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Conceptual artist Gerald Ferguson dies

Artist Gerald Ferguson, a revered conceptual artist and teacher at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, has died. He was 72.
Gerald Ferguson in his Halifax studio 'frottaging' a painting ((Wynick/Tuck Gallery) )
Artist Gerald Ferguson, a revered conceptual artist and teacher at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, has died. He was 72.

He died suddenly in Halifax on Thursday, according to a statement from NSCAD.

Ferguson influenced a generation of young artists, said Ray Cronin, director of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

"Gerry Ferguson was one of the most important artists in the history of modern Canadian art. He's someone consistently from the late '60s right through to the present has been one of the most rigorous and interesting thinkers and painters in the country. The loss is immeasurable," Cronin told CBC News.

Born in Cincinnati in 1937, Ferguson earned a masters of fine art at Ohio University and taught at Wilmington College in Ohio and the Kansas City Art Institute before coming to Nova Scotia in 1968. He had dual Canadian and American citizenship.

He taught at NSCAD from 1968 until his retirement in 2006, helping to cement the college's reputation as a centre for conceptual art. He organized the studio and visiting artist programs that made the school cutting-edge in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ferguson also taught for a year in the 1970s at the California Institute of the Arts.

Rocks and Bush is an enamel on canvas created in 2008 by Gerald Ferguson, who died Thursday. ((Gallery Page and Strange))
Ferguson developed his conceptual art theories while in Halifax, including his practice of deconstructing how art is created to examine the conventions of the field.

Many of his works represent attempts to strip away those conventions and paint using the most minimal means possible.

In 2008, the Dalhousie Art Gallery received a donation of 16 of Ferguson's paintings selected from his Frottage Series, created between 1995 and 2006.

Frottage is a technique that involves a rubbing taken by placing paper or canvas over a textured surface — a technique Ferguson used over a 15-year period to produce beautiful images.

The artist had shown many of these paintings at the Dalhousie gallery in 2007, describing the technique in the exhibition catalogue.

"For the past 15 years I have made impressions on canvas using a house-painting roller loaded with paint passed over a variety of common materials," he wrote.

Ferguson avoided realism and surrealism in favour of creating images that stood alone as only themselves.

He did not attempt to put himself into his paintings — in fact, he tried to distance himself from his works with his techniques, including painting by placing dots on grids and even asking another artist to paint works to his instructions.

The 2000 enamel on canvas, 600 Metres of Hose, by Gerald Ferguson is one of his series of frottage images. ((Gallery Page and Strange))
In the early 1990s, he did a series of stencilled paintings, including his 1,000,000 Grapes project from 1996-97, which involved repetitive stenciling of an image of grapes.

His work 1,000,000 Pennies, exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa in 1999, has repeated images of Canadian pennies.

"It's an immeasurable loss which will be felt for many years," said Lynne Wynick of the Wynick/Tuck Gallery in Toronto, which represented his work.

"Gerald Ferguson as an artist and teacher, friend and mentor has contributed enormously to so many. He has left a fine legacy in his groundbreaking and influential work."

As a scholar, Ferguson edited several books on contemporary art and was a collector and scholar of Nova Scotia folk art. He  received professor emeritus status at NSCAD last fall.

He has exhibited his work in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, the U.S. and Europe, including solo exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Wynick/Tuck Gallery in Toronto. His work is in numerous private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1996, Ferguson won the $50,000 Molson Prize for the Arts.