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Ron (Gyo-Zo) Spickett, "Posse #3," mixed media on canvas, 1966. Art Collection, Student’s Union, University of Alberta.
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"The Last Posse"
Ron (Gyo-Zo) Spickett, "The Last Posse," 1969, oil on panel. Art Collection, Student’s Union, University of Alberta.
The Spirit Matters – A Retrospective of Ron (Gyo-Zo) Spickett
September 25 to November 6, 2009
Nickle Arts Museum, Calgary
By Richard White
When entering the Nickle Arts Museum’s first gallery, I was immediately confronted with a large-scale triptych with three skeletal humanoid forms on each side panel, tugging on a red piece of cloth that extended across the middle panel, each piece bringing multiple associations and references to the whole. Painted in 1973, “Tearing the Robe” sets the stage for an exhibition that challenges the viewer to look internally and externally, past and present, to try to understand the world we share. “Suffer Little Children” is a haunting painting that is more abstract than figurative — bone-thin arms reach toward each other inside what looks like a faceless sinister figure wearing a huge cloak that engulfs everything. There is definitely a dark side to Ron (Gyo-Zo) Spickett’s expression of the human condition, and these works have much in common with the tortured souls in Francis Bacon’s work.
There have been several significant cities in Spickett’s life and art — San Miguel, Mexico, Kyoto, Japan, Calgary and Regina — each of them has had an influential role in shaping his experience. Spickett was born in Regina in 1926, and he had an early interest in art, meeting fellow artist and lifelong friend Roy Kiyooka. He moved to Calgary in 1946 to study at what is now the Alberta College of Art and Design, and began working as an artist in1951 for the Hudson Bay Co. In 1955, he received a full scholarship to study art in San Miguel for a year, where he developed an appreciation for mural making and the painting of Diego Rivera. Back in Calgary he became a highly regarded instructor at the Alberta College of Art, and in 1962, he received a Canada Council grant to study in Kyoto, where he discovered Buddhism. Returning to Calgary, he continued to teach, paint, and exhibit and in 1984, he was ordained as a Zen Buddhist.
Curated by Geoffrey Simmons, the exhibition space for Spirit Matters allows the paintings to resonate. The exhibition is an honest and frank examination of Spickett’s work, in both a Canadian and an international context. While some of the landscape and abstract works share some common denominators with Canadian artists including Marion Nicol or Jean Paul Riopelle, the figurative work struck me as the most compelling.
Spickett’s series of horse and rider paintings are playful and poignant, integrating Mexican mural traditions and cubism, the movement of the RCMP musical ride and Calgary’s cowboy culture. Spickett clearly captures the spirit of Calgary. On one level, his work addresses universal themes, but this show also makes references to Calgary’s struggle to reconcile its dualities — man vs. nature, inner vs. outer, western vs. eastern, past vs. present, harmony vs. chaos, boom vs. bust and stillness vs. movement. The catalogue for Spirit Matters has recently been published by the University of Calgary Press.