Time Telling

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Errant Dogs: Cannington Manor
acrylic paint, plywood, historical themes, Canadian settlement, archival photographs, bloc settlement, historians, ethnic discrimination, religious persecution, ethnic, ethno-religious groups, Canadian prairies, Captain Edward Pierce, Canadian Pacific Railway, Victorian society, Cannington Manor, historic parks, fox hunting, representation, abstraction, pioneers, foregrond, middleground, background, social commentary, English settlement in Canada, remittance men, agricultural, college, narrative, dreamlike qualities, Council of Canadians, Expo 67
description
To mount any kind of objection to what I call ‘the evolving truth’, which is American imperialism, it’s necessary for Canadians to have a knowledge of their history,” states McConnell.  “My works are all to some extent historically based, largely in reference to Canadian settlement. (Linklater, 2004)

McConnell works primarily with  acrylicSynthetic paints, with pigments dispersed in a synthetic vehicle made from polymerized acrylic acid esters, the most important of which is polymethyl methacrylate. First used by artists in the late 1940s, their use has come to rival that of oil paints because of their versatility. They can be used on nearly any surface, in transparent washes or heavy impasto, with matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finishes. Acrylic paints dry quickly, do not yellow, are easily removed with mineral spirits or turpentine, and can clean up with soap and water.(Artlex.com)  paint on wood, usually raw, rough plywood, revisiting events or themes from Canada’s “official” history from his own critical and imaginative perspective. He finds his  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter in the  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)  of old textbooks and magazines, nature books and  archivalAn image meant to have lasting utility. An archival digital image is generally an image kept off-line in a safe place, and it's often of higher quality than the digital image delivered to the user. (Artlex.com) You can see examples of archival images at Library and Archives Canada: http://www.archivescanada.ca.  photographs. He describes himself as an artist who is interested in history, and he believes art should come from where we’ve been. However, he is not interested in simply re-creating scenes from the past. Instead, he explores alternate views to what is regarded as the dominant or official history. One of McConnell’s exhibitions that toured across the country was entitled Tales of Dominion, the word “Tales” implying that history is a fiction, shaped by the interpretations of historians as they review the documents and images that make up the historical record.

start quote...the history in Saskatchewan of utopian communities is a very interesting one.end quote -- Grant McConnell

In his  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)  Errant Dogs, Cannington Manor McConnell examines an interesting aspect of Saskatchewan history referred to as bloc settlement. For many ethnic and ethno-religious groups, particularly in Europe, the wide-open Canadian prairies presented opportunities for them to leave behind ethnic discrimination and/or religious persecution. The West also offered economic opportunities, and a chance to experiment with different ideas of community and social organization. Many of these bloc settlements and community experiments took place in Saskatchewan.

Cannington Manor was an attempt to re-create the gentrified life of Imperial England in south-eastern Saskatchewan. It was established in 1882 by an Englishman, Captain Edward Pierce, south of the Canadian Pacific Railway line that was being built across the prairies. Pierce planned to establish an aristocratic community – a mini-Victorian society – with most of the benefits of English life, but few of the drawbacks, and with a much lower cost of living.

Homestead

By the mid-1890s more than 200 people lived at Cannington Manor, but Pierce’s attempts to attract students to his agricultural college brought mostly “remittance men”, the bachelor sons of wealthy families who were unwilling or unable to work at a job in England. Often the black sheep of the family, they lived off the money – remittances – sent to them by their families. Most of them were more interested in tennis, tea, and fox hunting than working for a living. The community withered away when railways bypassed Cannington Manor in favour of other towns nearby. Cannington Manor is now a historic park.

In Errant Dogs, Cannington Manor McConnell gives us his perspective on this experiment in community living. But McConnell’s view is not an idealized look at the past. The word “errant” from the work’s title can be defined as “traveling” or “straying outside the proper bounds or path.” Both meanings could apply here, as both the fox hunters and their hounds in the painting are transplants from another country. Many of the fox hunters were sent to Canada because they were dreamers or troublemakers who had become an embarrassment to their families.

