CBC Digital Archives Chronicle Canadian Art

By Mark Skeffington

The CBC Digital Archives is a treasure trove for anyone interested in Canadian art history.

Over the decades, Canada’s national broadcaster has interviewed a Who’s Who of Canadian artists and documented, in radio and TV clips, dozens of fascinating visual arts stories.

CBC’s archives are extensive, covering all aspects of Canadian life over the decades. But it is the coverage of Canadian art that is of interest here.

As one might expect, the Group of Seven has been a popular subject for CBC stories over the years. There’s a whole section called The Group of Seven: Painters in the Wilderness.

Group of Seven

You’ll find grainy black-and-white video interviews from the 1950s and 1960s with Lawren Harris and Frederick Varley. And there’s a 1969 radio interview with Arthur Lismer, reminiscing about follow Group of Seven members J.E.H. MacDonald and Franklin Carmichael. Unfortunately, videos of interviews with A.Y. Jackson and A.J. Casson don’t appear to be loaded.

Stories about Tom Thomson are also in this section: pieces about his legendary death in 1917 all the way up to the discovery of a “long lost” Thomson sketch.

There’s even a short 1999 TV clip about Toronto’s Studio Building, which became an incubator for the Canadian School of Painting exemplified by Tom Thomson and the Group. The building, financed by Lawren Harris and art patron Dr. James McCallum, provided studio space to such artists as J.W. Beatty, Tom Thomson, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, and Harris himself.

Greg Curnoe

Other sections of the Archives are on Censorship in the Arts, Quebec’s “Revolution in the Arts,” “The Comics in Canada,” and “Painters and Artists.”

One of the artists featured is Greg Curnoe, who spearheaded the creation of an artists union in 1968. This 6-minute TV interview from 1975 is especially poignant as it shows Greg Curnoe cycling, his second passion. The London, Ont. artist would be killed when he was struck by a pickup truck while cycling in 1992 on a country road outside his hometown.

The section on Quebec’s “Revolution in the Arts” contain clips on Paul-Emile Borduas and the Automatists. It seems amazing looking back that the 1948 publication of a short manifesto called “Le Refus global” (Total Refusal) was so controversial, so controversial that Paul-Emile Borduas left Quebec and Canada, and went into self-imposed exile.

Another nugget in the archives is a story about Canada’s early comic books, which features an interview with Canadian painter Adrian Dingle. Before he became a painter, Adrian Dingle was a pioneering comic book writer and artist in the war years of the 1940s (See blog post Adrian Dingle: Comic Book Pioneer).

Unfortunately, some of the clips do not load for some reason, but there are plenty of diverse stories to delve into.

Here’s some sample clips from the CBC Digital Archives:

A 1961 TV interview with Lawren Harris:


A 1965 TV interview with Frederick Varley:

Link: http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/a-visit-to-frederick-varley

A 2002 TV piece on the controversial funeral of Jean-Paul Riopelle:


A 1971 TV piece on early Canadian comic books, featuring Adrian Dingle:


A 1982 TV interview with Mary Pratt talking about her art:


A 1975 TV piece on Greg Curnoe as a champion of Canadian art:


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