The Return of Roland Gissing
By Jill Sawyer
For an artist who painted popular scenes of the Canadian west for more than 40 years, for much of that time making a living solely by selling art, it’s incredible that there has never been a solo retrospective show anywhere in Alberta of Roland Gissing’s work since his death in 1967. Allan Boss, director of the Okotoks Art Gallery south of Calgary, and Kori Gregory, who manages the Gissing estate, will put an end to that this summer with a show called Roland Gissing: Trains, Travels, and Western Traditions at OAG from June 15 to July 29.
Born in England in 1895, Gissing emigrated to Canada in 1913, taking jobs across the Canadian and American west as a cowhand before he started his painting practice in the mid-1920s. He settled for most of his painting life in a house and studio on the bank of the Ghost River west of Calgary, prolifically painting landscapes, activities, and people of the foothills and Canadian Rockies. He spent the last ten years of his life living and working in Okotoks, which was another draw for the OAG. Canmore, Alberta-based curator and writer Mary-Beth Laviolette has curated the show.
The exhibition will include work from the collection of the Glenbow Museum and the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, as well as extensive corporate collections in Southern Alberta. “When Gissing started to paint in the 1920s, he was completely self-taught,” Boss says. “When he was younger, he travelled a fair bit, and in exchange for his stay, he’d do pencil sketches.” The work is wide-ranging, and reflects the artist’s singular focus on subjects popular at the time — often painting the same scene many times over. Boss says the repetition was in part what allowed Gissing to support himself through a lifetime of art-making.