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WENDY ROSE: Blackwood, Squires, Pratt, Roy, profiled in lecture series

“Wesleyville — Rostellan and the Nickerson in the Reach, 2015,” by David Blackwood. —
“Wesleyville — Rostellan and the Nickerson in the Reach, 2015,” by David Blackwood. — - Contributed

The sold-out “The Art of David Blackwood and Gerry Squires” art history lecture saw nearly 20 art enthusiasts braving a cold winter’s night to learn more about two beloved Newfoundland artists at St. David's Presbyterian Church on Jan. 15.


The lecture was presented by Beth Pratt, a University of Toronto fine arts history major who studied education at the University of Western Ontario and has been obsessed with art “from the first time she stepped into the Musée d’Orsay in Paris at seventeen years old.”

Having previously worked with Memorial University’s lifelong learning program, Husky Energy’s Open Minds program at The Rooms, and at the Emma Butler Gallery, Pratt is a wealth of information, and her love of sharing information led to the creation of her art history lecture series.

Noting that people can be intimidated by art lectures delivered by gallery attendants, curators, art historians, dealers, etc., Pratt’s lecture series aims to engage the common person with easily accessible language and opportunities to ask questions and comment on the work shown.

For over a year, Pratt has been tackling topics such as “The Female Gaze: Feminism and Women Who Are Artists,” “Art History Uncovered: Naked vs. Nude,” among others.

This month, Pratt focused on local artists like Blackwood, Squires, Christopher and Mary Pratt, Jean Claude Roy, and many more.

Attendees were seated cosily on comfortable couches as Pratt delved into the evening’s discussion, starting with Blackwood’s life and works.

Weaving through the artist’s personal life and creative output, the crowd got to know both the art and the artist, who was once quoted as saying, “I’m nobody. I had to shout, my voice brought me back to my own illusion of who I am.”

Blackwood was born in Wesleyville in outport Newfoundland, growing up in an era where oral traditions and storytelling was the most common form of entertainment.

Sitting around the kitchen table, a young Blackwood heard tales of tragedy and horror from the local fishing and seal hunting industries, and these stories are ever-present in his work, as he often depicts ocean scenes, maritime wildlife, boating disasters and more.

Groomed to be a sailor — even given a boat on his 14th birthday — Blackwood instead pursued the arts, opening a studio at the age of 15, and later heading to Ontario for a formal art education. Pratt explained Blackwood’s upbringing, artistic process and influences.

In discussion of the 1980 etching and aquatint, “Fire Down on the Labrador,” perhaps Blackwood’s most famous work, we learned why some of Blackwood’s depictions of sea creatures are “larger than life”; having heard epic tales at a young age, it is thought that Blackwood’s young mind would imagine these still-massive creatures at an exaggerated size.
However, one should note that the artist is also quoted as saying, “In art, you can do all sorts of things that make no sense whatsoever.”

After an hour, we moved onto our next subject, Gerald Squires, renowned landscapist, surrealist, sculptor and portrait artist, who also worked with stained glass and pottery.
Squires was born in Newfoundland but moved to Ontario around the time of Confederation, becoming exposed to art while in school. During the Resettlement era, Squires came back just as many were leaving.

It was around this time that he and his family moved into an abandoned lighthouse, where he created the Ferryland Downs series, the Boatman series and the Cassandra series.
An exploration of 1974’s “No More May Gulls Cry at their Ears” was a personal highlight.

Weaving through the artist’s personal life and creative output, the crowd got to know both the art and the artist, who was once quoted as saying, “I’m nobody. I had to shout, my voice brought me back to my own illusion of who I am.”

Squires no longer has to shout – this legendary artist, like Blackwood, will always be a revered and respected part of Newfoundland and Labrador’s cultural history.

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