Art Gallery of Hamilton 123 King Street West
On a drive through downtown, the name of the Art Gallery of Hamilton is prominently projected over the heart of the city where it proudly resides. Nestled between the MacNab bus terminal and the Hamilton Convention Centre, the AGH opened in its present location across from Jackson Square in 1977. Restored in 2005, the once-declining building was lovingly repaired during an $18 million recladding and revitalization project. It’s a beautiful place to visit – it is also one of the oldest galleries in Canada, and the third largest in the country. I love the glass entrance. Spanning two stories, multiple walls of windows create a cup of light that brightly fills the entrance to the brim with promise. This gives the foyer a peaceful and calm energy, quietly juxtaposed against the busy concrete thoroughway of Main Street and the heart of downtown on the other side of the window.
Most recently, Paul Cézanne’s “Still Life with Apples and a Glass of Wine” filled the largest wall of this space, a giant testament to the visiting exhibition that just wrapped up at the beginning of this month. “The World Is An Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne” had been on display since November, filling the J.P. Brickell and Joe Ng Galleries with 23 famous works from the French painter. $8 for members and $10 for non-members, a trip to the Art Gallery of Hamilton should never be overlooked as an essential part of any Hamiltonian’s “to-do” list, and with new exhibitions three times a year, there’s always lots to see and do. I finally made it to check out the exhibit and the rest of the gallery in one of the last weekends of the Cézanne exhibit, and on a Saturday afternoon it was busy but not overcrowded.
The AGH offers free 40-minute tours to patrons at 12:30pm and 2pm every Saturday and Sunday, and I toured the exhibit with gallery volunteer and local author Bill Manson. Leading a large group of visitors through the visiting masterpieces, he explained why Cézanne was called the “Father of Modern Art” by breaking the rules of his time and applying a new perspective to each still life he painted. His subjects of apples, flowers, and skulls may seem simple, but Cézanne wanted to astonish the art world by painting these elemental objects in a way no one had ever done before. He was known for simplicity in all areas of his work, including literally “painting what he drew” – what he saw before his own eyes, never omitting anything – and using only three tools: his brush, paint, and a canvas.
Elements of all these are evident in his works in a way that had never been attempted – textured brush strokes and wide swaths of open canvas are all part of his completed works, from a time when still life painting was still very much regimented. I can’t speak highly enough of Bill Manson as a tour guide, and encourage anyone to seek him out for a tour of the AGH. More than one guest expressed their appreciation for his thoroughness and knowledge, with one commenting that it was the “best tour he’s ever had”.
After the tour, Manson continued into the adjacent galleries on the first floor where the Painting Hamilton exhibit was also in its last weeks. Comprised of paintings from 10 Hamilton artists, he drew parallels between local works and those of Cézanne. I had checked out these works before the tour of the main exhibit, but it was now easy to see them as inspired in a different light. For example, the perspectives of Daniel Hutchinson and Charles Meanwell can be seen as inspired by the same literal practice of “painting what one sees”. Like Cézanne, Manny Trinh shows the use of his tools in his art by leaving some blank canvas visible and using colour to create dimension, and Catherine Gibbon uses a reflection technique that is visible in the still life “Vase with flowers”. Other artists included are Christina Sealey, David Hucal, Jennifer Carvalho, Beth Stuart, Matthew Schofield, and Lorne Toews. I spent quite a bit of time studying Schofield’s works – a collection tiny painting of photographs, entitled “Still Lifes of Snapshots”.
Before the AGH moved to its present location, the gallery existed in the second floor of the Hamilton Public Library, which now opened a century ago. To celebrate the centennial of The AGH, 100 works of art are on display on Level Two, with a total of 5 galleries filled with the Art for a Century: 100 for the 100th exhibit. The Art Gallery of Hamilton has has a solid collection of modern Canadian art, thanks largely to longtime curator TR MacDonald and 25 years of his Annual Winter Exhibitions. On display until April 26th, this retrospective also collaborates with the newly installed Juno Photography exhibit in the lower lounge of the gallery. The Juno Tour of Canadian Art incorporates personal selections by nominees and winners from the Art of a Century exhibition of master works. You can read commentary from famous Canadians alongside the pieces they have chosen, including an explanation of their choices.