would reinforce.

Lochhead would spend summers at Emma Lake with his family, teaching, painting, and preparing workshops that took place during the last two weeks of August. They would often stay in the comfortable cabin set aside for visitors, while the workshop leaders were accommodated in the main lodge. Ernest Lindner of Saskatoon became a good friend. 'Ernie had quite an influence on us; his stumps and ferns were wonderful. Ernie did a lot for us up there. The students just loved him. He would have them over. A very nice man.'

Emma Lake Path (1950) resembles the forest interior surrounding his parents' Gatineau cottage. It didn't take long for the artist to make the connection between West and East, with the Saskatchewan landscape of subtle colour, scudding clouds, and blue sloughs teeming with nesting birds. In a 1951 photograph, Lochhead faces the future from the railway station platform in Lumsden, Saskatchewan. To the young artist the province was Arcadia, promising treasure in the tall grass. Sketchbooks were soon filled with studies of flowers and wild grasses that would morph into the career-defining, totemic abstractions. In watercolour, he painted the forest and root piles.

Tenacious prairie communities impressed him. Pioneer memories and contributions to world wars should be commemorated. Memorials stood as the collective memory of communities. A nationalist sense of Canada, as regional history, was in the air. Lochhead wanted to paint Saskatchewan, its people and values, but he would accomplish this aim as a contemporary artist, and in a startling fashion.

Now married to Patricia Poole, the artist moved to Balgonie in 1954, where they began their family. There, on walks along the tracks, he met W.C. McCargar, whom he weaned from dependency on paint-by-number kits, liberating the self-taught artist to make his pictures based on experience. Lochhead suggested that he paint what he knew — the railroad. Prairie Focus (1952) represents the grain elevators of such a community under storm clouds threatening and nuclear. A small red house stands to the left and a sliver of yellow light laterally highlights the ground. The strong perspective of a road approaching the town sets up a structure reminiscent of McCargar's future railroad pictures of Balgonie and Lochhead's own stem-abstraction of ten years later.

A small town, Balgonie was resistant to change. Lochhead's colleague Ron Bloore gleefully describes the erection of colleague Ted Godwin's brilliant flashing neon sign for the Balgonie hotel and bar, a beacon seen from the air on evening approaches to the Regina airport. (4)  Although Lochhead is less charitable about the staccato glare that disturbed his studio walls and his painting, Godwin's sign was a symbol of modernist change, in a way, in consumerism a parallel to the modernism soon to affect Saskatchewan art.

The teacher, administrator, and curator was able to find time for painting since the Regina College art school possessed few students and the gallery was in its infancy. Saskatchewan seemed exotic, alien. Could he be forgiven for his good fortune at arriving here for his first posting? During 1951, the Emma Lake landscape inspired watercolours and drawings. He depicted tangled log piles, white gulls catching flies, and crows landing, through openings onto the lake from the dark forest and the sunlit side of the lake near Murray Point, where the workshop was located. Cubist space shows an awareness of Picasso; in his journal he lists an important book by the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Alfred H. Barr Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art.

A nascent abstraction revealing pattern, Northern Bird (1952) offers a view from the forest across the lake to the distant shore. There is no second guessing; brushwork declares that the deep blue lake presses forward. Visual tension gels in overall surface. A lone white gull rides a summer breeze, leading our eye through the negative and positive space of this composition. The artist is a painter in touch with his ability and wary of virtuosity. The artist would feature the apparition of the white bird in paintings such as White Bird {1956} and Return to Humanity (1957). White Bird, a declarative white flash against a menacing sky, is a symbol of peace or spirit. A boy-child carries a pop-gun. Gender is not important, family and humanity are paramount, extolling the resilience of the human race. Shadow is a surrealist device, and the triumvirate of totemic figures, looking like sentinels, suggests a netherworld.

Lochhead appreciated international artists who have expressed their locale. He met Henry Moore while at the Barnes. He saw Giorgio de Chirico in Italy, and was entertained with wine by Pablo Picasso during his first summer abroad. In 1958, on his second European trip, he visited the Italian painter Afro in Rome. In addition, he was to meet some of the foremost contemporary painters in New York. Art history helped him make sense of life. When he passed farmers harvesting under the lowering sunlight in Indian summer, he was reminded of the work of Flemish master Jan Bruegel the Elder, with figures swallowed up by an immense landscape. In his journal he lists other painters whose subjects seem relevant to the Prairies, a disparate group: Boucher, Poussin, Dufy, de Chirico and Durer. There are more. Nineteen fifty is the high-water mark for abstract expressionism in New York. Yet we see the young artist's predilection for Fauvism over Cubism, Matisse over Picasso, for luxurious colour and pleasure. As a student, he recalls the Fragonard room at the Frick Collection in New York. Colour seemed ascendant at mid-century.

Lochhead felt that painting was cross-cultural. Although rooted to place, art remained international. Teeming with birds and flowers, Saskatchewan reminded him of coruscating Persian miniatures and Chinese tapestries. His appreciation of Asian art would prove prophetic in the pursuit of abstraction. He felt that he was in the heart of Canada with an important task to fulfill.

In January 1953 Lochhead displayed his work in an inaugural show at the gallery of Regina College. He constructed and painted his own frames, some of which have now been replaced by the collectors. A highlight, The Kite (1952) was impressive enough to be purchased for $500 by lawyer Dr. Morris C. Shumiatcher, a friend and future patron not only of the artist but of the gallery. At the time, $500 was a significant amount. Shumiatcher served as chair of the acquisitions committee of the new Regina College gallery, and with his wife Jacqui he regularly purchased Lochhead's work. They amassed an outstanding collection of Inuit sculpture by the best artists from many Arctic communities, and entertained visiting artists in a spacious living room dominated by a grand fireplace. Outstanding Inuit carvings of stone and bone were juxtaposed with Lochhead's paintings. Black-and-white abstractions were displayed, in particular the monumental Slant {I960).

In a transmigration across economic, historical, social and cultural boundaries, Inuit artists more than held their own among the modernist avant-garde in the South. Many of these possessed collections of artefacts from other alien cultures and tried to incorporate the 'primitive' power of such totems into their work. Art history must address and re-balance the interconnection between postwar modernism and Native art, the study and appreciation of which usually occurred under the aegis of the ethnographic museum rather than the art gallery. Evidence that famous artists appropriated imagery from Native collections is overlooked. The Shumiatcher collection contrasts abstract expressionist painting from the South with Inuit stone sculpture of the North. Both idioms expressed survival: the first, of the fanatical state totalitarianism of WW II; the second, of the transition from a hunting-and-gathering, nomadic existence to year-round, economically dependent life in camps near Hudson's Bay posts. Both art forms express the will to survive and freedom of the individual in the face of tyranny and hardship.

The Kite (1952) introduces a vast horizon and a dark sky that is forbidding. The world had only recently emerged from the terror of global war and was fearful of another nuclear holocaust. A group portrait, the painting presages the wondrous spectacle of the white kite depicted in The Dignitary (1953). We focus on the figures, one of whom in the lower right is the kneeling artist who points toward the viewer and the unseen kite. Although the artist refrained from making himself the subject of his art, he did sneak his image into two of his large mural commissions for the Canadian Legion in Regina and the airport in Gander. The Kite is clearly a portrait of a family and close friends. The painting's large size and tonal, almost monotone colour stress monumental form, a technique favoured by Picasso. So even in these early works of the artist, we vacillate between form and colour, Matisse and Picasso, a pattern that continues today.

