By Beverly Cramp
BRITISH COLUMBIA: Zenscapes, October 14-28, 2004, Kurbatoff Art Gallery, Vancouver .
Broad brush strokes combined with thin, elegant, calligraphy-like lines fill the canvases William Allister prepares for his upcoming show in October, called Zenscapes.
As he approaches his 85th birthday Allister finds that he continues to be drawn to eastern philosophy. “It’s post modernism for the 21st century,” says Allister. “I go back into ancient cultures, select elements that are beautiful and turn them into modern forms. I’m giving them new forms and meaning without altering the beauty.”
Although he has studied and worked with different ancient cultures from China, Egypt, Africa and Mexico, Allister says he is particularly interested in Japanese Zen styles. “Zen has a simplicity, purity and a power that appeals to me,” he says, adding that he continues to distill his interpretations into more understated colours and brushwork. “I’m going further in purifying and reducing my Zen work.”
Allister is one of the few Canadian artists who are equally gifted as writers, having won a first prize for literature in 1961 with his first novel, A Handful of Rice. Although he continues to write and publish, his love for art overtook his literary aspirations and Allister has been painting steadily since the early 1960s. He has had more than 30 solo shows to date.
During World War II, Allister was a POW in Hong Kong and Japan. He returned to Japan with his wife in 1983 to face the hostility he harboured from those experiences. “I had a lot of anger and hatred. It took time to iron that out and get rid of all my devils,” says Allister. “Through Buddhism I learned how to forgive.”
A documentary film about his life, The Compassion of Art, was broadcast on CBC-TV nationally and his memoir written in 1989, Where Life and Death Hold Hands, won the Canadian Prime Minister’s Award for inter-cultural relations.
Allister says an artist never retires and that he continues to explore and invent new methods: “I’m getting better every year because I’m learning more just from working.”
Represented by: Charisma Gallery, Abbotsford, BC; Kurbatoff Art Gallery, Vancouver; Marshall Clark Galleries, Tsawwassen, BC; Stephen Lowe Art Gallery, Calgary.