It took an American to shine an international light on one of Canada’s greatest painters. Steve Martin, that wild and crazy guy, curated this show in order to expose Harris to an American audience. It ran at the Hammer Museum in Los Angles and the Museum of Fine Art In Boston before coming home, as it were, to Canada.
Martin thought he had found a new, unknown genius when he came across Harris’s work 25 years ago. He was embarrassed to discover the artist was already well known, revered and loved in Canada. He decided to learn more.
I’m embarrassed that I managed to graduate with an Art History degree from a Canadian University with out ever hearing of Lawren Harris. I learned about him years later when John and our friend, the artist Joe Plaskett were reminiscing about the role Harris had played in Joe’s career. Joe had been his student, John his fan. Joe won the first Emily Carr Scholarship in 1946 after being nominated by Harris.
Harris was a trust fund baby whose inherited wealth meant he never had to find a real job. Instead he turned to art. He was no mere dilatant. He helped found and fund the Group of Seven… the influential landscape artists who created Canada’s first art movement.
Later, he shocked and scandalized the upright Toronto society of which he was a prominent member. He ran off with Bess Housser, his best friend’s wife. Fred Houser does not seemed to have minded; he and his new girlfriend shared a home with Bess and Lawren. Harris’s first wife, Trixie, on the other hand, did mind. Very much. She charging him with bigamy and engineered the new couple’s banishment from Toronto. They fled, first to New Hampshire, then New Mexico before settling in Vancouver. They were happily married for 34 years. Rumor has it the marriage was never consummated. (Secret to success?)
After the conversation with Joe, I thought a Harris original would make a great Christmas gift for John. How naive. I couldn’t afford one then and I certainly can’t afford one now. In May, one of his iconic landscapes sold for a record $4.6 million CDN. I bought the exhibit puzzle instead!