British Columbia

Canadian painter Gordon Smith, a beloved master, has died at 100

Artist Gordon Smith, known for his large-scale abstract canvases, was 'much loved' and kept creating until he died, at the age of 100 on Jan. 18, 2020.

Smith, known for his large-scale abstract canvases, was 'much loved' and kept creating until he died.

Gordon Smith works on one his works for his exhibition Black Paintings about his time as an Intelligence Officer in World War II. (CBC Arts)

Gordon Smith, a Canadian painter known for his large-scale abstract work and influence on other artists, died on Saturday, Jan 18, 2020. He was 100.

Smith was born in East Brighton, England in 1919 and came to Winnipeg in 1933 where he enrolled at the Winnipeg School of Art. His career as a painter and teacher spanned right up until his death.

"A key figure in Canadian art, Smith lived his life with a generosity and grace that was a gift to the world," said Vancouver's Equinox Gallery in a statement.

Gordon Applebe Smith sitting in the garden of his West Vancouver home where he painted regularly right up until his death on Saturday Jan. 18, 2020. (Martin Tessler/Equinox Gallery)

Most of Smith's work reflected the landscape and natural world around him. His pieces are often a sweeping tangle of form and colour.

He had his first professional exhibition in 1938.  His artistic career included two major retrospectives at the Vancouver Art Gallery, more than 25 solo exhibitions at Equinox Gallery, participation in biennial exhibitions in Canada and Brazil, as well as significant commissions including the design of the Canadian Pavilion for Expo '70 in Osaka, in collaboration with Arthur Erickson.

He also produced and major works for public buildings in Washington, D.C. and London, U.K.

In 1941 he married Marion Fleming and their marriage spanned 70 years. Fleming died in 2009, but together they founded the Gordon and Marion Smith Foundation for Young Artists which supports art education for young students.

'Most loved artist'

Robert Heffel, the vice president of Heffel Fine Art Auction House, began selling Smith's work in 1995. Heffel and his wife, along with his brother David and his wife,became close with the Smiths.

"Gordon Smith is probably the most loved artist, the most loved you'll ever know, everybody that met him, loved him." said Heffel. "He was just such a warm, genuine person."

Heffel said every day, right up until the end of his life we went to his studio. "Everyday he painted, that was his life, that's what he lived for."

Smith taught at the Vancouver School of Art and at UBC from 1956 to 1982 when he retired from teaching to focus on painting full time.

In 2017, he created an exhibition called "Black Paintings," which reflected his time as an Intelligence Officer in the Canadian Infantry.

Artist Gordon Smith talks about painting and his life as a soldier in WW II: "In the war we were all a band of brothers." 2:37

In the past decade his works became more sought after as buyers around the world paid record amounts for Canadian works from artists such as Emily Carr, Jean-Paul Riopelle and The Group of Seven painters.

In 2013, Smith's 1965 abstract Red Beach was featured on the cover of Heffel Fine Art Auction House's contemporary catalogue and ended up fetching $93,600, three times the high-end of its presale estimate.

"It's fair to say that when you put his great paintings beside other great paintings, he stands out as one of the greats, for sure," said Heffel.

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      Smith received many accolades over the course of his career including the Order of Canada in 1996, the Order of British Columbia in 2000, the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2009 and the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts in 2007.

      "Gordon Smith, an exceptional artist and uniquely generous human being, will be greatly missed by all who had the privilege to know him," said Equinox.

      Details about a memorial for him have yet to be released.

      West Vancouver painter Gordon Smith busy working in his studio in this undated photograph. (Equinox Gallery)


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