Sunday, October 19, 2014

McAfee, Canada's painter

Occasionally, without rhyme nor reason, a person arrives into the world to change things. Sometimes a wide open field once fallow now grows ripe and luscious in a sun lit by genius. And genius is what Canadian painter Robert McAffee has wrought. In the midst of the seemingly banal, the painfully repetitive and the sometimes shockingly deceptive world of Canada's present lauded painters, McAffee. a banker turned painter has given Canadians back what they had lost long ago, the landscape they have always loved and the likes of which have been not seen since the Group of Seven.

In the hills of the Gatineau, in the little town of Chelsea, people are coming. Not for the coffee or the brew or the little shops or the wildlife trails necessarily, but to catch a glimpse of this man's paintings, now featured at l'Oree du Bois restaurant. The shimmering sun on a lake, the sweep of trees on a sky, the drama of an autumn walk in the woods; the quintessential Canadian landscape is awe-inspiring, filling the soul really. Anyone can recognize it when standing there. Words pale.

It is no false praise. The landscape featured below, a dyptic called "Stillness of evening" sold within several days of its unveiling for an astonishing $24,000. And as astonishing as this might be, it is not McAffee's benchmark: An Ontario collector in 2012 purchased "Changing Seasons" for $32,000. High prices indeed to be realized by a painter within their lifetime.

Why Chelsea, Quebec of all places? What is more remarkable than the paintings themselves is the inspired coupling of a cause with a visionary painter. If you do not understand why you must protect the Meech Lake and the Gatineau Park, then it takes an artist to explain it. Look at the paintings. Can you not see the soft light of morning there in the clearing? catching at the trees, sleeping in the shadows? In "Memories", McAffee's use of neutrals and warm yellows and slate blues drifts easily across the canvas as if the world was now still and this was all there was. And standing there, that really is, all there is. The paintings are not haunting. They are filling. A fresh drink of water after a long hike. An ancient memory even, reflecting back on itself. McAffee's paintings force you to rediscover what you may have lost along the way. Protecting what is left of our wilderness goes beyond politics, petty neighbourhood differences, selfish indulgences, legal machinations and pig-headedness. It speaks to the spirit of what makes us humans in the landscape. And it is what we will give to our children, a gift more precious than we can know.

McAffee has been busy canoeing, hiking and painting the Gatineau Park now for a short while. He can't seem to get enough of it, making the long drive now regularly from Whitby, Ontario (where he lives with his wife and three children), not just to replace sold paintings but more so he can lose himself in what he calls the endless depth and rich beauty of Gatineau Park. Comparisons of McAffee to the Group of Seven is often made and rightfully so; he is the nephew of Jack Reid, CSPWC, Order of Canada whose paintings grace the Royal Collection in Buckingham Palace. He learned to paint at the side of his uncle and then immersed himself into the art of some of North America's icons such as Marc Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Tom Thompson and Lawren Harris. Throwing away his work as a banker five years ago, McAffee relentlessly, diligently, fervently dedicated himself to what he felt was his higher purpose. Surely, he felt, he could only improve. And if times were tough, they are not now. There are many who can dedicate their lives to painting but as is often said, some people are born to the right time and place. They have no choice but to be who they were meant to be. McAffee is recognized as one of Canada's greatest landscape painters. His early work was heavily influenced by the Group of Seven but the more he painted, every day, he began abstracting from the Group of Seven and developing his own strokes and palette.

If you live in Chelsea or nearby, do not forgo the opportunity to see these works. They will not last long.

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