Canadian artist Tony Urquhart has a legacy of groundbreaking work: ‘He was born to create art’

Canadian artist Tony Urquhart is remembered as “a true artist” who filled a life filled with joy, art and community. He passed away on January 26 at the age of 87.

“People who bought his work in the 1960s still bought his work in the 2000s,” recalls James Rottman, of James Rottman Fine Art, which Urquhart has represented for the past 20 years. He emphasized the loyalty of the artist’s followers and the rich artistic community he had built up around him.

“He’s one of the last of a generation of painters,” Rottman said. That generation was particularly defined in the late 1950s and early ’60s when Urquhart was recognized as one of Canada’s pioneering abstract artists, after being one of the painters associated with the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto and later with the Heart of London. group (which included Jack). Chambers, Greg Curnoe and Murray Favro.)

Urquhart was a multimedia artist and his paintings, drawings and unique “boxes” received great acclaim at home and abroad.

Rottman remembers Urquhart’s freedom of expression. “He was never influenced, or in, a style or a school. He was a real artist. ” His work with mixed media was groundbreaking, with his box sculptures that included plexiglass, organic materials, woods, seeds and shells, and everyday objects far ahead of what other Canadian artists did at the time.

“He created installation art before there was even a definition of (it) in Canada,” Rottman said. Paintings can contain a garden bee photo, a flurry of color, beautiful colors.

Urquhart’s work is held in collections around the world, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris among many others. The Ontario Art Gallery has 27 of Urquhart’s works, including some working drawings.

“Tony Urquhart, who always paid attention to the profound impact that art can have on our lives, was a prolific artist, teacher and art activist. CARFAC, an organization he co-founded, was catalytic in protecting and rewarding artists in Canada (still the industry standard by which artists are paid today), ”said Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton, curator of Canadian Art. the AGO, said. a statement to the Star. “I have been enriched by our conversations over the years and remember with fondness our meeting in 2008, when we exhibited one of his distinctive sculptures.”

Among his many honors, Urquhart was a member of the Order of Canada and won the 2009 Governor – General’s Award for visual arts. He was a member of the University of Waterloo’s Department of Fine Arts for 32 years, where he mentored generations of young art students before his retirement in 1999. The university also houses its archives.

He was also known as an illustrator and illustrator of books, including a special edition of Nino Ricci’s “Lives of the Saints” and his wife Jane Urquhart’s novels.

Poet Penn Kemp, a family friend for decades, remembers Tony as a friendly, always creative, generous man and a wonderful artist. When he was chosen as the Western University’s first residence artist in 1960, she says that she “then kindness and later bridged many cultural differences and feuds.”

Tony Urquhart was born on April 9, 1934 in Niagara Falls, Ont. His art, especially his landscapes, was influenced by his upbringing in Niagara Falls. Until 1960, his parents, brother and he lived with his grandparents, who ran a funeral home.

The house was on a large piece of land, including part of the battlefield where the 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane took place. The family maintained a large Victorian garden and as a youngster Urquhart inhabited this magical landscape. He told the Star in 2000 that he probably signed before fully mastering speech.

And he created a life of art from there. “That’s what he did was create art from day to day for 60 years,” Rottman said. “That’s what he was born to do.”

Urquhart came of age in an era of what he called “the hairy chest Abstract Expressionists,” and enrolled at Buffalo’s Albright School of Art, across the street from what is now the Albright-Knox Gallery. This was at a time when the gallery was purchasing works by Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, and when critic Clement Greenberg’s prescriptions on the painting itself the only proper subject of painting was widely observed.

In his later years, Urquhart was diagnosed with dementia. His daughter, Emily Urquhart, wrote a book about her father in 2020, “The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father, and Me,” which explores aging and the creative mind.

She remembered how she had traveled with her family since childhood, and often stayed in one place for a period of time so that Tony could delve into a single visual and draw it over and over in a series.

Emily said in an interview with The Star that “My dad draws from life, but he always changes it … If there are three windows or they are in a certain place, it will never be an exact replica . “

Urquhart leaves behind his wife, Jane, daughters Allyson, Robin and Emily, and son Aidan; he died by his son Marsh.

With files from the Star’s archives and wire services


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