LOT 003

1909 - 1976

Signal Station
oil on board
signed and dated 1949 and on verso titled on the exhibition label
18 x 24 in, 45.7 x 61 cm

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

Sold for: $61,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

Acquired directly from the Artist by Barbara Pentland, Vancouver
Gift from the above to the Langley Community Music School, 2000

Abraham J. Rogatnick, Ian M. Thom and Adele Weder, B.C. Binning, 2006, page 126

Art Gallery of Toronto, 1950

West Coast modernist B.C. Binning produced a remarkable body of work that included drawings, paintings and public mural installations. Binning’s expansive viewpoint formed early in his life - he studied in England with sculptor Henry Moore and then traveled through Europe, visiting museums and viewing both art and architecture. His work shows the influence of such European artists as Joan Miró and Paul Klee. He traveled in 1939 to New York, where he saw the modernist exhibition Art in Our Time, which showcased the work of European artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Paul Cézanne, along with prominent modernist architects. Binning exhibited internationally at venues such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno, Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil, and the Venice Biennale, among others.

Signal Station, with its abstracted ship’s hull and nautical forms, is a classic Binning painting. Binning drew his inspiration and imagery from his own experience of the West Coast. His home in West Vancouver was close to the ocean, and he spent his summers exploring the coastal waters in his sailboat the Skookumchuck. Binning commented, “Being a seaside person, small boats, ships and things of the sea are old loves of mine – I know them well and I find them ready forms for interpretation. They can be lyric, no doubt about that, grand and elegant with dignity and power, or jolly and happy for joy. They abstract well…”

The title refers to a vital element of Vancouver’s early harbour communications. A signal station was situated at the top of Prospect Point (the waters below were so dangerous to ships it was once called Calamity Point) – and it operated up until 1939, after the Lions Gate Bridge was built. The station alerted ships entering and leaving the harbour about such important matters as tides, wind and the movements of other vessels. Signals were passed from the station to the Prospect Point Lighthouse on the rocks below, and they were essential to the port’s shipping activities and maritime safety. On the deck of this station, as seen in early archival photographs, were the kind of forms that Binning incorporated into works such as this – round balls, triangular objects, rigging and flags.

Signal Station shows a step in evolution from Binning’s paintings of only a year previous. In his well-known 1948 work Ships in Classical Calm (in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada) his brushwork is smooth, and his palette is cool greys, blues and greens. Signal Station, produced in 1949, reflects Binning’s growing interest in textural effects. While his main forms are smoothly modulated, his background consists of softly brushed paint-strokes, creating a surface that also appears to be rubbed and incised. His palette was also changing – these textured backgrounds were often grey or beige, contrasted with forms charged with colour, as we see here in the hot red and golden yellow hues, given more punch by the adjacent black and white planes. Signal Station also includes references to the landscape, with the sun in the upper right and a slightly ragged, drifting cloud form at the top. Binning’s use of line is unique. Although precisely plotted, his lines are not hard – they have slightly feverish edges and vary in pressure, expressing their organic, hand-drawn quality.

Besides being a painter and architect, Binning was also an influential educator who founded the Department of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia, developed the UBC Fine Arts Gallery and organized the multimedia Festival of Contemporary Arts. He was a conduit for new ideas and outside influences, and was a catalyst for a growing sophistication in Vancouver’s art community. His social circle included prominent architects and artists such as Lawren Harris (who settled in Vancouver in 1940), Gordon Smith, Jack Shadbolt and Orville Fisher. Binning’s importance as a central figure in the West Coast modernist scene cannot be underestimated.

The original collector of this work, Barbara Pentland, taught music at the University of British Columbia and knew Binning.

The proceeds of this sale will go towards an endowment fund for the Langley Music School.

This work is in the artist's original frame, and there is an unfinished sketch on verso.

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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