Evident is the influence of Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico's slanted perspectives, abandoned piazzas, and dysfunctional clock towers, heightening the drama. Such leitmotifs of the creative avant-garde alerted civilization to the scourge of dictatorial regimes and the loss of individual freedom. One thinks of the existential dread of Franz Kafka's novel The Castle or

Alfred Camus's The Plague, fictional works of struggle and alienation then in vogue. To the surrealist painter, the staccato click of time was ominous, an illusion of progress. Yet Lochhead saw the broken column, as did Barnett Newman, as an archetypal symbol of hard-won individual awareness. Loch head's one-person 1953 show at Regina College presents in The Dignitary a principal figure that is difficult to discern, and in the communal gathering of Saskatchewan Jubilee (1955), there appears no hierarchy, only solidarity, an ensemble of young and old. Here we see the social resolve of Saskatchewan on the path toward Tommy Douglas's New Jerusalem, united against the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

Hay Wagon (1952) and Train Wagon (1952), the latter appearing in the 1953 Regina College show, were abstracted compositions based on an old farm wagon in a field near Balgonie. The silhouetted wagon, seen against the sky, presages the stem-watercolours and paintings of a decade later. Stressing colour, Hay Wagon brings the azure of the sky forward to flatten surface. Formally, Train Wagon incorporates the canvas edges into the image's structure, cropped and off-centre. As always, Lochhead enjoys the verve of edge — a cartouche, a flourish — like a wheelwright lining carriages a century ago. And he uses complementary colours to charge space between figure and ground. Thus his use of form and colour early on prefigures the stem-abstractions.

Collective Farming (1953) reveres the nuclear family, whose members are abstracted as totemic figures amid a patchwork of crops. Tilting the scene toward the picture plane levels the picture like a Matisse still life and eliminates most of the sky. Visually, a distant hay wagon is reduced to a straw-coloured square, acknowledging the push-pull aesthetic of the émigré teacher from Provincetown, Massachusetts, Hans Hofmann. Like a bowling pin, each clothes-peg figure emerges from the ground, the foundation of a prairie home or field, evoking ancestry. Encouraged, Lochhead continued to develop his prairie iconography. Diversions and ceremonies — curling, baseball, and graduation — are rituals, important social dramas. Here the artist envisages an amphitheatre of social democracy for the revivifying emergence of culture from the small communities of Saskatchewan. Lochhead's art seems ideally matched to place. Lochhead considers Collective Farming to be his 'C.C.F.-N.D.P. painting', a reference to the social democracy and solidarity of Tommy Douglas.

Is existence a dream? In 2 Winks (1957), the artist saw himself as a Rip Van Winkle figure, a Gulliver who awakens to find a different world, incomprehensible, terrifying, and grand. But he also paints The Burial (1954), a deeply felt picture, in which a sombre gathering is seen from slightly above, as if on high. The burial plot is interchangeable with the tilled garden, and the

garden with the field beyond. Dramatic shadows striate this interment, a threshold to an afterlife. And the low sun on the horizon accentuates forms. The Burial communicates how Saskatchewan is born of the travail of nineteenth-century homesteaders who built sod huts, towns, and province on community goodwill. Once more Lochhead is attracted to the poignant symbolism of monuments.

As in The Burial, The Review (Palace) (1953) includes a similar massing of totemic figures. As in The Dignitary (1953), there is ceremony suggested by flags in the background and by the regal figures of a robed king and queen on the reviewing stand. This is Regina after all. She wears a tiara and holds a sceptre; he is seated as if on a throne. Lochhead is attracted to pomp and circumstance; he is from Ottawa, the capital of Canada. And gatherings of people inspired by a common aim or interest excited him, when the landscape was usually deserted.

Evident is the environmentalism of his father and grandfather. 'My father was environmental in his approach in life and work. His field was bacteria in soil and products produced. My grandfather was the first botanist at MacDonald College, McGill University, Montreal.' In a sketchbook, he draws the structure of wild grasses, locating an organic but abstract geometry that will emerge in his later painting. He sketches rusted machinery discovered along the railway tracks and collects this detritus as ready-made sculpture. He loves humour and enjoys scatological humour. The artist quickly makes a drawing of a cast-off porcelain toilet and calls it On Behalf of the Bird Life of Saskatchewan. This no man's land beside railway tracks was an extension of his studio. The slant-roofed, sky-lighted modernist building designed by architect Clifford Wiens was only a starting point, a haven from Regina administration. But the new environment would drive his art.

Lochhead had acquired lumber from a nearby military base and asked Wiens to help him assemble his studio on the site of an old blacksmith's shop behind his house. In his design for the roof and walls his friend compensated for the short length of the recycled timber and he used a thin layer of metal sheeting for the roof. With their friend Roy Kiyooka, Wiens and Lochhead built the studio themselves. (5) 

W.C. McCargar, the railway station manager, worked a scant block from the artist's house. The artist, educated at the Barnes Foundation, and the railroad station manager, self-taught in Balgonie, connected. To this day, a small colour pencil drawing by McCargar of Lochhead's Balgonie studio is treasured like the Holy Grail. McCargar's works are now in public collections. On May 31, 1955, Lochhead drew Balgonie's grain elevators and the train station: Is that McCargar standing on the tracks, a sentinel figure? There were four grain elevators in Balgonie in 1956; today there are none — a vanishing icon. (6) 

A photograph of the interior of the studio before its completion shows a near turn-of-the-century interior decorated with harness parts, found objects admired for their form and mounted on the wall, and surrealist and cubist drawings. A bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling, indicating that the artist worked usually by night. In Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa, the studio was a refuge, its doorstep a line in the sand marking the boundary between private and public life. He realized that his influence depended upon his success as a painter. In Balgonie, his journals testify to a close relationship with Arthur McKay, who, with a young family, was a colleague at Regina College. 'McKay was very important to me — a great mind, and friend of allartists in Regina. Art was #1. He did some wonderful paintings — when he painted. I wish that he did more.' (7) Tea at McKays, a sketch, caricatures a diapered stick figure, a ball of fury, the archetypal screaming child. Pat Poole Lochhead will give birth to three children — Colin, Allan, and Merrill. McKay holds daughter Val in his arms, feet apart. Lochhead's totemic drawing resembles Henry Moore or Kenneth Armitredge. Daily rituals — child rearing, for instance — are given archaic standing-stone resonance.

Amusingly documented in photographs, even the walls of his Balgonie house were decorated with murals. He recounts the failure of his first mural proposal in June 1947 for the restaurant and bar of the Plaza Hotel on Sparks Street in Ottawa, when as a student he was home for the summer from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts: 'I took approximate measurements of the walls. About a month later I shyly presented, on speculation, my proposed mural sketches to the owner who promptly declined the idea. It was my first refusal.'

