Written by: Sandra Hutton
In 2015, I had the pleasure of meeting artist Gordon Harrison at the One-Of-A-Kind Craft show in Toronto, Canada. I am usually a regular at these types of shows and greatly enjoy the opportunity to interact with artists and view artwork. I am always struck by the diversity of creativity at this show. There are always a plethora of ideas, techniques, and styles to explore. From across an aisle, I first caught sight of Gordon’s work and immediately made a beeline to his booth. I was struck by the bold colour choices and the extraordinary, textural application of oil paint. His scenes of the Canadian landscape take the viewer on a sensory journey and his colour combinations juxtapose unique colour combinations. Trust me–it is poetry on canvas.
As I crossed the aisle to take a closer look at his artwork, I immediately knew that I wanted to take in more of the beauty of his work. I also knew that I wanted to meet the artist. I ended up meeting both Gordon, and Phil Émond, his partner and gallerist. What a dynamic duo! This conversation led to me learning about their Artist Inspiration Project, a project started in 2009. This is a project in which they work with students in one school a year in Canada, focusing on teaching Gordon’s techniques. I was excited and immediately knew that this was an opportunity that I wanted very much for my students! I was also excited to learn about coaching opportunities that he offered out of his home studio and his lake house in the Laurentians. I left feeling inspired and wanting to learn more.
This interaction also led me to reflect upon the meaning of inspiration. What exactly is inspiration, and why is it important? Without question, when you feel it, you know it. By definition it is 1) the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative and 2) a sudden, brilliant timely idea. In other words, inspiration can feel like an “a-ha” moment. As an educator, I realized the potential learning opportunity for my students and that excited me! I was also personally inspired because, the more I learned about Gordon, the more I realized that his artwork was full of heart–it demonstrated his love of the outdoors and the Canadian landscape. His work is sometimes compared to the work of artists in The Group of Seven, yet Gordon refers to his work as contemporary landscapes. He notes, “My brushstrokes are broad, loose and intense” (Émond & Harrison 17). As Gordon says, his work is “controlled messiness” and states that he, “infuses colour combinations into a modern Canadian landscape that may not naturally exist yet trigger your senses and cause emotional connections.” As a fellow nature lover, this spoke to me. I realized that part of the inspiration I felt from viewing his work was because it evoked strong emotion in me. I could envision being in the painting and looking around at the magnificent surroundings.
Viewing art can lead to moments of inspiration but speaking to artists and learning their story can also inspire as well. As I learned about Gordon, I found out that he was born tongue-tied and did not speak for the first few years of his life. His primary method of communication was art. This caused me to reflect upon the incredible opportunity that art presents as a communicative tool. It also speaks greatly to Gordon’s resilience and ability to engage and persist in art creation. Prior to becoming a full-time artist, Gordon also held other career positions including being a city planner for 30 years in Ottawa. He expressed to me that he loved this job but was also so happy to have ultimately found his passion. This is also inspiring. My takeaway message here is that it is never too late to alter a career path and extend an artistic journey in a different direction.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the significant role that Phil Émond has played in Gordon’s life and career. Phil is Gordon’s partner and Gallerist. As Gordon notes, “Artists are never successful on their own. I am very fortunate to have my life partner, Gallerist Phil Émond who spends endless hours in the day and night managing our gallery and raising the bar in promoting my art with a strong community focus” (Émond & Harrison 11). Art engages community and creates connection. As Phil says, “There is no better tribute to an artist than the expression on someone’s face as one connects deeply with a painting, displaying emotions, memories, and dreams” (Émond and Harrison 13). The viewing of art can transport the viewer into the painting or into a memory triggered by emotion, but the conversations can also spark inspiration, causing others to contemplate their own creative path.
In addition to working with Gordon and Phil on the Artist Inspiration Project with my students, I have had the opportunity to enjoy coaching sessions with Gordon individually as well. Coaching can be a key component of artistic growth and, for me, it allowed me to gain further technical skill, while also gaining nuggets of wisdom from a very prolific artist. He advised on colour choices, and application of paint, but the biggest piece of advice that resonated with me were his wise words: Make time in your day, every day, for art.
I’m going to repeat that because I want it to sink in: Make time in your day, every day, for art.
When I think of this quote, I can hear Gordon’s voice. Inspiration can come from the viewing of art, but often it is from interactions that occur with artists, and how we internalize their messages.
Art matters, and so does inspiration. One cannot exist without the other. It is a marvellous cycle of connection and reflection that can lead to achieving greater artistic capacity.
For more information on Gordon Harrison, his art collection, and coaching sessions please visit:
Émond & Harrison, Gordon Harrison: The Colours of Canada, 2012.