McConnell’s painting sits somewhere between representation and abstraction. By doing this he is able to re-create literal images from the historic past, and at the same time apply his own metaphoric interpretation to the historic record. In the  foregroundIn a painting or drawing, the foreground is usually composed of images at the bottom of the frame. They give the appearance of being closest to the viewer.  of the painting we see errant dogs running in all directions, suggesting a fox hunt, and perhaps also the shortcomings of the young settlers that contributed to the community’s demise. A settler’s building is barely visible in the background, overturning the usual historical approach that emphasizes the heroic efforts of pioneers to establish homesteads and clear the land for agriculture.

In the middle of the painting floats an apparition of the British Imperial lion, perhaps alluding to the arrogance of a common phrase of that era: “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” However, McConnell’s choice of  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter suggests that while people may move to begin a new life in a new location, they bring their defective personal baggage with them. He has taken the historical facts and used them as the starting point for his own social commentary and imaginative reconstructions of the past.

additional resources Errant Dogs, Cannington Manor
Duration: 2:16 min
Size: 9709kb
Experience after High School
Duration: 1:56 min
Size: 8388kb
Influences for Art
Duration: 1:47 min
Size: 7837kb
Influences Growing Up
Duration: 2:17 min
Size: 9967kb
Working Methods
Duration: 2:11 min
Size: 9523kb
Things to Think About
  • Think about a community in your area that has been abandoned, or is slowly dying. Can you identify any events in the history of that community that may have contributed to its decline? If so, how could you portray those events visually?
  • McConnell is not content to repeat the popular or accepted version of events in his paintings. Think of a historical event and find an account of it in a textbook or history book. As you read about it, do questions pop up in your mind that are not answered? How would you go about trying to answer those questions?
Advanced Activity

Have your own visual “conversation” about Canadian history

Advanced Activity

Links to history of Cannington Manor

Links to two other painters of the past

Online Activity
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  • Read the text on "Who or What am I", then click on the Next  button.

  • Click on the Next button once more to begin peeling back the layers.

  • Drag your mouse over the picture you see here and peel back the layers to reveal an image from Canada’s history. Read the riddle and guess the title of the picture. Pull away all the layers to reveal the answer.
Studio Activity

Study the painting

Grant McConnell has created a unique visual code in his  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)  Errant Dogs: Cannington Manor in order to reflect on and narrate a part of Canadian history. This painting, as with all his work, has a mysterious quality that makes us think we are remembering a story or imagining a dream.

  • He begins his paintings with a black ground and as he adds layers of paint, he works to dramatically illuminate parts of the painting.  How does the lighting in this artwork give it a dream-like quality?
  • Although his work is realist in style, he does not paint neat lines and edges. Can you see that in some areas he allows paint to drip and stain, almost like a curtain, adding to the mysterious feeling?  He also builds paint quite thickly in other parts of the painting.

Try an a la prima (gloss) painting

  • Read a conversation with Grant McConnell about his paintings at Alberta, Naturally:  River Dance
  • Here we will use the rich descriptions as starting points for an a la prima painting.  Read the river dance reflection, and where you come to something that intrigues you – a word, a moment, a thought, a connection, a mood - simple begin to apply paint and let the paint and the time to paint inspire you.

Painting effects

Try some of these  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)  effects and techniques yourself.

References

Anderson, Jack.  ‘Contemplative character of still life exhibited.’  Regina Leader Post, February 21, 2002.

Beattie, Gregg.  ‘Painting the Political.’  Prairie Dog, February 21, 2002.

Beattie, Gregg.  ‘Revisionist history.’  What’s On, Regina, Saskatchewan, undated.

Linklater, Kristin.  ‘Grant McConnell.’  Galleries West, Fall/Winter, 2004.

Meyers, Pat.  ‘River Dance.’  Legacy Magazine, Fall, 1998. Retrieved from the Internet on April 4, 2008 from Alberta Heritage at:  http://www.abheritage.ca/abnature/environmental/legacy_river_dance.htm.

Richmond, Cindy.  ‘Recalling the Thread of Life,’ in the exhibition catalogue for Memory in Place.  MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1989.

Smith, Steven Ross.  ‘Saskatchewan: Grant McConnell: Selections from Time and Place.’  Galleries West, undated. Retrieved from the Internet on April 4, 2008 at:  http://www.regina.worldweb.com/Regina/Departments/ExhibitionReviews//6-107653.html.

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