A detailed 1954 rendering in watercolour on board for a mural in the lobby of the new Regina Post Office shows the artist's brilliance. Although Lochhead left space for the Queen's portrait, the M.P, a friend of a friend who had encouraged the artist, was not impressed. Soon he broke through, in 1956, with a commission to decorate eight walls of the Memorial Hall of the Regina branch of the Canadian Legion. Owing to the difficulty of access the mural is not well known, but it is outstanding in terms of Canadian art history. On February 15, 1955, he submitted a three-page description listing general and specific requirements and technical specifications, and he noted that he intended to include all symbolic representational figures with correct uniforms:

My submission represented the Riel Rebellion, and the wars in which Canada had been involved, namely the Boer War (South African War), the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean Conflict. In addition were works for the Trophy Room, the Memorial Room, and the role of the Legion in the community. The mural was painted in egg tempera (1 volume egg yolk to 1 volume of water, mixed with pure pigment colours) on prepared masonite panels affixed to the walls. Each section was 14 by 10 feet. The panels were sized with rabbit-skin glue water, and five layers of gesso (1 volume of rabbit-skin glue water to 1 volume of zinc oxide). I painted the works with the use of a movable scaffold over the period of two to three years, whenever I could free myself from my work as Director of the School of Art. The fee for this mural was $5,000.

He requested a flat warm grey for the walls and a blue-and-white trim for the circular ceiling decor. He supplied detailed sketches. The opening of the West and of Saskatchewan deserved a prime site, so he designed the scheme of the Northwest Rebellion for the south wall. The work proceeded east and north. The next panel commemorated South African combatants:

The famous Canadian Roughriders as well as the 5th, Royal Scots, Artillery and Infantry. A vista of Cape Town, South Africa and Navy Transport form the background.

Over the arch to the auditorium appears the salutation Lest We Forget, an exhortation to remember Canadian losses in defence of freedom, but reflecting Saskatchewan's contribution. Above the exit That All Was Not Met in Vain commands a reminder of our victories. Here, the painter portrays men, women and children enjoying a Prairie Thanksgiving. A father joyously lifts his son — perhaps a self-portrait and a gift for his own children. Back and side panels add dimension, with golden wheat and spent cartridges on foreign fields. The expressive brushwork of these wall-mounted panels ensures that the surface is dynamic. Generations have walked through this small foyer. We will remember.

Historical themes interweave figure and ground, evenly emphasizing foreground and background. The palette is high-keyed, with primary colour like a radiant stained-glass window. Egg tempera contributes translucent colour similar to the inner light of watercolour. Unlike traditional egg tempera, where the image is worked in grey tones before colour glazes are applied, colour, expressive line and a near cubist space stand out. After fifty years, the pristine state of the murals testifies to the regard in which they are held. Their inaccessibility to the public is unfortunate.

From Sea to Sea, another mural proposed for the expansive lobby wall of the new Regina Post Office building, was declined. The design for From Sea to Sea furnishes a bird's eye perspective upon the provincial, historical, and political history of Canada. Murals bestow social urgency and artists often produce their best work when inspired by social purpose. This illfated mural commission expands our understanding of the capricious judicial process, and was not the only project he undertook with missionary zeal that was to flounder.

The Bonspiel (1954), Return to Humanity (1957) and The Burial (1954) expand our knowledge of Canada, which diverges from the dominant conception of the mystic North in paintings by the Group of Seven and Scandinavian art early in the century. The verticality and large scale of Lest We Forget's, panels stress living skies and intersperse white and grey billowing clouds with lenses of cerulean blue. These passages surround the totemic construction of military scenes, provide locality and ensure colour. Startled by the scarlet of Boer War soldiers' tunics, the viewer looks for other hues and finds them in the margins: the blue of the sky or the gold of the wavering grasses. In a 1957 sketchbook, a scene swirls about a red mark. He muses about 'the still point of centre. Why all the rumpus? I think of Rubens.' The precepts remain the same, principles that will inform the dramatic change from representation to abstraction and back again.

The Bonspiel (1954) incorporates the gameboard as a metaphor for the wide horizon and communal activity of Saskatchewan. The land was flat and the human figure diminutive. Camaraderie of sport countermands isolation on a winter day at 30 degrees below. Looking like clothes-pegs, the curlers brandish brooms like sceptres and display regalia proudly. Their heads resemble curling stones. This is a glacial day, clouds mere wisps in the clear blue and colours vivid. The players resemble standing-stones, monuments of prehistory reminiscent of contemporary sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, artists whom Lochhead admired. One player wears a ball cap, his throat wrapped in an argyle turtleneck; a teammate sports a tarn; another's head is covered by a sock, the number 3 on his jersey backward. An artist doesn't have to be solemn in order to be serious. Lochhead remains positive and is known to cheerlead. The sun is rising, not falling; shadows are shortening, not lengthening. In The Bonspiel, teams delight in the flush of competition. The brightly bundled curlers in the distance, isolated in their verticality, resemble the markers on a cribbage board or the stark visual punctuation of grain elevators.

The geometry of the ice surface or the diplomacy of the court, imposing the borders of these games, does not agree with the normal perception of landscape. The viewer seems displaced yet in on the joke, the multiple meanings of the image. This is theatre — social drama and ritual — that Lochhead enacts in his imagination. Art is not life, just a catalytic agent, a witnessing. There are serious matters to contemplate, such as life and death. In The Burial, morose, wailing mourners surround a white casket filigreed by wheat to the left of an excavated plot awaiting the interment. We sense the same solidarity as in Collective Farming (1953), the artist's homage to the social democracy of Tommy Douglas and Saskatchewan. Awareness of how transitory life is makes humour and sadness the flip sides of a very thin coin. Toronto Ukrainian painter William Kurelek's memorably presented childhood experiences of the Prairies match the pathos of The Burial.

Comedy disturbs the surface of stoic consciousness as we release underlying emotion. Lochhead is a visitor, a witness — an outsider. His work is respectful. Humour is a difficult tightrope to walk, requiring a balanced mind, agile athleticism, and well-earned experience. The Bonspiel's geometric lines collide in an amusing way, as in a good cubist painting. We are reminded of W.C. McCargar's railway tracks converging at the horizon, a signature image. Perspective for Lochhead is a similarly arbitrary construction — an illusion that must be comic. But we live in a changing world, and the artist's off-kilter work invites us to experience the inconsistent, vital present.

Along a red carpet signifying graduation in Return to Humanity (1957), acolytes proceed toward a tall tower that resembles a chalice or Holy Grail. The windows of the tower's exterior indicate an ascending spiral staircase within. This is not the Tower of Babel — incomprehensible and anarchic — because birds wreathe the structure, symbols of knowledge. Gowned professors cast shadows across the foreground; their social authority frames the taut composition. With elan, like the flare of the artist's signature from left to right, the combination of totemic figures and L-shaped diagonal shadows crowds colour and surface to the forefront, while the diagonal red carpet ushers a procession of graduates forward. Notable is the manner in which the image incorporates the lateral rectangular shape of the support.

Acquired by the National Gallery of Canada at the Second Biennial of Canadian Painting, The Dignitary (1953) shows the ingenuity of the artist's totemic abstraction, which amasses to either side of the image and suggests off-kilter frontality, the tripartite format that recurs in his work. One cloud seems for a moment to be transformed into the shape of a kite, another leitmotif. In a 1959 poem, his brother Douglas was later to write:

Lift the wet heart out of the bone's cage,
out of the white and hollow bone
into the blue and wordless air where love
lingers a tree in the garden of all age.
Where there are green arms like wild ropes
turning the heart more kite than cloud around
and around in the spinning of new blood
and the mounting and tugging of new hopes.
Let the hand be judge and the eye's control
while the heart is mad, youthful, a crazy child
free in its cradle of larks and dreams
. (8) 

Lochhead's clouds are phantasmagoric. Bright pinions, directional triangles of colour, are festive. Figures with craning necks, oversized ovoid heads, and disproportionate eyes, like ersatz Northwest Coast totem poles or salt and pepper shakers made in Japan, crowd the foreground around the sitting dignitary. In addition, shadows of other watchers penetrate the bottom of the picture, an indication of the stem-paintings of a decade later.

