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Anthony Morse "Tony" Urquhart

Artist Statement

Tony Urquhart was born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the 9th of April 1934. He was recognized in the late 50s and early 60s as one of Canada's pioneering abstractionists, having been variously linked with the Toronto painters associated with The Isaacs Gallery and The Heart of London group that included Jack Chambers, Greg Curnoe and Murray Favro. He was also, with Chambers and Kim Ondaatje, one of the founders of CAR/FAC (Canadian Artists Representation/Frontes des Artistes Canadiens), the artists' 'union' that first established a fee schedule for public museum and gallery exhibitions of contemporary artists. Since the 60s Urquhart has followed an independent and autonomous path centred upon his distinctive 'box' format.

Between 1954 and 1958 Tony Urquhart was trained at the Albright Art School, a division of the fine art department of the State University of New York at Buffalo, and at Yale University. In 1960 he became the University of Western Ontario's first artist-in-residence, after which he taught in the art department, before moving on to the University of Waterloo. He became full professor of Fine Art there in 1972, teaching drawing and painting as well as serving periodically as the head of the department. His studio and home are in nearby Wellesley where he lives with his poet/novelist wife, Jane.

Urquhart's association with Av Isaacs goes back to 1956, when he was only 22. Isaacs asked Urquhart to join his growing stable of artists, including Michael Snow, Joyce Weiland and Graham Coughtry. Two years later he embarked on the first of what would become annual, if not more frequent, sojourns to Europe, attracted to what he called the 'otherness' of the visual experiences there, especially the landscape, architecture and pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes and Vimy Ridge in France.

As curator of the McIntosh Gallery at Waterloo, Urquhart was responsible for the initial showings of Greg Curnoe, Walter Redinger, Ed Zelenak and John B. Boyle.

Tony Urquhart's first major retrospective was mounted by the London Regional Art Gallery in 1970, subsequent to which he began to serve widely on juries and, along with Chambers, was consulted concerning the establishment of the Canada Council's Art Bank collection. Other retrospective exhibitions were presented at the At Gallery of Kitchener (1978) and the Art Gallery of Windsor (1988), both of which toured extensively from Newfoundland to British Columbia.

Tony Urquhart's book illustration has put him in collaboration with such authors as his wife Jane, Michael Ondaatje, Matt Cohen and Louis Dudek. His work is prominent in the collections of such institutions as New York's Museum of Modern Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England; the Hirshorn Collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the Bibliotec National in Paris; the Museo Civico in Lugano; and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Tony Urquhart was named to the Order of Canada in 1995.
                                           [with thanks to Joan Vastokas]

tony about tonys

When I was a child, there were creative people in my family: a great aunt who painted pottery; my mother who did little watercolours under instruction at school and my father who was a photographer at one time, and serious about his work. But I never had a relative who was an artist per se. Actually, my grandmother was quite a strong influence throughout my life. She was an artist in the sense that she liked landscaping the grounds of our house, which were considerable, given the fact that we lived in the centre of the town of Niagara Falls on half an acre. She had ponds made; there was a wood; there was an old barn in the back of the house. It was like an oasis of quiet

This probably had an influence on making me into a landscape artist, which is basically what I would define myself as. I have done very little figurative work; I've never really been interested in the human figure. One reason is that I didn't go to the Ontario College of Art. Drawing the figure was the subject most taught at the College and everyone who went there came to rely heavily on the human figure. Unlike most of my contemporaries, through sheer chance, (because it was easier to commute to Buffalo from Niagara Falls than to Toronto) I got my training at the Albright Art School (a division of The Fine Art Department of the University of Buffalo), which I attended from 1954 to 1958. My teachers were Seymore Drumlevitch, still an important painter in Western New York, Larry Calcagno, who was with the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, and Don Nicholls, a very good advertising design teacher who is still there, and also Robert Bruce, a Canadian who taught illustration. Bruce was very interested in control of depth and in weaving space through a painting. Sensitivity to things like that I think are vitally important for a landscape painter, even though they may not be directly used.

I had my first show at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto when I was in third year art school. My influence was from Buffalo, directly from the Abstract Expressionists and in 1956 this influence was new in Toronto and the Toronto public thought my aesthetic - abstract expressionism - was really interesting. In January of 1958 I graduated from art school but I had already had my second one-man show at the Isaacs Gallery. I got married in July 1959, and went over to Europe in September, staying away for a whole year. I saw, in particular, works by Goya in The Prado, Madrid.

I lived in Niagara Falls until the end of 1960 when I went to London to be Artist-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario. I was the second Artist-in-residence in Canada, Goodridge Roberts having preceded me at the University of New Brunswick.

[From the catalogue Tony Urquhart, Twenty-five years: Retrospective, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, November-December 1978.]
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The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The Canadian Art Database: Canadian Artists Files

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