Living Landscapes: Recent Colour Drypoints By John Hartman From The Permanent Collection

 

Living Landscapes presents fifteen colour drypoint works by Canadian artist John Hartman.  They were selected from a recent gift given by the artist to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.  The gift, comprising a total of twenty-seven works, includes paintings and prints spanning John Hartman’s impressive career.  This grouping is illustrative of two important facets of Hartman’s career, namely his evolving use and treatment of landscape and his employment of drypoint as an artistic technique.

Living Landscapes provides us insight into the artist’s treatment of landscape as subject matter, which stems from his personal interest in cartography and place.  Much of Hartman’s earlier works, for example, coupled landscapes with explicit figurative and narrative symbolism- which he used to relay the local stories and values of the communities depicted.  His more recent works, by contrast, are remarkably different.  The pairing of symbolism and landscape that had once characterized his work is, by and large, no longer evident.  Instead, Hartman depicts visions of cities, villages, and the countryside as living organisms by employing aerial views.  Each of these landscapes has the feeling of being alive, whether it is the bustle and energy of cities, discernible in works such as London Bridge, or the unmistakable tranquility noticeable in countryside views such as Keels.  John Hartman quite skillfully shows us his vision that these landscapes are living and each possess a unique personality.

In addition, these works reveal Hartman’s use and development of drypoint, an uncommon form of printmaking.  Drypoint is a printmaking technique whereby a dry hard-pointed needle is used to incise a design on a special metal or acrylic plate.  A main feature of drypoint is the burr, the tiny embossed edge which is left by the dry line incision.  During the ink application process, the burr retains a lot of ink- which gives the resulting image its characteristically soft and imprecise lines.  This form of printmaking dates back to the 15th century in Germany.  However, in Canada, it is widely held that the renowned artist David Brown Milne (1882-1953) was one notable artist that made great contributions to the drypoint technique.  He is credited by some as having invented the multiple-plate colour drypoint.  Milne used this technique frequently in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1985, John Hartman received support from a Canada Council grant to experiment with the use of drypoint.  Later that year, Hartman produced his first colour drypoint works and drew great inspiration from the works of David Milne.  Hartman notes that he “always admired David Milne’s colour drypoints.”  John Hartman’s early drypoint works were reminiscent of Milne’s work owing to their shared common qualities such as the limited use of colour and sparse treatment of the page.

In the years following, both Hartman’s technique and subject matter continued to evolve. He experimented and sometimes combined drypoint with other forms of printmaking such as aquatint. As Hartman’s work developed, it began to take on a busier feel, often exhibiting a considerable array of colours and figures.  Many of his drypoint works paired landscapes with supernatural and religious imagery.  The intention was to symbolize what he saw as the complex and intertwined natural world, its inhabitants, and their stories.  “I’ve always had this idea that people and place create each other. While I am primarily a landscape painter, my experience of the landscapes I paint is that they are inhabited places,” explains Hartman, “and that this habitation goes back deep into history.  When I sit down to sketch in my home landscape of southern Georgian Bay, I am aware of the history of that particular land and I also have my own memories of that place. It seemed ‘right’ for me to include these elements.”  Works from the early 1990s, such as the Ascension of Gilbert Desrochers and Cornerbrook both embody and are evidence of Hartman’s artistic evolution.

However, beginning in the late 1990s, much of John Hartman’s drypoint technique and subject matter began to change.  By the mid-2000s, Hartman’s drypoint works were strikingly different.  From a technical standpoint, they are reminiscent of the kinds of technique that the artist employed in the mid-1980s at the inception of his experimentation with drypoint.  Hartman’s works from this period display a narrower range of colour, usually limited to two or three distinct colours.  Hartman’s sparse treatment of the page is also apparent.

With regards to his subject matter, his customary practice of pairing narrative and figurative symbolism with landscape was no longer in use.  Instead, the artist consciously focused on depicting landscapes such as skylines and the countryside from an aerial view, which he visions as “living organisms” in and of themselves.  “The way I portrayed cities was like a human body,” notes Hartman, “with the roads being arteries etc.”  With regards to views of cities especially, Hartman explains that he did not feel compelled to include symbolic imagery because he “felt that the human element was obviously part of these works as I concentrated so much on the bridges and roads and railroads and the high towers.”  Works such as Hamilton Harbour or Montreal are evidence of both the change in Hartman’s drypoint technique and his treatment of landscape as subject matter. 

Living Landscapes: Recent Colour Drypoints by John Hartman from the Permanent Collection concentrates upon the work from this period in John Hartman’s career.

Born in 1950, John Hartman is a celebrated contemporary Canadian artist.  He grew up in Midland, Ontario, and later moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where he studied Fine Arts at McMaster University in the early 1970s.  Since that time, Hartman has established himself as one of Canada’s most prevalent contemporary artists.  For more than 35 years, the work of John Hartman has been highlighted in countless solo and group exhibitions, included in important public collections, and featured in many of Canada’s leading art galleries.  John Hartman lives and works in Tiny, Ontario. 

Organized by Meredith Briden, Curatorial Assistant, Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Works featured in this exhibition:


John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Montreal
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 38,1 cm
Gift of the artist

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
London Bridge
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 38,1 cm
Gift of the artist

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Boston
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 38,1 cm
Gift of the artist


John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Fox Head
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 36,8 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Blow Me Down Head
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 38,1 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
English Harbour West
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 36,8 cm
Gift of the artist
 


John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
The Narrows, Halifax
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 38,1 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Halifax
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 60,9 x Wi: 55,2 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
London from Above the Isle of Dogs
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 60,9 x Wi: 55,9 cm
Gift of the artist


John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Hamilton Harbour
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 60,9 x Wi: 57,2 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Cornerbrook
four colour lithograph on paper
Ht: 57,2 x Wi: 76,2 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Parry Sound
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 60,9 x Wi: 57,2 cm
Gift of the artist
 


John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Ascension of Gilbert Desrochers
seven colour lithograph on paper
Ht: 38,1 x Wi: 56,5 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Keels
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 37,5 cm
Gift of the artist
 

 

John Hartman (Canadian, b.1950)
Make Work Crew at Harbour Breton
colour drypoint on paper
Ht: 50,8 x Wi: 37,5 cm
Gift of the artist