In a chapter of Bertram Brooker’s Yearbook of the Arts in Canada (1928/29) art critic Fred Housser commented on the artwork of Kathleen Munn and Lowrie Warrener, two modernist painters then exhibiting in O ntario. Both artists included abstraction in their art practice. Housser described the Toronto-based Munn as “probably the only painter in Canada whose canvases show an interest in cubism” then warned that the country had little public appreciation for “this kind of painting” and that she display her works elsewhere. The same sentiment did not apply to compositions produced by Sarnia, Ontario-born Lowrie Warrener. Housser described Warrener’s canvases and sketches, which demonstrated a vivid, Nabis-like sensibility, as exciting and popular.
The names of both painters faded into obscurity; however Kathleen Munn and Lowrie Warrener were two of the earliest artists in Canada to participate in modernist innovations in painting, specifically abstraction. This exhibition investigates the work of Munn and Warrener in relation to dominant artistic and philosophical movements of the time, such as the sense of nationalism promoted by the Group of Seven, with whom Munn and Warrener exhibited; the ‘cultural migration’ of modernism, primarily between the United States and Canada; and the public reception of their work in Canada.
Munn’s knowledge of art theory led her to re-interpret traditional subjects, such as figural work and pastoral scenes, into fractured, daring designs. Her spiritualism also inspired her greatest series exploring the Passion of Christ.
Lowrie Warrener’s imagery blended lyrical stylization and bright cloisonism with the wild Canadian landscape. Inspired by the search for a “national” art, Warrener also produced innovative stage designs and even wrote an avant-garde drama, “Symphony: a Painter’s Ballet” with dramatist Herman Voaden.
This project contextualizes Canadian modernism, and addresses renewed interest in early abstraction. The exhibition is accompanied by a colour, bilingual catalogue.
Curated by Cassandra Getty
Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario. This project has been made possible in part through a contribution from the Museums Assistance Program, Department of Canadian Heritage