Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Artwork of the Week!
Walter J. Phillips (1884-1963)
Artist, teacher and writer Walter J. Phillips is recognized locally, nationally and internationally for his colour woodblock prints and watercolours. Mostly self-taught, Phillips was born in England and immigrated to Winnipeg in 1913. For several years, he was an instructor at St. John’s Technical High School and wrote a regular art column for the Winnipeg Tribune. In his own work, Phillips was able to adapt English watercolour techniques to the prairie landscape. His early Canadian images consist largely of scenes from Lake of the Woods, where he and his family rented a cottage each summer. Starting in 1926, Phillips traveled west and began painting the Rocky Mountains and the people and landscapes of the British Columbia coast.
A great deal of his work during the 1930s, however, also took inspiration from his wanderings around Manitoba. A much-loved subject was the grain elevator, upon which he commented in Duncan Campbell Scott’s 1947 monograph Walter J. Phillips:
“You can see an elevator ten miles away as you drive along a prairie road. We used to drive so much and over such uninteresting ground that elevators were glimpsed with joy. They stood up like beacons, and betokened a village, with gas or food or whatever our needs might be. I have a warm feeling for the elevator. Someone said that it expressed the only original architectural thought in the history of Canada.” (Scott, 26)
Phillips often identified the specific location of his elevator paintings and this image may in fact depict Headingly, Manitoba. Grain Elevators reflects the characteristic control and sensitivity with which Phillips handled his subjects and it was painted when the artist was in his prime; he had just been elected a full member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1933.
In 1941, Phillips moved to Calgary to teach at the Alberta Institute of Technology and Art. He later retired to Victoria, where he died, but he is most often recognized as a Winnipeg artist and his contribution to the development of the local scene was significant.