Group of Seven inspires artist John Leonard

By Mark Skeffington

With hundreds of exhibits to his credit, artist John C. Leonard doesn’t worry about self-promotion or seek out publicity.

“I’ve had more than 350 shows. I don’t need the promotion,” the 69-year-old Canadian artist says, explaining his relatively low profile, especially online.

Stories and bios about John Leonard are hard to find, even though he has exhibited since the late 1960s in Canada and abroad, and his works are held in dozens of public and corporate collections. There are also few photos of the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA) member or his artworks, especially on the Internet. And he doesn’t have a website. John Leonard prefers it that way.

“I’m uncomfortable with the Internet and I value my privacy,” he says from his home west of Uxbridge, north of Toronto, which he shares with his wife Marilyn Leonard, who is also an artist.

Prominent Art Teacher

John Leonard, a Fleming College and Ontario College of Art graduate, has been teaching art for 43 years. He currently teaches at Fleming College’s Haliburton School of The Arts. He has also been teaching classes for professional artists at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg. One class is on the theory and techniques of the Group of Seven; others on contemporary landscape painting.

Past works by John Leonard included figure and ultra-realism paintings, many of which are “museum scale” in size, 5 by 7 feet for example (the largest 28 feet long spread over four panels). These days, he’s been creating smaller landscapes – for him at least, at 16 by 20 inches — inspired by the recent courses he’s taught.

“I found myself interested in the Group of Seven. They would go out and paint small works and bring them back to the studio, and then they would adjust their aim.”

Photo of John C. Leonard lithograph called Lenin's Pines

John Leonard’s Lenin’s Pines, a limited edition lithograph from stone, certainly shows the influence of the Group of Seven.

John Leonard has also gone back to what he calls the “old school way” of making lithographs, drawing on limestone blocks and then pulling prints, a technique dating back to 1796 Germany.

Canadian Landscape Series

He estimates he has created about 15 to 20 lithographs for his Canadian Landscape Series, with the editions limited to either five or eight copies.

“Lenin’s Pines”from 2011 is one of them. The black-and-white lithograph shows a small island of windswept pine trees leaning to the left – hence the playful title referencing Russia’s first communist leader. It’s a rugged landscape reminiscent of the Group of Seven, but overhead floats an abstract sky, giving the work a more contemporary look.

John Leonard’s works are exhibited in a half dozen shows a year. The next one will be at the McMichael next spring, alongside art by participants in his workshops. That exhibit will also travel to a half dozen public galleries.

These days, John Leonard’s works are available to purchase through his own studio or through public galleries.

But John Leonard has no interest in promoting his work online. He even has a cautionary tale for artists who post photos of their art on the Internet. One of his student’s artworks was reproduced based on a posted high-resolution photo, and the reproduction was discovered for sale in the southern United States.

“I don’t do the Internet,” says John Leonard, who doesn’t even use email. “I’m not unhappy with that.”

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