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Linda and Harry Stanbridge
Linda and Harry Stanbridge. Photo by Bob Matheson.
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Linda Stanbridge, "Spine," 2007, fired ceramic, quarter-inch aluminum plate, powdrecoated, welded aluminum support, 72" x 26"
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Harry Stanbridge, "Christus-Triumphans," 1999, acrylic on canvas, 8' x 6'.
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Linda and Harry Stanbridge
Linda and Harry Stanbridge outside their home. Photo by Bob Matheson.
Outside Victoria, Linda and Harry Stanbridge share an artistic, intellectual and spiritual collaboration.
By Brian Grison
Harry and Linda Stanbridge live in a house of windows and light that they designed and built just outside downtown Victoria in 1980. They have been married for 35 years, only a few years less than they’ve been pursuing careers as artists.
Linda’s skylit studio occupies two spaces in one wing of their home. Harry’s studio is a large separate building with a vaulted ceiling set in the garden amongst the tall trees in the back of the house. About 9 a.m. most mornings Linda has the pleasure of strolling from the warm kitchen to her warm studio with her morning coffee, while Harry tramps through the rain or snow to his studio. These small consequences — who uses which studio — might mean something humorous about their relationship, or it might indicate something practical about the division of labour in their family life. The discussion about who got which studio was probably both pragmatic and funny.
Harry Stanbridge was born in Quesnel, B.C. in 1943. He began drawing and painting as a youngster and in 1963 moved to Vancouver to study at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr College of Art and Design), and to launch his career with his first exhibition at Bau-xi Gallery in 1966. Following graduation in 1968, he worked in his studio for three years before entering the University of British Columbia to complete a Bachelor of Art Education and a Master of Arts. The focus of his creativity at the time was closely related to theories of Hard Edge painting, which was the ‘going thing’ on the West Coast in those years. At the time, according to his own confession, he had an existential attitude and personality and enjoyed partying. That quickly changed when he met his future wife.
Linda Stanbridge (neé Morton), was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1948. She moved to Canada with her family when she was ten years old, where she drew and painted constantly. She studied at the Vancouver School of Art between 1967 and 1969 but withdrew before graduation to begin working full time as assistant to Douglas Christmas, owner of ACE Gallery in Vancouver (now in Los Angeles and New York). This was the only commercial gallery in British Columbia that showed the latest American art, and Linda met Frank Stella at ACE. She was deeply affected by his minimalist stripe paintings, though this influence did not emerge in her art until the 1990s.
Harry and Linda met in 1967 while they were art students. They married in 1971 and moved to Victoria three years later, and between 1978 and 2003 Harry was the art teacher at Spectrum High School where he influenced many budding artists, including Peter Schuyff, a member of the Neo-Geo style of painting in New York. Throughout his teaching career, Harry was able to maintain a regular studio practice and to exhibit regularly in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. Today his art is represented by Fran Willis Gallery in Victoria and the Virginia Christopher Gallery in Calgary.
For about a decade after marrying Harry, Linda’s situation was somewhat different. From the birth of their first son Jeremy in 1972, to the fourth birthday of their second son Robin in 1981, her studio practice took second place to life as a wife, homemaker and mother. But since 1984 she has exhibited widely in Canada and the United States. Winchester Galleries in Victoria, Douglas Udell Gallery in Vancouver and Artist Space in New York have represented her work.
In the early 1980s, while Harry continued with his large canvases, Linda began teaching herself how to work with clay. The meditative process of throwing clay on a wheel was a respite from the demands of family life, but eventually making three-dimensional functional objects became too limited. The solution was suggested the day she accidentally dropped a wall piece. The shards suggested the possibility of constructing much larger wall sculptures constructed with modular clay components. By 1989, her experiments had evolved into the ceramic and metal wall sculptures that define her work today.
A discussion of the work of either of these artists would have to take in their personal partnership as well. Their long history as a couple would be expected to closely interweave their creative processes, but though they regularly engage each other’s art both sympathetically and critically, they work in separate studios. In practical and formal terms, Harry is a draughtsman-painter working in the manner of the particular stream of modernism articulated by Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Among other characteristics, the layered surfaces of his large colour-field abstractions recall sublime emotions. Linda, on the other hand, is a sculptor with a strong design and craft sensibility whose work suggests a scientific mind studying nature, optics and illusion.
There is an important common inspiration in their individual artistic lives, though it’s not necessarily obvious in the artwork itself. They are both committed to representing and expressing a contemplative Christian ethos through their art, an element that is often more apparent in Harry’s symbolically resonant paintings, just as it more quickly finds its casual but clear voice, like another guest, in his dinner conversation. The Christian influence in Linda’s art is more subtle and harder to read. In conversation, Linda’s spirituality appears more secular, perhaps reminiscent of the contemplative philosophy of the 20th-century literary naturalist and scientist Loren Eiseley — an advocate of the philosophy that any human experience is spiritual, and part of an immense personal and human journey.
How the Stanbridges came to Christianity through, or in, their artistic practice is a significant part of their story, as individual artists and as a couple. Linda discovered it in 1964 when she was 16, and though she had attended church regularly with her parents, she had found their conventional religious practice to be uninspiring and sometimes oppressive. By the time Harry asked her out in 1969, she was deeply committed to her own private spiritual practice, and she declined his request because she was on her way to church. Harry recognized that if he planned to pursue her he would have to play by her rules, and he began attending church with Linda. Kneeling among a quietly praying congregation was an epiphany for him, a traumatic spiritual breakthrough that within minutes completely changed the path and meaning of his life.
On April 26, the Stanbridges opened a co-exhibition at the Two Rivers Gallery in Prince George. Communion, curated by gallery director George Harris, displays work from the past five years. As well as being a study of their shared vision, the exhibition is a testament to their discoveries in the intellectual as well as spiritual life that backs all human experience.
Today, both artists are involved with a lay group of Christian contemplatives, a tradition that is 2,000 years old. Their discipline as artists is a more subtle and private practice — one that encompasses all their creativity. Like the medieval story of the circus entertainer who joined a monastery to discover that he could express his devotion only through the skill of his juggling act, Harry and Linda make art that reaches for transcendental insights, both intellectually, and as devotion.