Lawren Harris

About the Artist

Lawren Stewart Harris was born in Brantford, Ontario, in 1885. His family was wealthy, having developed a successful farm machinery business. In 1891 the family business merged with the Massey firm to create the  iconicOf a picture; a sculpture, or even a building, when regarded as an object of veneration. (Artlex.com)  Massey-Harris company. The young Lawren Harris was basically free of money worries for the rest of his life.

Harris took up  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)  at an early age and studied in Germany from 1904 to 1907. He then spent a year-and-a-half travelling and worked briefly as a magazine illustrator in Toronto, but 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)   post-impressionistIn early Modernism, a French art movement that immediately followed Impressionism and Neo-impressionism. The artists involved showed a greater concern for expression, structure and form than did the Impressionist artists. Building on the works of the Neo-Impressionists, these artists rejected the emphasis the Impressionists put on naturalism and the depiction of fleeting effects of light. (Artlex.com)  street scenes of the older and poorer areas of the city. He continued to paint similar scenes into the 1920s.

In 1911 he met J. E. H. MacDonald, whose  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)  paintings impressed him profoundly, and they became friends. In 1913 they saw an exhibition of modern Scandinavian paintings in Buffalo, New York that convinced them of their mission.  “Here was an art bold, vigorous and uncompromising, embodying direct experience of the great North.” (Newlands, 2000)

The spiritually-minded Harris, influenced by his reading of Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art and by his interest in theosophy, sought a landscape that would better express his spiritual beliefs. Impressed by the spirit of “Northerness” in the Scandinavian paintings, Harris turned his attention to the rugged northern Ontario landscape. He went to the Algoma area north of Sault Ste. Marie in 1918, equipping a railway boxcar as living quarters, which the Algoma Central Railway obligingly moved from one spectacular location to another over the summer. The following summer the painters who would become the Group of Seven spent the summer painting scenes along the rail line.

In 1921 Harris discovered the north shore of Lake Superior on a trip with A. Y. Jackson. In this simple, pared-down landscape Harris “quickly realized he had found his perfect painting country.” (Murray, 2003)

Harris explored the Rockies in 1924 and returned to hike and to paint in the mountains for the following four summers. Harris studied both  transcendentalSupereminent; surpassing others; as, transcendental being or qualities. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  literature and theosophy, and the north shore of Lake Superior and the Rockies suited his striving to combine the natural world and the spiritual in his painting.

In 1934, at age 49, Harris re-invented himself as a painter and turned to  abstractImagery which departs from representational accuracy, to a variable range of possible degrees. Abstract artists select and then exaggerate or simplify the forms suggested by the world around them.  (Artlex.com)   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)  as a means of grappling with the spiritual ideas he was trying to capture on canvas. He moved to New Hampshire for a few years and then to New Mexico before settling in 1940 in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he became a leading figure in that city’s art community.
 
Lawren Harris will forever be associated with the Group of Seven, a seminal group formed in 1920 that rebelled against the colonialist ideas of art that had been imported into Canada from Britain and Europe. The Group of Seven advocated a home-grown “Canadian”  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 art. A. Y. Jackson said that without Harris there would be no Group of Seven. “He provided the stimulus; it was he who encouraged us always to take the bolder course, to find new trails.” (quoted in Murray, 2003)

Before the Group of Seven, Harris was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters. He was also a founder of the Federation of Canadian Artists and a founder of the Transcendentalist Painting Group in the United States. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1969. He died in Vancouver a year later at age 85.


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