From the beginning, popular culture excited Lochhead. He painted what was around him. He was the last to espouse abstraction and the most enthusiastic about his experience of the real world, whether the glitz of tourist art in the gift shops, modern neon signs, severe vernacular Saskatchewan architecture, folk artists, or nature. All was grist for his mill. And then there were the great masters in the museums of the world and his formative years along the Gatineau River. He did not reach Regina in 1949 at the age of 24 with entrenched notions. But there were no artists in Saskatchewan to challenge him — a situation that would change.

In March 1958, Return to Humanity, The Bonspiel, and The Dignitary were chosen by the National Gallery of Canada for the Universal and International Exhibition, Brussels, Belgium, and were shown in the Canadian pavilion. But the artist's first notable review by Donald Buchanan, Curator of Canadian Art at the National Gallery of Canada, occurred in Canadian Art in 1953, in an article titled 'Prairie Metamorphosis'. Later, in April 1958, in the one and only magazine devoted to visual art in Canada, Buchanan cursorily reviewed the artist's commission for the Gander International Airport. Clearly, Canadian art was low on the totem pole.

There were few sales to private collectors at the time, although by 1960 a fledgling market for contemporary art had materialized in the larger cities of Toronto and Montreal. It is difficult to comprehend that Group of Seven sketches were selling for a few hundred dollars after the war. Lochhead was a successful contemporary painter, but sales were few and income scant. Artists had to have another source of income. Regina College allowed moonlighting and he took full advantage, painting at night. Success with the Legion commission and at the Second Biennial of Canadian Art in 1957, in which The Dignitary was shown, led to a new challenge. In competition with Takeo Tanabe and Alfred Pellan, the young artist's selection by the jury was approved by Alan Jarvis, the Director of the National Gallery of Canada, to undertake a mural for the new international airport terminal in Gander, Newfoundland.

Lochhead remembers:

The artists had been instructed not to depict aircraft since the design of airplanes was constantly changing and the mural would be dated. It is interesting to note that years after the completion of the mural, and after the emergence of the Concord jet, viewers of the mural would remark on the similarity of design between the large long-distance birds and the Concord design, suggesting that my design was prophetic in nature. Gander was the first airport in Canada to receive art work commissioned by the Department of Transport.

He was left on his own. Alan Jarvis was vague in his instructions to the artist, but stipulated that the scheme include the human figure and something adventurous and modern. Lochhead made the most of his freedom and worked on numerous drawings and watercolours, producing designs to guide him in Gander. Although he was known for fantasy, the artist left little to chance, testing the interpretation of flight in preparatory works that are meticulous and a marvel of economy, when you consider the dense iconography, the flight of birds through paradise transfigured into airplanes. But then, he had a friend in Jarvis at the National Gallery of Canada, who was a supporter of the surrealism underlying abstract expressionist art and a champion of the Quebec automatistes Paul Emile Borduas and Jean-Paul Riopelle. Although representational, Lochhead's paintings combat the powerful institution of the state through dream and individual action.

From December 3, 1957 through February 10, 1958, he was granted a much-needed respite from the art school. He worked on drawings and watercolours that are self-deprecating and portray his 'flighty feathered friends.' Detail — Flight and its Allegories and Lift Up (1958) are deft depictions of colour and movement. Birds blanket the landscape of the mural and augur a transformation in Lochhead's art, a gradual turn to abstraction that will confound viewers, curators and collectors. Two decades later, when representation returns and colour-field painting has run its course, images of birds will resurface as a touchstone in a series on enchanted gardens that is remarkable for tonal colour and iconographic transformation.

The paradisiacal iconography of the 1958 mural succeeds on the basis of execution — brush stroke and colour. You could not take imagery too seriously when abstraction was ascendant. Corresponding with Jarvis, he wrote, 'A joke is better left unexplained.' Typically evasive, tongue in cheek. Why reveal yourself fully? Words do not secure meaning for the image; they approximate, and then unfairly. He remembers, 'Construction workers would refer to the title of Flight and Its Allegories as Flight and Its Allergies.' Tough to take, but he shared the joke. Lochhead associates humour with the unconscious —  with creativity. Because we are obsessive, results do not conform to expectation. Truth is found in this ambiguity, in the left-to-right protean movement of the Edenic narrative — a peaceable kingdom. According to Lochhead, nature and childhood are founts of revelry and creativity, and are clearly intended in the exhilaration of the mural. But there remains a certain menace in the shadows of the robotic birds. Technology could turn against the human race. On March 17, 1958, Lochhead provided a complete description of this mural to the Information and Editorial Bureau in Ottawa and carried it out to the letter:

Characterization of each figure has been attempted in order to portray various human feelings that man, himself, often experiences when entering into flight.

The man with the white gloves at the extreme left is symbolic of man entering into the paradise of flight. He carries the fruit of Paradise (the cherries) as he hails his entrance. The cherries he holds in his left hand also reveal his 'sweetness of character.' Behind him and to the left a bewildered and hesitant figure is joined with a partially revealed figure carrying the bounty of the earth (wheat). The girl examining the daisy is surrounded by the fern and seen only by the honest searcher, a confident young man with a kite.

Moving to the right of the first group of figures is an old man feeding the birds. His size and scale relationship to the other figures make him the dominant figure in this section of the mural. His importance is established in relationship to the other two dominant figures, one positioned in the central area and the other at the far right of the mural. The old man is symbolic of age, kindness and wisdom. Immediately in front of the old man is a young man in a cap observing far-away interests in contrast to the girl to the left examining the daisy at close range. To the right of the young man is a little lady eating the fruits of nature completely unconcerned.

With the female and male trumpeter swans, the introduction to flight commences. Two men located behind the male swan take flight and say goodbye.

To our left of the male central figure descent is introduced by many birds. Boys and girls witness the excitement. The boy with the blue egg of 'hope' is temporarily disturbed. The small man juggling the apples represents the coordination required in order to control the traffic. Towering above this small character is the central figure of the powerful man capable of projecting the flight of long-distance airliner birds and small short-range domestic types. Quiet, unconcerned witnesses stationed beside the powerful man provide light contrast to the spectacular take-off. The 'maple leaves forever' are carried far and wide.

'The Tribute to Flight' is symbolized in the final stage of the mural at harbinger right. A welcome is characterized by the liberty-like, heralding matron, holding up the 'Blue Bird of happiness.' A family group waiting for the arrival wonders where the dust came from. Figures on the left of the matron receive the flight. The seated man holds a flight deck for some of the birds to land. A maid behind him receives a gliding bird, while a young lady holding a wrench is ready to make repairs. The boy descending a tree with a bird asserts the completion of the flight. He is watched carefully by the female blue bird who guards her eggs. Figures to the extreme right witness the affair. So does the artist, portrayed behind the tree that the boy is descending, who can't help but put himself into his work. (9) 

He and his family spent four months that summer in Gander. The artist carried out his gargantuan task. The mural was painted in the unfinished waiting room of the terminal building, an easel placed beneath the mural wall. The fee was $20,000. There were 36 panels, each four by six feet. As with all his detailed budgets and proposals since student days, he had planned frugally, a mere one-and-a-half days for each panel, calculating that the whole project would consume 54 days, with 10 additional days for priming panels and enlarging images from preparatory paintings. What makes his achievement amazing is that he encountered an initial delay of four weeks due to the late arrival of panels and installation. He started the preparations on June 11 and actual painting commenced on June 18. On July 8, he reported to the Department of Transportation in Ottawa that within the next week 14 of the 36 panels would be complete. On September 10, he reported that the mural was nearing completion and would be ready by September 15.

