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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ken Danby

Earth, Sky, and Water, 2002, Ken Danby--a master of both
water and watercolor. It's a beautiful painting, but it's also
quite typically Canadian.
Although I write about artists from many different nations, it always seems to me that some countries contribute more than there share to my art musings while others I feel as if I'm slighting. Canadian artists, for instance, seem to be rather rare, while Polish, Russians, Dutch, French and British seem to pop up several times a month. I just did a quick and dirty survey using the search engine at the top of this page and came to realize it has been around six months since I wrote about a Canadian artist, and a year or more before that as to the next most recent. When choosing an artist, I look first at his or her work, then investigate their background, personalities, and art philosophies while all the time considering what in the way of a "hook" I might use in tying them into the present-day art scene. Canadian artist, Ken Danby died about six years ago; so he's not all that much a part of the past yet. But in that he's no longer living, he really can't be termed "contemporary." And, though I like his work immensely, there seems to be nothing much out of the ordinary in his biography. I can't think of a single thing about Ken Danby to use in grabbing the readers' attention.
At the Crease, 1972, Ken Danby
Okay, it's a good example of Canadian art. Ice Hockey is something of an obsession in that country. To me, though, it seems somewhat fearfully ugly. Canadians would, no doubt, hardly notice. Heavily reproduced in Canada, the painting At the Crease (above) was the first to make Ken Danby famous. The artist tells an amusing anecdote regarding a print of this work:
“One day a woman complimented me on my painting, At the Crease, which she referred to as, `that painting you did of the goalie, Ken Dryden.’ She said that she had long had a print of it in her home and really enjoyed it. I thanked her, but also explained that, 'It isn’t an image of Ken Dryden.’ Looking puzzled she replied, 'Yes it is.’ I responded, 'No it isn’t.’ After a long pause, she loudly exclaimed, 'YES, IT IS!’ I quickly apologized, with the realization that she was right. It was really whoever she wanted it to be.”

On his own, Ken Danby switched from a reluctant
Abstract Expressionist to an avid photorealist in
just six years.
Ken Danby was born in 1940 and grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He decided at an early age (about ten) that he wanted to become an artist. All during high school he was dubbed "the school artist"--nothing at all unusual in any of that. After graduation Danby began his art training around 1958 at the Ontario College of Art. However, he quit after only two years, feeling as if he was being forced into Abstract Expressionism. From that point on, he focused on realism in most of his work, developing his skills at watercolor. His first solo exhibition in 1964 sold out.

Stampede, 2000, Ken Danby
Danby's photorealism has drawn the attention of collectors and sustained commercial success throughout his career. His painting career spanned some five decades. His best known paintings are in egg tempera, probably the most difficult and challenging medium ever invented. He used it extensively during the 1960s and 1970s before increasingly turning to oil and acrylic during the late 1980s. Both mediums allowed him to paint much larger pieces, like the formidable eight-foot-wide Stampede (above)--one of his last paintings.

Danby might best be considered a genre painter--one who accentuates the quiet beauty and momentary pleasures
of daily life.
Hockey Night in Canada,
Ken Danby
At first glance, one is tempted to think of Danby as a Canadian Norman Rockwell, though his sensitive style and content are much more akin to that of Andrew Wyeth, whom he acknowledges as an important influence. Ken Danby was one of only a few contemporary artists to transitioned from successful artist to cultural icon. The popu-larity of his work and his contributions to the arts made him famous in Canada. However, it was his timeless images that have earned him international recognition as one of the world’s foremost realist artists of his time.

Lake Superior Surf (above-top) was one of Danby's
first college painting efforts. True North is a serigraph
(silk screen) print using some thirty different colors,
each printed separately.
It would be easy to simply call Danby a genre painter and let it go at that (rare as such artists were and are today). However this genre painter was also equally adept at landscapes (above) and portraits (below)--an all but unheard-of combination of skills. Moreover, he was equally adept at virtually all the different media mentioned earlier.

Although most famous for his connection to ice hockey, only about ten percent of Danby's art, over his entire lifetime, had to do with that sport.
If Ken Danby's life as an artist was less than exceptional, his death was not. On September 23, 2007, while on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park near North Tea Lake with his wife, Gillian, and friends, Danby collapsed, suffering a heart attack. Those with him summoned help, but paramedics were unable to revive him. Danby was the second well-known Canadian artist to die in Algonquin Park. Tom Thomson died under mysterious circumstances on Canoe Lake at the park in July, 1917, just over ninety years earlier.

Ken Danby: Reflections from Claremont Media on Vimeo.


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful Danby retrospective, including the video. Thank you, he was such a great guy and prodigious talent.