LOT 045

1919 - 2020

Winter, December
acrylic on canvas
signed and on verso titled and dated 1990 on the gallery label
67 x 83 in, 170.2 x 210.8 cm

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

Sold for: $169,250

Preview at:

Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, Vancouver, 1990

Andy Sylvester, editor, Gordon Smith: Don’t Look Back, 2014, essay by Ian Wallace, pages 123 and 124

Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver, 1990

Gordon Smith was part of a generation of painters, architects, poets, musicians and writers on the West Coast who engaged with the modern movement. His journey began during his trip in 1951 to San Francisco, to the California School of Fine Arts, where his teacher was painter Elmer Bischoff. He was told to get a big canvas, put it on the floor, and just start manipulating paint. Smith recounted, “It was the best damn thing that happened, it was a real shock treatment. We got into the act of painting.” From then on, Smith was committed to the process of painting abstractions, and he never stopped changing and evolving.

In Winter, December, Smith engaged with the balance between the push and pull of dark and light. Although the painting is based on the forest floor during winter, it is really about the movement of the paint, especially the white of the snow, which gesturally moves up and out, asserting itself in a joyous way. But the dark sections of earth, full of other colours such as ochre, red, blue and maroon, also hold their ground, pushing through the white. The evidence of Smith’s painterly process is everywhere, in the small lines, the daubs of accent colours and in the brushy paintwork. Space breathes in and out dimensionally, while the drips, running down, bring us back to the surface of the painting.

As a modernist, Smith “felt free to mark the canvas in every way imaginable…to allow the medium [to] be simply the material trace of his presence in the world, as an affirmation of self,” as Ian Wallace wrote. In his studio on Vancouver’s north shore, Smith worked surrounded by West Coast forest. His house was perched overlooking Kloochman Park, a small reserve of raw nature which ran down to the cliffs above the ocean. It was natural that the landscape should form the basis for his abstraction. So too was the drive to produce paintings based on memories of what he had seen and felt around him. In Winter, December we feel Smith’s exuberance painting snow covering the plethora of twigs and grasses, through his slashing paint-strokes. This painting is emotional and lyrical, and is deeply sensuous.

Painted in 1990, Winter, December forms part of a long cycle of snow paintings that began around this time—which were sometimes more, sometimes less, abstract. Smith once said that abstract art was like a Bach fugue, and there are analogies with music here. Ian Wallace writes of “an expressive quivering of the surface…Lyrical lashings…that suggest the frisson of violin strings, or the soft pulsation of colour in the underground suggesting the deeper tones of the contrabass.” Within this group of painterly variations, Winter, December is a work that sings an exceptional song.

Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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