In 1958-59 Lochhead and his family spent eight months in Rome and four months travelling through Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France. Some of the drawings and watercolours from his continental adventure were later developed as paintings in Canada. Villina Dining (1959-60), an interior of their dining room in Rome, is a frontal composition anchored by the colour of an oriental rug, which leads the eye to the arabesque contours of table and chairs beneath a chandelier and to a window overlooking the city. The warm orange of the floor illuminates the room. Canvases lean against the wall. Reassuring magentas, blacks, and purples intimate a personal calmness and joy. Also felt is the artist's ardour for architecture, monuments, piazzas, and the streets below, a new world for his children to explore. As Lochhead recalls: 'Villa Borghese with the kids.'

The art and architecture of Rome configured a landscape of death and life, of tombs and memorials and traffic jams: 'a surrealist paradise with Fiats roaring around.' The all-over surfaces of Popolo Flats and St. Angelo's (1959-60), pictures conceived in Rome but completed in Regina, resemble mosaics. In their colour, gesture and size, they mark another step forward toward abstraction. Despite this fracturing of single-point perspective, a tripartite structure remains, a kind of columnar grid-like space that, like an armature, supports the play of negative and positive space. In abstraction, colour and form of clouds, rivers, streets, buildings, monuments and signs collide. The artist is working from field notes, incorporating memories and observations. He is improvising and dreaming. Planning and execution of the mural in Gander so taxed him that he realized his best work would derive from immersion and spontaneity, but on a smaller scale. The routines of easel painting were beginning to be seen as obstacles to creative work.

His 1957-58 sketchbook includes thumbnail sketches and watercolour landscapes from Emma Lake and views from Rome. Using colour, he builds compositions like The Projection of Nature (1957), and exhorts himself to paint the forces 'wedging and expanding counter movement' that underlie Nature. In a popular view, art and science were perceived as corresponding avenues of understanding. According to philosophers, occult or otherwise, intuition allows a momentary, even spiritual insight into the dynamic equilibrium of life, of which the human consciousness is a part.

The Palace (1959) repeats the lateral shadows of Return to Humanity (1957), but now in a reductive monotone that stresses line and surface — abstraction. With the obelisk in People at the Tower (1960), The Palace reasserts Lochhead's fascination with monuments, as in the statues of St. Angelo (1959-60), and the self-importance of people, evident in The Old Elgin Building (1949), one of his earliest successful paintings. He relies on gesture without surrendering to the allure of metaphor, referring to the flourish of monuments and gardens, an ironic cultural view of nature always tongue- in-cheek. In twentieth-century art literature, abstracted totems commonly mark the horizon like sentinels, warning of hubris and abusive power. In Toronto, Kazuo Nakamura made paintings and sculptures reproduced in Canadian Art in its November/December 1962 issue decrying such a threat. Lochhead reworks this existentialist archetype, but doesn't take himself too seriously. He is bemused by the pretence of self-important artists, architects, athletes, and politicians in history — a pantheon of heroes. In his sketchbook / journal he cites an interview in Time Magazine of July 27, 1962 with Hollywood star Cary Grant, which allows some comprehension of his self-criticism and humility:

I was a self-centered boor. I was masochistic and only thought that I was happy. When I woke up and said, 'There must be something wrong with me,' I grew up.

Because I never understood myself, how could I have hoped to understand anyone else? That's why I say I can now truly give a woman love for the first time in my life, because I can understand her.

We feel a transformation in form and colour. Within the vertical tri-columnar design, edges dissolve and transgress toward abstraction. Lochhead explores a personal dream-landscape and questions the constraint of narrative. The immediacy of A Boy's Dreams (1957), an oedipal drama enacted against a grey background, is one of the most progressive surrealist landscapes. The painting is less landscape and more a dream, anticipating the all-over pattern of the scenes that he was to produce in Italy in 1958 and 1959. In earlier pictures, not only does the artist capture the social solidarity of Saskatchewan against the extreme adversity of a harsh climate, economic and environmental, but he strives to understand the rapidity of his changing self. Redolent of the spiky imagery of English painter Graham Strickland, A Boy's Dreams manifests Lochhead's creative aspirations.


Two

'It will be my intention to visit Messers. Will Barnett, Barnett Newman and John Ferren with the hope that I could meet with them informally in their studios. Also, through them, I could arrange to meet with two of the most influential and leading painters of the day, namely Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. There is the possibility that they may accept an invitation to lead an Artist's Workshop.' (10) 

The artist admired the landscape watercolours of British Columbia artist Jack Shadbolt and invited him to lead the first workshop at Emma Lake in 1955. (11)  'Jack's workshop was like a class for students and junior painters. I found it really interesting as an example of the structural process, very much in line with the English approach to art instruction.' The morning demonstration included analysis of mass, movement and texture; in the evening, they covered topics as diverse as the force and form of contemporary art, the artist's integration into contemporary society, art criticism, and the realities and possibilities of the arts in Saskatchewan. Future workshops were more open and less structured, encouraging the discussion and exchange of ideas. Painters such as Arthur McKay, Ernie Lindner, Otto Rogers and Robert Murray attended.

On Shadbolt's recommendation, Victoria painter Joe Plaskett led the 1956 workshop, an experience Plaskett reported to be of no worthwhile value in his autobiography. Bill Perehudoff, a regular to the workshops, was the one who asked Lochhead if an American could be invited. (12)  After this, Shadbolt recommended Will Barnet, a well-known instructor at the Art Student's League in New York, for the 1957 workshop. Under Lochhead's stewardship, artists were flirting with abstraction as early as 1955, especially Roy Kiyooka in Winter Landscape.

At Regina College, Lochhead hired Arthur McKay in 1952, Roy Kiyooka by 1956, and in 1958 he recommended R.L. Bloore for the position of director of Regina College's Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery. Their interest in Asian aesthetics and abstraction influenced him. Bloore's minimalism and Lochhead's surrealism impacted McKay, who was inspired by the 1958 Jackson Pollock retrospective in New York and Barnett Newman's visit to Regina in 1959, and later produced outstanding works as a member of the Regina Five. Kiyooka's brilliant watercolour abstractions of 1958 evoked the reflections across the surface of Emma Lake, and his 1959 abstract paintings, the beauty of the iridescent hoarfrost of Regina. He moved to Vancouver that year.

Bloore brought a commitment to abstraction he had developed in St. Louis and Toronto, while McKay and Kiyooka were the first in Saskatchewan to take it up. The wabi sabi appreciation of the Japanese for the worn, wistful and transitory in nature seems manifested in many of the works produced by the Regina painters. These pictures seemed to resonate with the reductive truth and spontaneity of Zen Buddhist scroll painting, then popular among abstract expressionist painters such as Robert Motherwell, Gordon Oslow Ford and Mark Tobey.

Unfortunately, the selection of a water-based medium on paper also ensured that these high-quality works would not be esteemed by collectors. Watercolour was considered secondary to oil painting, even in the thirties and forties when watercolour became a modernist option to oil. Some painters like American Charles Burchfield and John Marin successfully challenged this bias, and today there is renewed interest. Although a postwar artist, Lochhead has suffered a similar fate, as he favoured the immediacy of watercolour and the large number of pictures that could be made in a single session. A 2005 survey of these many works on paper is to be organized by the Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa.

