Watch Lawren Harris school CBC on abstract art

On this day in 1961, CBC met Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris for an interview about his life, work and the future of art.

The future of art? Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris shared his prediction on this day in 1961.

On this day in 1961, CBC aired an interview with Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris about his life, work and the future of art. (CBC Digital Archives)

There's a major exhibition of Lawren Harris paintings happening now at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, a show curated by comedian and long-time Harris collector Steve Martin, which will arrive at Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario in July 2016. On this day in 1961, however, the place to find this Group of Seven icon was the Vancouver Art Gallery. That's where CBC met the painter to conduct a feature interview on his life, his work and the future of art.

Lawren Harris and Ira Dilworth are pictured at the opening of the new Emily Carr Memorial Galleries at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1951. (Canadian Press)

So what was the future of art supposed to be? Harris' prediction is to the point.

"If I could tell, I'd be painting it," he cracked. Because although he was 75 at the time, Harris was actively producing new work. At one point, interviewer Percy Saltzman asks him to name his best period.

"Hasn't happened yet," he replied.

For someone always looking toward the next project, Harris nevertheless gamely reflected on his past in the piece, recounting the glory days of the Group of Seven, from their beginnings in 1920 through the early decades of the last century.

Lawren Harris. Mount Thule, Bylot Island, 1930. (Canadian Press)

"We were battling the old kind of painting done by practically all the artists in Canada at the time. We were referred to as 'the hot mush school' and every derisive name that could thought of in the press. Oh, that was astounding! ... They didn't understand it."

Lawren Harris. Composition No. 1, 1940. (Canadian Press)

Some things never change, and throughout the segment Harris is confronted about his move away from painting mountains and forests to total abstraction. At one point, the reporter tells Harris that abstract art "doesn't relate to people and their experiences."

Watch the video above for his thoughtful response.

Head to the CBC Digital Archives for more videos from the vault like this one.


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