Artist quotes about the 80s

Local artists of the era look back

Read about the exhibition Made in Calgary: The 1980s on now at Glenbow.


The 1980s was a time of extraordinary transformation for Calgary arts and culture. We morphed from a pioneer outpost in 1980 with a few fledgling galleries to a cosmopolitan world centre through the international art programs associated with the Calgary 1988 Olympics. The predecessor of MOCA was founded 25 years ago in 1988 in the space previously dedicated for Olympic arts programs. Along 17th Avenue S.W. hip new commercial galleries enlivened national and international content. A “scene” had emerged. It was a great joy to go for a gallery stroll on Saturday afternoon invariably capped by a visit to Bagels and Buns or My Marvin’s. The art crowd felt duty bound to support exotic and ethnic food options that were starting to appear. Pumpernickel bagels cream cheese and fresh pasta began to back up in artists’ freezers. Who knew that bagels would become a ubiquitous staple of fast food mass culture? Specialty restaurants replaced “Chinese Canadian” as the only Asian option. Calgary supplemented noble Scottish roots with the embrace of international art culture and peoples.


I was a kind and gentle flower child of the ’60s and when the ’80s came along in Calgary I met both Jeffrey Spalding and Chris Cran. They turned me into a raging alpha male. These two were the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel of the art world. Jeffrey was curating and collecting both at the Glenbow and at the University of Lethbridge to say nothing of making his own fabulous work. Like Simon he is still as dynamic and creative as ever. Chris at the time was a rising star. Like Garfunkel I wonder what ever happened to him?


It was a pleasure for me to see “Carrier/Four” again in the ’80s show. In trying to decode it after all these years I realized what a travelogue it is. In 1984 I was fortunate to tour Israel with nine other Canadian artists at the invitation of the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation. That year I also exhibited in London and Paris and taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. It’s all in there: planes boats a donkey the Dead Sea Halifax and Miro.


It was 1980 that I began the Central Image paintings. At the time I shared studio space in the Burns Visual Arts Society across from the Glenbow with Gary Tucker and Jeffrey Spalding. It was myself and Evan Penny most days but we would meet other artists for coffee at Bagels and Buns or drinks at either the Tower Lounge or Primos. Mira Godard Gallery Gallery Moos and Canadian Gallery were also in the 17 Avenue S.W. area. Discussions were heated as we contemplated the explosion of Pluralism from the restrictive thinking of Post Conceptual Structuralism and Formal Modernism. More food for thought was the Distinguished Lecture Series brought by Jeffrey to the Glenbow. My imagery was based counter to the NY boys club specifically Eric Fischl and David Salle an appreciative nod to Susan Rothenberg and with a background admiring Franz Kline.

It is very timely (and I look forward to) the opening of Barbara Edwards Contemporary on October 5 with an Eric Fischl show.


My awareness of the visual arts in Calgary begins as a small child in my parent’s home and at the Coste House the first real home of the Calgary Allied Arts Council. I remember my brother and I rolling like logs down the slope of its lawn to pass time while the adults conducted important business inside. Then in 1960 when I was a teenager my mother and I were present at the opening of the Allied Arts Centre on Eighth Avenue. These were signal undertakings for their times in a culturally young city within a young country worthy of the excitement activity and ambition they elicited. It is worthwhile to remember that in the pre-Allied Arts years Calgary artists exhibited where they could once at the top of the up escalator in the Hudson’s Bay department store paintings placed on easels round about.

While the particulars and players changed the dynamic during the ’80’s had much in common with the earlier manifestations of cultural maturation. There were the people who refused mediocrity; artists curators and critics. There were the institutions that believed in and supported excellence in contemporary art. There were citizens who breathed life into art with their love and support. My memory of the time is of being in the embrace of all of this life-giving energy. We held each other lifted each other up. We believed in our ambitions. We did it.

I believe very much in the necessity for art real art in every part of the country. I believe in it breathing its life into every community that offers a hold. This is not an attachment to provincialism but rather ambition echoing the pioneer tradition of the necessity for world wise culture; a piano books paintings in every ranch house. That too is part of my memory store. The smell of wood smoke and kerosene lamps and the clunk of the dipper going into the water barrel as stories of artists and crazy horses circulated around the kitchen table.


There are a few inspirational things that stand out for me when I remember the ’80s not the least of which was being able to rent a house year after year for $250 a month and a studio for less.

The list: A spectacular painting exhibition by Ron Moppett at Gallery Moos in 1980. A number of mind-boggling performances/installations in the mid-’80s by John Will and Jack Anderson. John Will’s hilarious “paintings.” Rita McKeough’s exhibition with wailing pre-demolition houses at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design. John Hall’s immaculate realist paintings. Curator Jeffrey Spalding’s visiting artist lecture lineup at the Glenbow including Philip Glass and the artist who defined performance art for me Laurie Anderson. Arlene Stamp’s stunning Gladys Johnston Series paintings. Carroll Taylor-Lindoe’s charcoal drawings from the early ’80s. Eric Cameron’s Thick Paintings and Tape Paintings. Don Kottmann’s abstract and figurative paintings. Any number of shows at the artist-run centres — Stride Off Centre Centre (The New Gallery) and Truck. And being able to read Nancy Tousley’s Calgary Herald column every week!