McKay advised Lochhead to read the writings of Allan Watts and D. T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, and in turn Lochhead encouraged McKay to enroll at the Barnes Foundation in 1956-57. While there, McKay attended lectures by Suzuki, who was a visiting professor of oriental philosophy at Columbia University. (13)  Abstract expressionism was embracing Jungian psychology as an unconscious cross-cultural avenue to self-awareness. Central to Suzuki's teachings was the distancing of action from ego consciousness and desire, embracing chance and intuition to unravel a visual problem. 'Action painting,' the new term coined by critic Harold Rosenberg, also well described the surrealist automatic writing of abstract expressionism that marked the momentary poignancy of individual existence. Since logic slowed consciousness and lost touch with the present when trying to interpret the blur of the modern world speeding into the future, the stream-of-consciousness aesthetic of 'Zen' and 'action painting' appeared to keep pace. This method made sense to painters like Lochhead who valued immediacy.

Barnett Newman attended Emma Lake as the 1959 leader, making for an incendiary encounter for Regina artists such as Bloore, McKay and Kiyooka. Unfortunately, Lochhead was in Rome and missed Newman's discussions about the spiritual and mythological iconography of abstract painting.

Lochhead threw himself into teaching and administration while planning the upgrade of facilities at Emma Lake. It was difficult to engage a leader of Newman's stature, and he finally settled on John Ferren, after considering artists as diverse as Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Mark Tobey, all of whom were suggested by Will Barnett. Abstract expressionism was still the leading art movement. Lochhead's enthusiasm for de Kooning reflected his predilection for the automatic writing of surrealist painters such as Gorky, Miro and Klee. Following the 1960 workshop, Ferren wrote an article for Canadian Art magazine outlining his position that abstraction should cut ties to the limiting specifics of place in order to express the transcendent inner life of the artist:

Transcend is an Old New England word very intelligible to men like Thoreau and Emerson, but ... suspect today... [Yet] an artist today is trying to clarify or improve his colours as an intellectual discipline. He is trying to go beyond his means and then bring the means up to a new level and say something to the inner recesses of the mind. He is trying to show a way between our experienced life and our intuitively felt life. (14) 

Regulars at the Cedar Tavern in New York, Ferren and Herman Cherry, who conducted the 1961 workshop, were casual friends of de Kooning and Franz Kline. Escaping the summer heat, they often vacationed near each other. In 1956, when Jackson Pollock was killed in a car accident, Cherry arrived that same day at de Kooning's door in Martha's Vineyard to deliver the devastating news. Later, in 1963, de Kooning rented Ferren's cottage in the Springs north of New York near his unfinished studio. John Ferren thus brought a profound knowledge from the life of many of the abstract expressionists' commitment to advanced painting.

On his return to Regina in 1959, Lochhead did not do much painting. The other future members of the Regina Five, especially R.L. Bloore and Arthur McKay, urged their friend over beer at the Hotel Saskatchewan to experiment, to question the facility of the small mosaic-like pictures made in Rome. Bloore encouraged him to get rid of the brush, colour, and mimesis by working automatically. Some artists never made the leap. Lochhead dared to take up the challenge, but not before having listened carefully to John Ferren and Herman Cherry at Emma Lake. Suddenly he took off and accelerated like the birds and jet planes of the 1958 Gander mural:

I was the last one of that whole group to jump into the pool. It was during Ferren's workshop that I started playing around. And then I got into black and white and, suddenly, images started appearing. So that is how Minotaur and Stampede (1961) later came into existence. Anyway, I got into this, and played with black and white, because I wanted to simplify and take the hues of colour out and just have a tonal effect.

Following Ferren's August visit, in his sketchbook Lochhead describes 'the punctuation of space as directed movement' and notes 'the change of direction and alteration of the degree or level of energy.' He has become an improvisational painter, making larger works on paper such as Vibrations on the Plain (1961) because the medium permitted spontaneity and a high tolerance of failure. This was stream-of-consciousness writing, a visual calligraphy similar to works of New York painters de Kooning, Phillip Guston and Pollock, but also of Regina colleagues who challenged and encouraged him.

Paring back to black and white, massing line, and embracing spontaneity, Lochhead relies on intuition. 'I am now free to employ an intuitive approach with ease — in accordance with my desire.' Abstract expressionist paintings such as Slant (1960), and Green Interior, Forest Haven, and Root Pile all dating from 1961 suggest the profile of landscape — sky and forest. Still Life (1961) does not disguise its subject. Stampede (1961) appears to delineate the flight of birds and flash of wings. Agitation is suitably titled; page after page in his sketchbook corroborates the intentional dismantling of facility in drawing as he sought less control over his feelings. Painting is a cyclical process of questioning and answering, of mark-making, and the pictures reflect an inner landscape — the identity of the painter — that the large scale now allows. No longer mere images, the paintings are physical objects that occupy the same space as the viewer.

Lochhead prepared for The May Show at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in 1961, which was organized by Bloore to coincide with the Canadian Museums Association meeting in Regina. Evan Turner, director of the Montreal Museum of Arts, recommended that the National Gallery of Canada reorganize this exhibition as Five Painters from Regina. (15)  Lochhead's largest painting, Minotaur {I960), was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada from this show held in its gallery in the fall of 1961, an indication of the picture's prominence.

The largest of the 1960 and 1961 black-and-white paintings, Slant and Minotaur, are the most abstracted figure-and-ground cubist compositions. They are spatially ambiguous and free to explore the push and pull of dynamic space. Minotaur is reminiscent of Chaim Soutine's canvases, one of which Lochhead saw at the Barnes Foundation. More abstract, Slant extolls pure movement but is the most impressive of this series. What makes these canvases excel is their black-and-white, reductive abstraction. In addition, the orchestrated modulation of space through brushwork plays with edges and surface.

With abstraction he did not surrender romanticism. The archetypal, cross-cultural resonance of earlier surrealist images is latent. Alluding to the maze, Minotaur embodies the anxiety of modern life. The artist imparts a mythological, cross-cultural meaning through the title. However, the lack of threat embodied by this mythic monster in Minotaur is significant; we do not face the anxiety of the modern maze. Instead, we enter the archetypal garden as Lochhead feels getting lost is a precondition of creativity. So the maze is a game, a pleasurable experience. Through the uncertainty of play, the painter advances painting. Lochhead writes a poem in his sketchbook / journal of 1961:

A frame for joy
A frame for nature
A frame for despair

['Homage to John Ferren']

The Balgonie studio displayed old harness parts alongside surrealist drawings, reminiscent of the decorative art presented together with paintings at the Barnes Foundation. Some of Lochhead's earlier paintings, such as Haywagon, featured harvesting equipment as auspicious totems of the prairie landscape. At the Cherry workshop, old machinery was displayed above the painting area where Lochhead worked, perhaps serving as props for formal invention. After the Ferren workshop, Ted Godwin, Lochhead and Bloore decided that a show featuring the 'found object' would challenge entrenched attitudes. The artists cobbled together works by the fictitious artist Win Hedore from cast-off materials and presented a mock exhibition. In the catalogue foreword, R. L. Bloore opined:

The works of WIN HEDORE of Saskatchewan are a revelation concerning the twentieth century. These are three-dimensional constructions made from the debris of speed and built-in obsolescence. from the rejected fragments of automobiles and other vehicles, Hedore has been able to develop a fantastic series of almost speaking images.

