Ron Stonier, "Couples," 1975, Acrylic on Canvas, 61" x 81".
RON STONIER (1933 - 2001)
It’s not hard to find people today who still have fond memories of Ron Stonier as a teacher. Between 1962 and 1978, when he taught painting at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University), he was a dedicated and inspired instructor who could talk eloquently about his personal thoughts on paint techniques and colour. That reputation is a good match for his legacy as an artist — a painter who followed his own path, despite trends, while touching on many of the abstract styles popular in the latter half of the 20th century.
Originally from Victoria, and a 1957 graduate of the Vancouver School of Art, he got a strong start as a painter, studying with artists including Jack Shadbolt and Gordon Smith, and securing a teaching job at the West Vancouver Sketch Club while still in school. After graduation, he spent a year travelling on a Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation scholarship, and by 1962 he was tapped by VSA to teach full time. With Geoff Rees and Dave Mayrs he started the Tempus Gallery in Vancouver to show work by faculty and students.
For the 15 years he taught, Stonier was creating a body of work that easily touched on the shared intelligence of abstract painting, while still going down his own path. Early in his practice, he was working within the general boundaries of abstraction, including visceral Tachist works, and a movement, in the 1960s, toward post-painterly abstraction. That led to experiments, through the 1970s, with harder edges and a series of colour bar paintings.
While Stonier continued to explore and experiment, and inspire new generations of young British Columbia painters, the art scene in Vancouver was quickly turning toward conceptualism, new media, and photography. Painting, particularly of the large-scale, abstract style Stonier favoured, wasn’t part of the mainstream. After working through the creation of the newly named Emily Carr School of Art, he left teaching to devote himself full-time to painting.
After his 1976 show at the Vancouver Art Gallery (his seventh), Stonier didn’t show again until a 1995 exhibition at the Burnaby Art Gallery. This 1975 painting, one of his Couples series, was kept in a storage locker from his death in 2001 until late last year, when Craig Sibley of Vancouver’s new Trench Gallery showed it at an exhibition called Ouroboros. The collection, surveying 25 years of Stonier’s work, was stored by his partner, Sheila Cano, waiting for the right moment to add to the history of British Columbia painting.
“The stripe paintings are ambitious, post modern abstract paintings, completed at a time in Vancouver when very few artists were painting,” he says. “Rigorous attention to detail, sprayed instead of rolled, these works are mystical in how the color shifts between the form lines. As far as anyone knows Ron was the only painter in Vancouver and likely the West exploring stripe and target paintings. Of course at the same time Guido Molanari and Claude Tousignant were still mining the form in Quebec.”
— Jill Sawyer