John Esler

About the Artist

While out for a drive in Calgary one Sunday afternoon, John Esler spied something shiny on the road. It was a tin lunch box that had been flattened by passing cars. Esler took the box back to his shop, and with a bit of hammering and filing, he had a plate ready for printing.

The story doesn’t reveal exactly when this particular event happened, but Esler did spend much of his artistic career in Calgary. He was born at Pilot Mound, Manitoba in 1933, and studied at the School of Art at the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1960. He then studied at that University’s Faculty of Education, and after traveling abroad, took a teaching post at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary in 1964. He continued as an artist-teacher at the University of Calgary, where he taught intaglio,  lithographyA form of printmaking where an artist prepares a stone for printing and draws an image using a grease pencil. The technique works on the principle that oil and water repel each other.  and  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  from 1968 to 1980.

Esler’s willingness to experiment is one of the defining characteristics of his artistic practice. That squashed lunch box became the first in a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of found-objects-turned-into-prints that Esler called Relics of the 20th Century. One of those experiments included the flattened chassis of a television set. His desire to discover new ways to press his ideas on paper led him to explore collographs and etching, two forms of  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.”  that particularly allow for experimentation.

Susan Ford, an art educator who curated a 1994  retrospectiveAn exhibition of work by a senior artist representing all the stages of the artist’s career.  of Esler’s prints, said that as an art educator he offered an “experimental, hands-on, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach”, in a  mediumAny 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.”  that is usually technically oriented. (Ford, 1994)  “Hopefully” Esler added, “the first thing the student learns is not to be tentative and not to worry about making mistakes, because I think everybody in any situation learns from mistakes.” (ibid.)

John Esler died in 1991.


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