Jack Leonard Shadbolt

Jack Leonard Shadbolt

1909 - 1998
BCSFA CGP CSPWC OC RCA

“What finally remains of works of art are the images they have planted in the collective imagination.”…Jack Shadbolt, 1990

Born in 1909 in England, Shadbolt came to Canada in 1912, settling in Nelson, British Columbia. In 1914 the family moved to Victoria, where Jack was exposed to the work of the Surrealists and Neo-Romanticists, schools of art that would profoundly affect the work he was to produce. He took classes at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts with Charles Scott, Frederick Varley and Henry Täuber. Shadbolt then determined to become a teacher; his training including a summer course with William P. Weston. He made a remarkable contribution to art education, teaching art at Kitsilano High School, the Vancouver School of Art, the University of British Columbia and the Danforth Technical School in Toronto. He led the first Emma Lake Artist’s Workshop in 1955 and he and his wife Doris would establish the Vancouver Institute for the Visual Arts in 1988.

Shadbolt met Emily Carr in 1930 and became a regular visitor to her home, and it was at this time that his first drawings of Indian carvings were produced. His first show as part of the Vancouver Island Arts and Crafts Society 23rd Exhibition saw their work hung together in the Modern Room. In 1933 he traveled across the USA, viewing murals and art collections and visiting the World’s Fair where he saw the work of Cezanne and the Post- Impressionists as well as early Italian Art. In Detroit he saw the work of Diego Rivera. The following year he went to New York and met Alfred Stieglitz, studied with the Art Student’s League, and was exposed to the work of the American Post-Impressionists, Social Realists and Surrealists. He traveled to Paris to see Picasso’s Guernica in 1937, and lived there for several months in 1938, working with André Lhote and learning the techniques of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. He enlisted shortly after the onset of World War II and was assigned to the Canadian Army War Artists Administration, producing drawings of the destruction of London and the horrors of concentration camps.

Shadbolt’s works were generally based on broad significant themes from his life’s experience. In 1942, he began The Occupation of Point Grey in response to the War, and would often explore social and political issues through metaphor and allegory. The natural world and the cycles of life and death, growth, decay and destruction; ideas of metamorphosis such as butterflies, brides and transformation; fetishes and homages, as well as native Canadian motifs were examined in his work. He worked in charcoal, watercolour, oil, print and mixed media including latex, Lucite, acrylic and ink, in collages on multiple panels, (sometimes numbering in the dozens) to explore his ideas. Often apocalyptic in subject, his works belie their complex content with their painterly beauty and colourful, imaginative forms.

Shadbolt exhibited regularly throughout his life, his first one-man show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1936 marked the beginning of a lifetime of exhibitions there. Early in his career Shadbolt exhibited with Laing Galleries, Toronto. Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver became his primary dealer and would mount nearly 50 shows of his work in his lifetime. He represented Canada at the 1956 Venice Biennale and his work was shown at the Guggenheim Museum, the Seattle Museum of Art, and in Tokyo and Mexico City. His large scale murals grace numerous public buildings throughout Canada and his work is found in public collections from coast to coast.

Shadbolt received several honorary Doctorates and was given the Order of Canada in 1972, the Molson Prize in 1977, and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 1990. He also worked as regional editor for the Maritime Art Magazine and was the author of In Search of Form, Mind’s I and Act of Art. He was given the award of Freedom of the City of Vancouver and his life and work were the subject of the film Transfigured.

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