Why Steve Martin fell in love with Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris
Lawren Harris's stark and haunting renderings of Canada's north are unlike any landscapes by the other Group of Seven artists. His paintings have captivated generations of Canadians — as well as American actor, writer and comedian Steve Martin.
Steve Martin felt as if he had discovered Lawren Harris, when he came across his paintings more than 20 years ago. Since then, he has been one of the greatest champions for Harris's artwork in the United States.
In Harris, you really feel exalted. You feel like you're alone in nature. You're communing with nature, you're observing the majesty of the mountains, and you don't feel alone or depressed.- Steve Martin
Now, a Harris exhibit co-curated by Martin has come to Canada. "The Idea of North" opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Canada Day. Michael Enright got a tour of the exhibit from Steve Martin shortly before it opened.
North Shore, Lake Superior
Steve Martin: "This painting is very dramatic. There's a lone dead tree, almost dead centre...which is usually something artists would not do. But somehow it works. Here's a real example of nothing living — you have a dead tree — and yet in the background you have these incredible bursts of sun rays, and the light reflecting on the water. And it's optimistic painting...it's almost like a phoenix rising." (Note: You can hear Michael and Mr. Martin discuss this painting at about 7:59 in the audio file above.)
Steve Martin: "This Pic Island picture...[is] very serene. So you have these bombastic paintings of glory, and then you have this incredible serenity of calmness and colour. And range of colour, by the way — because you tend to think of Harris in terms of blue and white, and here you can see, no, there's purple, there's yellow." (11:13)
Steve Martin: "He made up this place. There is no mountain called Isolation Peak, so he gave this a poetic name...This picture has such atmosphere. You really feel that there's an atmosphere around the image of the mountain, there's atmosphere around the snow. This is a good example of the rippling, vibrating landscape — I don't think snow falls in grooves...You feel the containment of the mountain, and its energy, at the same time." (12:50)
Steve Martin: "It is [a lonely vista], but at the same time, quite beautiful. If you were there...I don't think you'd feel, I'm in a forlorn place...but he had the wisdom not to paint it beautifully, because that gets very corny very fast.
If it were, in this case, glorious and covered with leaves and happy waves and happy ducks, you know, it's a very dead image — oh, I've seen that in children's books." (14:28)
Click the button above to hear Michael's tour of the Lawren Harris exhibit co-curated by Steve Martin.