Bruno Bobak, "Winter Windowsill," 2005, oil on canvas, 30 x 48 inches.
BRUNO BOBAK, Recent Paintings
Winchester Galleries, Victoria
Mar 4 — 29, 2006
By Brian Grison
Bruno Bobak, who lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, has strong ties to western Canada. His family immigrated from Poland to Saskatchewan in 1925 when he was two years old. In 1935 his family moved to Toronto where he studied art at Central Technical High School. In 1944 he became a war artist for the Canadian military, and the following year he married fellow war artist Molly Lamb. Two years later they moved to Galiano Island. In the 1950s he was the head of the design department at the Vancouver School of Art, and from 1962 to 1987 he was the director of the University of New Brunswick Art Centre.
In the early 1950s Bobak developed a painting style that reflected the stark existentialist semi-abstractions of artists such as Jock MacDonald, Henry Moore, and Paul Nash. Following studies in Europe in the late 1950s, his painting shifted radically to "unashamedly romantic" German Expressionism. In the 1980s his art returned to starkly realistic themes dominated by flat tonal rather than painterly colour contrasts.
The exhibition at Winchester Galleries includes two views of the shoreline of Baie des Chaleur. Except for the height of the trees, Beach at Pokeshaw (2005) is reminiscent of many sites on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Spontaneous and fresh, with sparkling evening colour, it evokes sketches by James Wilson Morrice or Tom Thomson. This small 6 x 12-inch canvas resembles a plein air sketch for a larger canvas; however, it is actually an in-studio study based on drawings in the artist's notebook.
A larger 36 x 48-inch painting, Pokeshaw Beach, painted the same year, is flatter and more abstract and contemplative than the small sketch. Having enjoyed an unmediated private view, here Bobak undertakes a more ponderous abstraction of strong tonal contrasts and grayed colour in the larger canvas. The result is stark realism arising out of abstraction, a visualization found in the work of a variety of Canadian artists such as Stanley Cosgrove, John Lyman, and Goodridge Roberts, as well as British artist Ben Nicholson and American artist Milton Avery. Like Bobak, most of these artists approached but eluded pure abstraction, absorbing its lessons without succumbing to its detachment from realistic subjects.
The observation that Bobak assembles his realisms as abstractions from disparate sources is further suggested by his Winter Windowsill painting. The subject is a row of potted geraniums and nasturtiums flanking irises in a glass vase on an unseen windowsill. Beyond the window, a snake-fence and distant trees are dimly delineated in a snowy landscape. The window is in Bobak's kitchen but the landscape is not his New Brunswick vista. Moreover, the traditional "flag" or bearded irises depicted here are neither winter blooms nor are they commonly stocked by florists due to their short life once cut; these irises are probably from Bobak's own flower garden.The irises, like the winter scenery, replicate subjects painted elsewhere at different seasons. With or without this interesting evidence of Bobak's flirtation with abstraction, Winter Windowsill and the other new paintings in this exhibition display the rare self-confidence that comes only to senior artists after years of patient consideration.