Canadian artist's time in military subject of new exhibit at Vancouver Art Gallery

Vancouver Art Gallery curator Ian Thom says it took Gordon Smith many years to process his experiences during the Second World War.

One of Canadian's most iconic painters, 98, draws on turbulent wartime experiences

VAG curator Ian Thom on painter's wartime experience 7:08

Before Gordon Smith became one of Canada's most iconic painters, he was a soldier with Princess Patricia's Light Infantry.

Smith was 24 years old when, during the Second World War, he landed at Pacino beach as part of the invasion of Sicily.

"A very short time afterward, he was very severely wounded," Ian Thom, a senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's Our Vancouver.

It took nearly six decades for Smith, now 98, to begin translating his time at war into artwork.

The Black Paintings were the result, now on display now at the VAG. The most recent work in the series was done this year, painted by Smith when he was 81.

"It's taken him many years, as with many veterans of the Second World War, to deal with their experience," Thom said.

Ian Thom, a senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, tells Our Vancouver host Gloria Macarenko about Gordon Smith and his Black Paintings. (CBC)

What to look for, when you're looking

Thom had some advice for those going to see the exhibit. 

"I'd like you to keep in mind that [the paintings] are deeply close to Gordon's personal experience, but also they reveal just how rich his handling of paint has been, and continues to be," Thom said.

"Revel in the collage elements. Revel that he takes scraps of the real world and put them into his art … A bit of backpack, a bit of plywood he found on the side of the road, a screen from somewhere."

Thom said some of the paintings also include personal items like Smith's shoulder patch from his uniform and his dog tags.

"They're highly personal, and yet not highly didactic," Thom said. "They richly reward you if you spend time looking at them." 

Watch the full interview in the video posted above.

Gordon Smith: The Black Paintings is on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery until Feb. 4, 2018.

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