Behind The Art of Bert Weir
by Tom Iacona and Jane Stockwell
‘Lifestyles, This Week’
Beacon-Herald, Parry Sound
October 8, 2010
By picking up his brash every day despite severe physical infirmities, 85 year old Parry Sound artist Bert Weir testifies profoundly to his intense relationship with his art and with life. What a pleasure to find this new book on his life and work. While containing but a small sampling of Weirs prodigious oeuvre, The Art of Bert Weir by Lisa Daniels is not only a valuable addition to every artist’s library, but should also—and rightly so—serve to focus wider public attention on his achievements and contribution to the visual arts.
Daniels, the curator-director of Gallery Lambton in Sarnia, Ontario, holds an MA in Art History and a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Writing in a scholarly but very readable style, and drawing on a variety of sources to support her insights, she skillfully weaves Weir’s biographical data together with commentary on his philosophy so that the context of each stage of the artists life and career is clear. She masterfully demonstrates that Weirs life is “one unending painting.”
Weir received his formal art training at the Ontario College of Art, graduating in 1952. Married to fellow art student Elena Zebrauskaite, he moved his young family north to the Parry Sound area of Ontario. Here he set up McKellar Lodge Summer Studio and retreat where colleagues and students were invited to work, study and discuss. Such collegiality is a hallmark of Weir’s generous and gregarious nature. Through the years his homes have been a meeting place where “rural artistic life confront[s] urban art values.”
Daniels reveals both the man, with a strong work ethic who embraces life head-on, and the artist, questing for an understanding of his personal response to the material and spiritual world. Of himself, Weir has observed: “I was trying to become saturated with nature and then spill it out, let rny feelings reveal themselves with the brush—like dancing, the whole body is involved, essentially, facilitating man’s relationship with the spiritual.” Everything in his world— including pain and illness—has found expression on his canvasses. Elena’s death from cancer in 1995 motivated the Cancer Series and his recovery from heart surgery in 1996 engendered the Rebirth Series.
His collaboration with Joy Allan, a talented artist in her own right, whom he married in 2002, has seen him branch into new media—woodcuts, poetry, and book illustration— and new ways of connecting with the natural world. The 2008 exhibition entitled Bushwalk (available on DVD) combined the many aspects of his creativity. Canvasses were hung from trees in a forest “gallery,” where dappled sunlight played across the painted surfaces. Presented with the cello stylings of Brenda Muller and with dance and drumming, it is an exhilarating experience.
The Art of Bert Weir includes selected family photographs and 84 colour plates reproduced from photographs by Joy Allan and Cody Storm Cooper printed on quality paper. The plates are complemented by Daniels’ thoughtful analysis that serves the reader well in charting Weir’s development. In arranging the work chronologically and by comparing different periods, the author impels the curious mind to further examine, compare and contrast the other works on offer. Daughter Sky undertook the book’s design and publishing. The foreword by John Inglis, former chair of the department of fine arts at OCA, affords an, appraisal of Weir’s art from the perspective of their 60 year friendship. A bibliography, endnotes and a chronology enable the reader to pin down dates and references, and find information on collections and grants. More than a mere coffee table art book, this study is an insightful examination of one Canada’s finest artists—a book that should be in every thoughtful person’s library.