There was the expected outrage. The Regina Leader Post of October 20, 1960, responded with a threatening article: 'Fire the whole staff. Auto parts 'art' stirs controversy.' Lochhead, who contributed the ready-made Idol from a dismantled blacksmith's shop on his Balgonie property, the site of the Wiens studio, had long been fascinated by the vernacular from his days at the Barnes Foundation. Idol is the sole surviving assemblage from the Win Hedore exhibition.

Sanctified by the authority of the museum and elevated by display, the found object undermined art-for-art's-sake connoisseurship. Lochhead expounded, 'You can get beauty in a scrap metal arrangement as well as in a flower arrangement.' As reported in Time of November 7, 1960, R.L. Bloore was amazed by the national attention. 'We see our objects as satire on society,' he said amiably. 'But anyone who wants can also see them as a spoof on modern art.'

With respect to Lochhead's painting, the Win Hedore show is important for several reasons. First, the persona of the artist is acknowledged as separate from the real identity of the artist; second, the spontaneity of a chance encounter attends the discovery of the objet trouvé; third, the fallacy of connoisseurship is revealed, for value can be conferred. Lochhead's contribution Idol is the totemic, sometimes tribal relic collected by artists and collectors of modern art in the 1950s but rarely acknowledged. This found object marks his rebellion against convention and virtuosity in art, and stands at the threshold of a new adventure in abstraction.

Lochhead wrote to Robert Murray in New York on November 23, 1960, encouraging him to 'keep this outpost up to date on the BIG men.' Murray was a young sculptor from Saskatoon and a former student at Regina College's School of Art who had attended the Newman workshop. Earlier, on November 8, 1960, Lochhead had asked for his help:

Do you think there is any chance of our securing the services of De Kooning at Emma Lake? Ron is planning to visit N.Y. very soon and it is my hope to make the trip also. For me to have the opportunity to meet with Ferren, Newman, and De Kooning would, I think, help the school and myself in furthering contact with these men.

He followed this inquiry with a request to W.A. Riddell of Regina College for financial support. He flew to New York, visiting Robert Murray. He was to make several trips:

Every visit I made to New York was centered on a visit to Bob Murray and later on in 1962 with Clement Greenberg. I met a number of artists on these visits — Ken Noland, Jules Olitski, Mike Steiner, and David Smith in Bolton Landing. On one such visit, I met Barnett Newman through Bob who served as an assistant to him. I went to the Allan Stone Gallery, and helped Bob stretch a Newman painting. He was having a joint exhibition with De Kooning. (16) 


Finally abstract expressionist Herman Cherry was engaged as the summer leader of Emma Lake for 1961. Lochhead worked hard to catch up again to his colleagues who had attended the 1959 Newman workshop. He had produced 22 black-and-white paintings in 1960, a prodigious amount of work. In 1961, many of Lochhead's paintings were scraper-blade pictures, like Sybarite, that explored the massing of line based on landscape. The title referred to an ancient Greek city known for luxury. R. L. Bloore suggested that his friends try using a scraper-blade instead of a brush. Douglas Morton, Roy Kiyooka and Arthur McKay used the blade as a tool on masonite and paper. In contrast to canvas, they offer a smooth and firm surface, allowing the painter to play with translucent and opaque pigment as material. The scraper-blade's ridged textures and edges allowed Lochhead to make David Smith-like sculpture drawings such as Focus Reception (1962).

Lochhead wanted to pursue the leaders of the New York school since no one could see their work in Canada. Cherry replied on September 12, 1961:

My conversation with Guston has borne fruit. I explained the set-up, the living situation, the food, the freedom in teaching, the people. It seems though that Lac La Ronge must be on the schedule. He is ready to leave tomorrow. Suggest you write immediately & sew him up with a contract while he is soft on it.

On September 20 Lochhead extended the invitation to Guston and offered to pay the costs of travel north of Emma Lake. On September 26, 1961, Herman Cherry wrote, 'Tomorrow I am having dinner with Bob Murray & Newman. I will bend their ears back.' But it was not so simple. This was the Midwest and Canada. Ken Lochhead replied on October 12, 1961: 'Apparently my letter to Philip Guston did not reach him at the address we had and was returned to us. We have taken the liberty to send it to him via you since you are our only contact with him.'

Cherry was impressed with Lochhead's painting that summer and offered to show slides of the artist's pieces to New York dealers, but the Regina artist declined, feeling that he was just beginning to explore abstraction. He was monopolized by teaching and needed a year to further his work.

Lochhead was impatient to explore colour, which he knew was his strength. But pure visual colour always seemed in the thrall of some worldly purpose. So for the sake of change, he felt Emma Lake should stress colour and form. To catch up with abstraction, he had embraced black and white and the spontaneity of abstract expressionism, first with the brush on canvas and then with the scraper-blade on masonite in the John Ferren and Herman Cherry sessions. R.L. Bloore introduced the scraper-blade in 1958 and Arthur McKay soon followed after the Newman workshop the next year. Now Emma Lake leaders could help him with colour. So beginning in 1962, the workshops led by Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski diverged from the agitated subjectivity advocated by Ferren and Cherry.

Despite his departure to Vancouver in 1959, Roy Kiyooka continued to attend the workshops until 1962, when he, Robert Murray and Guido Molinari participated in the Greenberg session. Even British Columbia painter Tony Onley experimented with atypical geometric works. Kiyooka's painting moved toward an intensely coloured, optical, hard-edged geometric style as early as 1963.

Lochhead used a refined sensibility for colour to devise a reductive image based on landscape and the totemic stem-square configuration, which allowed variations. The artist's sketchbooks show that this iconic image evolved from the structure of flowers. The overt still-life and root-pile massings in the black-and-white paintings cede to the colour and geometry of Left of Centre and Box Green, both of 1962: 'When I painted a green in abstraction, I did not have to make it in the shape of a tree; it could take on any shape or dimension that it wanted. I was free to explore colour without having to make a literal commentary.'

Greenberg thought that materiality was the fact and future of visual art, but he erred, omitting extraneous factors, psychic, social, economic and political. He encouraged intuition over reason, but not intense subjectivity, as he turned away from De Kooning and Pollock. Although the critic championed American sculptor David Smith, he disliked surrealist content and applied colour in sculpture.

Lochhead made an effort to assemble a group of the leading artists in Canada. Among those invited to Greenberg's workshop were Marion Greenstone, Kazuo Nakamura, Tony Urquhart, Gordon Smith, Jacques de Tonnancour, Robert Murray, Marion Nicoll and B.C. Binning.

Most declined. On May 17, 1962, Robert Murray wrote:

Many thanks for the invitation to the workshop. Both Molinari and Onley have been after me to go back for it and having talked to your 'leader' a number of times this past spring, I expect it to be a worth while session. Greenberg is without question the strongest critic operative today.

Apart from the tragic though not altogether unexpected death of Kline last Sunday nite, things are much as always. There have been a number of good shows this spring including the Guston Retro. At the Gugg.

