“Screening the ‘70s: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop”

The late ’60s and early ’70s were a tumultuous time in Canadian cultural history. Sixty years later, the unrest that was created by regionalism, nationalism and democratization has changed the course of the Canadian artworld.

“Screening the ’70s,” an exhibition at the Buhler Gallery, in the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, celebrates the art of serigraphy with an historic collection of prints, illustrating all of these trends. The show recognizes the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop (GWCSS) as pivotal to the era, the print shop where most of the art in this exhibition was printed. As the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop’s fortune waxed and waned, artists passing through to work and those associated with the shop left a legacy. Winston Leathers taught many of them; his generation supported the shop with cash and credence. Curator/director Leona Herzog’s considerable knowledge of the medium has brought together work by the shop’s founders, benefactors, printers and personalities, and is accompanied by an excellent catalogue documenting events and explaining the screen-printing process.

Lenard Anthony, Magpie, 1982, silkscreen. Photo: Leif Norman. Images courtesy Buhler Gallery, Winnipeg.

When the country celebrated its 100th birthday, a spate of new galleries, theatres and concert halls was budgeted for across the country, most scheduled to open with American and British art, theatre and music. Canadian artists agitated for change, and their protests, petitions and refusal to be silenced slowly resulted in a shift. This exhibition reflects the shift.

In western Canada, the trend toward regionalism pervaded the ’70s in art, literature and theatre, and many of the prints reflect the prairies, intimately or idealistically. Certain accepted icons recur in numerous works, tending toward the commonplace and rural. Horses and cows, crops and sunflowers, farm life and prairie landscapes are abstracted and detailed. Printmaking is an intrinsically democratizing medium, with its ability to create more than one original and to make art accessible in price, not just imagery. The men who congregated at the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop played chess, drank beer and pulled prints. Women were in the minority in this man’s world. Herzog sought out the women artists who bucked the trends, such as Judith Allsopp, Audrey Riller and Dianne Wilt.

Typically, printmakers’ work reveals personal obsessions and stories; that’s the beauty of the art form. It incorporates technology and largely resists art trends. A large photographic serigraph by Gordon Lebredt, Natural Facts—Red X Yellow X Blue, pictures Bill Lobchuk, Gordon Bonnell and Len Anthony in situ, introducing the show’s founding printers. Bill was the talker, the gatherer and the politically active one who started things happening; Len was the master printmaker whose hand-cut stencils and other technical mastery enabled the artists’ vision. Gordon was the hired help, a poor artist. Anthony and Lobchuk had worked at Winnipeg’s Daly Display, where Denis Daly encouraged his employees to learn creatively. The shop modelled his example.

EJ (Ted) Howorth, Dusty Molasses, 1976, silkscreen. Photo: Leif Norman.

EJ (Ted) Howorth started his career as a printmaking artist at GWCSS. Dusty Molasses, one of two early prints, incorporating photo work and drawings of his inevitable pastel clouds, recounts an early visit by the boys to Europe. On another wall, the highly significant collective General Idea documented Canadian content in Borderline Case: Five - The Great Divide, incorporating photos, a blended sky and photo imagery. They later collectively documented the era with homoerotic prints, poodles, fashion shows and a magazine.

Throughout the show, you see the development of printmaking conventions, such as the embedded photo at the bottom corner of a print clipped at four corners, akin to a ’50s photo album.

Don Proch was central to the shop’s development, his work there synonymous with the ascent of his own career. Luke’s Cultivar utilized machine-shop graphite to emulate his silverpoint drawing. With its land as lips and small drawing marks, the serigraph both celebrates rural prairie and details man’s intrusive destruction on the land. Saskatchewan artists such as Joe Fafard contributed a more direct rural awareness. Grandpa’s Delight, a powerful drawing in graphite, illustrates Fafard’s awareness of working animals, which figure in his later sculptures. Russell Yuristy’s Sunflowers droop; the delicate drawing attesting to their fragility. Louis Bako’s four-screened Plexiglas sculpture, Atomic Explosion, expresses his vision of world destruction, a vision more visceral to an émigré from the 1956 Hungarian revolution than to his counterpart prairie artists. Printing on Plexiglas was new.

Visiting artist Pierre Ayot founded Graf Atelier in Montreal. His whimsical Paille à Boie challenged Ted Howorth to embed straws inside vacuum-formed plastic integral to the print. Three-dimensionality was innovative at the time.

While the beer, the art and the strippers contributed to the shop’s bohemian aura, it was the shop’s collective problem solving that became an element of the eclectic magic that is so evident in this show.

When the Indian Group of Seven made their mark in art history, Jackson Beardy sought permission from the Elders to utilize sacred imagery in his work. His spirit shapes and Alex Janvier’s linear symbolism became iconic. Powerhouse Daphne Odjig developed Thunderbird Woman.

EJ (Ted) Howorth, Chris Finn, Bill Lobchuk, Jackson Beardy and Don Proch. Photo: unknown.

The artists carried their expertise beyond the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop. Jack Butler travelled north and returned to help market clothing and wall hangings from Baker Lake. Eskimo recalls a stretched spirit drum in 26 colours. Len Anthony taught printmaking to artists at the Sanavik Coop. Luke Anguahalluq’s The Caribou Hunt is part of a series, with its childlike drawing utilizing a changeable perspective, unlike the West’s singular perspective.

In The Ukranian House at 50 Princess Street, American artist Judith Allsopp paid tribute to Winnipeg with its Ukranian dancers and 1919 strikers, utilizing an ironic pink palette. Notably, Dianne Wilt was the last printer at the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop; Crazy Diamond shows amazing precision with its hand-cut silver and black lines offset by soft hazy-drawn flowers.

Behind the scenes, Lenard Anthony remained the technical whiz. Both works printed at Atelier Ladywood, post-GWCSS⎯Magpie and Barred Rock Cock with Flock—develop the printed image with numerous delicate lines, like the feathers of his avian subjects, illustrating the precision that characterizes many of the show’s serigraphs.

Curator Leona Herzog has pulled together a wonderful, rich, historic show illustrating her love and knowledge of screen printing. Seeing the show is like walking through Winnipeg’s most dynamic visual arts history.

During the show’s run, Lenard Anthony died at his property in rural Manitoba, on July 14, 2018. A memorial service was held August 12 at the Buhler Gallery in Winnipeg. This exhibition is dedicated to his memory.

Screening the ’70s: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop” was exhibited at Buhler Gallery, Winnipeg, from May 3 to August 26, 2018.

Since the cultural upheavals of the sixties, Sarah Yates has been a writer about art and an advocate for change. In 1992, she founded Gemma B. Publishing to promote literary role models for the disabled.

Volume 37, Number 4: Women + Sculpture

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #148, published December 2018.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.