How to Thrive and Survive as a Contemporary Canadian Artist
The University of Alberta Museums recently hosted a lecture with the contemporary Canadian artist Charles Pachter. Advertisements for the talk described Pachter as “Canada’s answer to Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Hockney.” This made me wonder: why does Canada need an answer to iconic American and European Pop artists? Curious, I went to the lecture to find out what Pachter had to say.
His talk was titled “How to Survive and Thrive as a Contemporary Canadian Artist.” Reflecting on this title, Pachter described the important connections and decisions he has made that have helped him establish a long, successful career. He showed numerous photographs illustrating properties he has bought, sold, and successfully transformed into commercial gallery spaces for his work. In addition, he repeatedly discussed his connections with other famous people and artists, predominantly focusing on his long friendship with Margaret Atwood. Pachter and Atwood have collaborated on several projects; one in particular is a book, The Illustrated Journals of Susanna Moodie, which binds a collection of Pachter’s art together with Atwood’s poetry. The Enterprise Square Gallery (10230 Jasper Ave, Edmonton) had this book on view at their Pachter exhibit, Pop Goes Canadiana: Iconic Art by Charles Pachter (November 1 – 30, 2013).
- Flagspatter, Charles Pachter. Image courtesy University of Alberta Museums.
- Laughing Monarchs, Charles Pachter. Image courtesy University of Alberta Museums.
- Moose Lake Pas de Deux, Charles Pachter. Image courtesy University of Alberta Museums.
- Peggy Reading, Charles Pachter. Image courtesy University of Alberta Museums.
After discussing this collaboration and select pieces from his oeuvre, Pachter’s talk began to address my reason for attending when he spoke on the criticism he receives about his work. Despite the negative feedback Pachter’s art has sometimes garnered in the press, he insisted that he continually strives to “raise the bar.” He claimed that had he been living in New York, his work would be part of fine art museum collections across the world. However, Pachter asserted that in Canada, no one wants to buy his “cutting edge” art because Canada’s “biggest weakness” is not building up Canadian artists. This statement drew me back to the Museums’ advertisement. In the context that Pachter presented, Canada does need an answer to Lichtenstein, Warhol, and Hockney because we don’t idolize artists in the same way that the maple leaf, butter tarts and hockey have become national symbols.
I left Pachter’s talk wondering what this reality means for other artists or writers that are contributing to the Canadian art scene. Will the creative thinkers in this country continually be compared with celebrities from the United States and Europe in order to validate their importance? This reality should challenge Canadian artists and writers to continue to produce work that they enjoy doing without paying attention to comparisons. For in Pachter’s words, once you stop worrying about what other people think of you “is when you know you’ve made it.”
~ By Julie-Ann Mercer
Julie-Ann is a fourth year University of Alberta student in the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture. She will be completing her degree in April 2014. She always dresses for the weather and is not one to turn down a pastry or a glass of wine.
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