Although Lochhead was late in turning to abstraction, by the 1962 Greenberg workshop he was holding his own. Bloore was on sabbatical in Greece. In slide discussions, Greenberg advocated the colour-field painting of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski, and the constructed welded sculpture of David Smith. Lochhead quickly absorbed the ideas about a stripped-down aesthetic that jettisoned literary content in order to pursue the visual fact of painting or sculpture — material surface, edge and colour. Bloore had arrived in Regina an early minimalist and abstract artist whose work had been shaped in St. Louis and then Toronto, a direction fortified by the 1959 Newman visit. By contrast, Lochhead was at an exciting new threshold. To understand how the artist benefitted from Greenberg's teaching is to consider this new freedom colour afforded. Lochhead and his fellow artists were hardly pawns or victims of American cultural imperialism, but experimental painters who made some of the best paintings in Canada and certainly the West.

American scene painting before WW11 envisioned the Midwest as an Eden with a quality of life not available in the large cities. The work of outsider rural folk artists who depicted such a paradise was avidly collected. Regional American painters like Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper and Charles Burchfield, while exhibiting in New York, realized that identification with place and identity could only strengthen art. Lochhead remembers Greenberg saying, 'Go to New York to see what to do, and what not to do. New York has the worst and the best.' (17)  Although Greenberg believed that good art could be made anywhere, especially in Saskatchewan, he still promoted mainstream New York by his actions and attempted a risky transplant that could only finally fail.

In parallel to the import of colour-field formalism, the emergence of folk art is revealing. Both idioms were part of the urban dissatisfaction with modern life, administering a tonic for alienation and anxiety. Modernist painting was unhappy, unsatisfied, and searching for something else. (18)  Greenberg criticized the Paul Emile Borduas white of Bloore's work as 'sour,' an unfair comment and more a reflection on his own taste than the artist's work. (19)  In Balgonie, W.C. McCargar's example is a reminder that success does not require such a pedigree. Lochhead's photographs of Wyers in his studio and of the striped vernacular bins and barn doors near Regina, and Bloore's outstanding text in Canadian Art acclaiming Wyers as a painter of the first rank did away with the cliché of the isolated folk artist. (20)  High and low, sophisticated and primitive, marginal and mainstream are fallacious terms, concealing basic inequities of power and influence. Wyers's and McCargar's excellence is both local and international.

This immersion and acculturation at Emma Lake, two weeks every August, resembled a ritual, the social surrender of old ideas through experiment in order to change. Emma Lake provided a retreat for artists that suited Lochhead's romantic symbolic art and reminded him of the Gatineau forest north of Ottawa. These early workshops with Canadian and American painters were an extension of the artist's painting and his development as an artist, an attempt to link local and international culture and create a vital regional art scene. Also, Emma Lake continued to provide a sense of landscape as he ventured boldly into abstraction.

Greenberg suggested that composition should incorporate size and shape of surface, since the deep box-like illusion of space in representation weakened the materiality of the medium of painting. In abstraction, he felt that literal flatness was an advancement on the theatrical proscenium-like space of cubism and surrealism. In Box Green (1962), Lochhead responded by playing with the literal edges and surface of the masonite in a series of concentric squares, so that virtual divisions, as in cubism, no longer disrupted pictorial space. Colour relation in the breadth and wavering edge of minimal form now commanded attention. At the Cherry workshop, abandoning the brush and adopting the scraper-blade in a painting such as Sybarite (1961), he poured enamel on masonite and dragged the pigment across the surface. In Box Green and later larger acrylic-on-canvas paintings, he carefully mixed his colours, making sure not to dilute the colour. There was little room for error as he painted in a spontaneous manner, balancing his colour-forms like a house of cards. The success of the complex mural for the Gander airport in 1958 had given him the confidence and the bravura to make these uncompromising, self-assured pictures.

Left of Centre is humorous, not doctrinaire; it is 'left of centre' — liberal. The painting is asymmetrical, out of kilter; it is askew. The emerald green rectangle is wider and heavier to compensate for the visual movement toward the left of the composition, the result of the format being 'left of centre.' As in Box Green, the exploration of colour as visual field luxuriates in the materiality of pigment on the surface, but not to excess. Left of Centre is a great achievement, an understanding of painting by Lochhead that excited the New York critic. He was then enlisting acolytes in pure colour abstraction, defined in opposition to the intense subjectivity of abstract expressionism. The critic's power and influence in New York had reached a peak, but was about to wane.

Left of Centre is arguably Lochhead's most important historical painting: reductive, asymmetrical, intuitive, chromatic, and formal. Unparalleled, the painting vibrates. Colours are difficult to define spatially, balanced on a knife edge. In terms of colour, form and space, there is no frenetic oscillation, nothing divisive, only a luxurious surface of coloured pigment. The tan masonite glows, surfacing to support the image around the edges and the abutment of colours. The painting's precarious, comic imbalance of space, colour and edge is grounded by the innate hue of the masonite. Left of Centre exemplifies the notion that the perfect square is an approximated ideal. Don't take yourself seriously. Executed with spontaneity, a high-wire act, this picture bridges negative and positive space with lyricism.

By the early 1960s, formalist abstraction was in doubt. Social and political aims in pop, minimal, conceptual, installation, land, and performance art were concerned with the real world. As well, exploring the postwar development of painting, Saskatchewan artists reluctantly surrendered historical and cultural issues in art. Those attending the early Emma Lake workshops absorbed new ideas while nevertheless retaining their individuality. It would be naive to assume that the painters of Saskatchewan were so early on under the sway of a New York art critic. In London, Ontario it became the fashion to define yourself as a Canadian artist in opposition to the United States, affirming regionalism while borrowing the visual ideas of American pop artists. Communal values and interests — social democracy — along with the clouds of the Prairie sky and the movement of wild grasses, empowered their work, because these images reflected Saskatchewan and made a greater impression than a desiccated aesthetic code, even if from mainstream New York.

Box Green (1962) distills Lochhead's love of landscape, although colour and mass remain primary. Lochhead's abstractions revel in the romanticism of the lost garden of modernism, enjoying an organic, almost forbidden asymmetry. Left of Centre and Box Green are not severely deductive, but fluid, glistening passages of enamel pulled across a hard surface, the edges of form dependent on the motion and pressure of the spatula. The instrument divides the surface, creating a dialogue with the edges of the support, working with closely valued colour, avoiding the disruption of cubist space. He felt at home, constructing these dynamic pictures of light. The square geometric format allowed an ambiguously pleasurable experience of spatial colour and massed shape. Unlike many contemporaries, Lochhead never painted confusing mazes as symbols of alienation, fear and anxiety. To him, colour abstraction was a path toward understanding and truth. Left of Centre can be seen as a garden, a patchwork of fields, with the golden wheat now harvested, as tilled dark loam. Gardens are aesthetic spaces walled off from the chaos of nature. Lochhead's 1962-63 paintings borrow this metaphor, as is evident in the internal framing of his pictures, walls within walls. Through colour, these are expansive pictures, not confined spaces. Greenberg decried metaphor and such psychological notions as projecting meaning onto pure abstraction. But the abstraction of Bloore's and McKay's iconic central images predated Greenberg's arrival, and Lochhead respected these works as mirrors honestly reflecting their very different personalities. Lochhead was amused. Even in his more doctrinaire colour pictures — the stem or L-paintings — the poetry of metaphor exists. He believes in a transcendental romantic art that recognizes the spiritual. A fragment of free verse that he wrote in his 1961 Emma Lake sketchbook / journal is revealing:

Progression through frames
without fracture
the spirit prevails through any matter

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Text: © Ted Fraser. All rights reserved.

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the structural process, very much