Art of painting's brush with death greatly exaggerated, say contest jurors

Close to 800 young and emerging artists from across the country entered this year's RBC Canadian Painting Competition- proving that in the age of digital technology- the art of putting paint to canvas is alive and well.

Finalists in RBC Painting Competition on display at National Gallery of Canada

Wei Li, Obsessiveness and excitement, never growing out of them, 2017. 'The canvas itself functions as a vehicle to carry the painter’s moment of emotion, memory and energy, and the end result is often visually complex,' Li said. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)

The age-old practice of putting paint to canvas continues to thrive among Canada's young and emerging artists, if the volume of entrants to a national arts competition is any indication.

Close to 800 artists submitted paintings to the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, a contest with a $25,000 top prize for artists in the early stages of their careers. 

The final 15 works, including two from the Gatineau region, are hanging on the walls of the National Gallery, where a group of jury members have assembled to name the winners on Tuesday.

Cindy Ji Hye Kim's Conspiracy Theory, 2017. Acrylic, ink, pastel and oil on canvas. 'I’m interested in stepping in and out of the picture as an observer, a voyeur, and a witness,' Kim said. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)

Not popular in contemporary art

Even for artists in the field, the number of entrants was surprising.

"I think the first thing that caught my attention was the amount of submissions," said Sky Glabush, one of the competition's juror members. 

The volume and high quality of the submitted works made it a challenge to winnow the field down to the 15 finalists, Glabush said.

The painter and teacher said he's surprised with the popularity of painting among young artists, because it's not that popular in the contemporary art world, where digital, multi-disciplinary, or installation art are often featured in major shows.

"Painting in Canada seems to be really burgeoning, it seems to have gained in momentum, which is sort of odd," Glabush said.

"Considering if you look at some of the more major opportunities for showing work, the Venice Biennale for example, you almost never see a painter."

David Kaarsemaker told CBC's All In A Day that the architecture of the Place du Portage government buildings inspired his painting, Portage 1. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)

Painting perseveres

Jury member Mireille Eagan, the curator of contemporary art at The Rooms in St. John's, Newfoundland, said painting's popularity has waxed and waned, but said many young artists are finding the surface of a blank canvas is where they want to explore personal and political ideas in both abstract and representational art.

"I don't think painting has ever really died although its death knell has been rung a few times, " Eagan said.

The prize was initiated 19 years ago to help support artists who were working in what many say was an old-fashioned medium.

Today, according to Eagan, they are here to celebrate where painting is going next.

The national winner of the competition receives a purchase prize of $25,000, two honourable mentions each receive $15,000 and the remaining 12 finalists receive $2,500 each.

Laura Rokas-Bérubé, Paint by Number 7, 2017. 'Although I am an unabashedly representational painter, I am continually inspired by several different media, allowing them to change my perception of what painting means to me and of contemporary painting as a whole,' says Rokas-Bérubé. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)
Michael Freeman Badour, Patrick's Boots, 2017. Oil on muslin. The painting is inspired by a photograph of the artist's brother’s childhood boots, as well as by Van Gogh’s paintings of his own boots. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)
Amanda Boulos, Duckie Wants Water, 2017. Oil on panel. (RBC Canadian Painting Competition)