Gordon Rayner

About the Artist
What matters but risk? There’s nothing. You’ve got to take the chance, with the accumulation of all your knowledge and intelligence: then comes the adventure. - Gordon Rayner, 1994

Born in Toronto, Ontario in 1935, Gordon Rayner is known for his innovative and often humourous, artworks. Rayner began his career as a  commercialPertaining to making money, i.e., creating art in order to sell it, rather than creating art for purely aesthetic purposes.  artist with the goal of emulating the famous Norman Rockwell, whose  iconicOf a picture; a sculpture, or even a building, when regarded as an object of veneration. (Artlex.com)  paintings and drawings of wholesome family life have become  nostalgicTo feel a bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past. The condition of being homesick; homesickness. Those who are nostalgic are likely to favour traditions over the future's potential to be the site of better things. Everyone would like to escape the present for some qualities remembered from (or associated with) times past. Nostalgia is that yearning for whatever it is that makes the present less desirable. Modernists were the most thoroughly anti-nostalgic group of people, whereas postmodernists pursue newness without being embarrassed by their embrace of references to the past. (Artlex.com)  representations of Americana.

Rayner’s first art training came informally through his family. His father was a commercial artist and there were always art supplies around the house. His grandfather was an artist and his great grandfather in England painted in the  styleA way of doing something. Use of materials, methods of working, design qualities and choice of subject matter reflect the style of the individual, culture, movement, or time period.  of the great  landscapeA painting, photograph or other work of art which depicts scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers and forests. There is invariably some sky in the scene. (Artlex.com) Landscape is also a term that may also refer simply to a horizontally-oriented rectangle, just as a vertically-oriented one may be said to be oriented the portrait way. (Artlex.com)  painter J. M. W. Turner. As a child Rayner remembers being surrounded by art. Discipline growing up, he recalls, was not about “Go to your room,” but rather, “Go somewhere and paint a picture.”

Rayner struggled in school after the breakup of his parents’ marriage, but he did well in his art course at the Northern Vocational Collegiate in Sarnia, Ontario. After finding living with his mother and step-father difficult, he moved in with his father, and began soaking up the techniques and methods of commercial art at his father’s studio in downtown Toronto.

Rayner later said that commercial art taught him technical mastery and discipline, and was an important part of his training. He began  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (Artlex.com)  on a full-time basis in the 1950s and his career is characterized by an experimental and exploratory approach to  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter,  mediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  and materials. Rayner was always open to new influences and has touched almost all of the art movements in North America, exploring their potential and adapting what he found to his own perceptions.

Looking back later on Rayner’s career, his friend and fellow painter Dennis Burton said of his approach to painting that, “He challenges all the ‘how you play’ the game methods and means about making a painting by finding a solution usually outside the problem, which by its seemingly unrelated introduction creates a new context, solves the problem, sets up new ones.” (Murray, 1979.)

Two events deeply influenced the direction Rayner would take in his work. The first was the first exhibition by the Painters Eleven group at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. In the early 1950s Rayner was apprenticing as a commercial artist in a studio that included Jack Bush, a member of Painters Eleven, who became one of Canada’s foremost  abstract expressionistAn artist who paints in the Abstract expressionist style.  painters. Rayner would sometimes be asked to work late, serving drinks to the “… strange and gregarious group of people who congregated in Jack Bush’s office.” It was at sessions like these that Painters Eleven hammered out their manifesto in favour of abstract art, rejecting the old order based on  naturalisticA style in which an artist intends to represent a subject as it appears in the natural world — precisely and objectivly — as opposed to being represented in a stylized or intellectually manipulated manner. Although naturalism is often used interchangeably with the term realism, there is a difference between them. The realism of Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877) is more interested in the honest depiction of unpretentious subjects, while the naturalism of Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891) is more a visually accurate depiction of subjects which in other hands might well have been depicted pretentiously. (artlex.com)  art.

The second event occurred when Rayner and some of his friends traveled to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, to view a major exhibition of abstract expressionist works. In an  artist statementA commentary by an artist on an artwork, and exhibition, belief system, or any other topic.  written in 1978 Rayner stated that, “In my paintings, the big change came right after that Albright-Knox show. The Painters Eleven exhibition prior to that had caused a major alteration in my work from natural  imageryAn image is a picture, idea, or impression of a person, thing, or idea; or a mental picture of a person, thing, or idea. The word imagery refers to a group or body of related images. (Artlex.com)  to abstraction, and the confirmation of those ideas became resolved through the Albright-Knox abstract expressionist show, trips to New York City, and then much more study through reproductions.” (Rayner, 1978)

In the 1960s Rayner began spending time every summer painting at an isolated cabin in the Magnetawan district of northern Ontario, near Parry Sound. Here he reconnected with his childhood ramblings in the woods at the edges of Toronto, and his reading of the books of Ernest Thomson Seton, filled with tales of boyhood adventures in the outdoors.

In his 1978 artist statement Rayner looked back on this period, observing that, “Now I do two kinds of painting. The first is a kind of citified, urban painting, more cerebral, less influenced by my actual surroundings. In other words, I’m neither painting nor directly influenced by the back alleys of Spadina Avenue. But when I’m up north my palette changes automatically and the method by which I paint changes, the aspects of touch and colour are more affected by the environment. I began to paint the peculiar light that exists only in northern Ontario.” (Rayner, 1978)


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning