"My particular problem is to achieve quality which is as universal as it is contemporary while surrounded by a purely regional nourishment."
A painter, watercolourist, draughtsman and printmaker, Jack Humphrey brought a modernist approach to both figurative and abstract work inspired by his native Saint John. With particular attention to form, composition and colour, he created cityscapes and harbour scenes that convey the natural disorder of buildings, streets and boats. His portraits of working class children are moody character studies that convey both the hardships of the Depression, and the resilience and hopefulness of youth.
In the 1920s, Humphrey studied under Philip Hale at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and under Charles Hawthorne at New York's National Academy of Design. He took additional summer classes under Hawthorne at his Cape Cod School of Art. After completing his formal studies in 1929, Humphrey spent a year in Europe. In Paris, he sketched at the Grande Chaumière and took classes from Cubist painter André Lhote. In Munich, he spent ten weeks studying under Hans Hofmann. He then went on to Italy, Cologne, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Humphrey returned to Saint John in the summer of 1930, several months into the Depression, and started painting the city and its inhabitants, creating still lifes, and doing field sketches in the region. In 1933, he spent several months in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, exhibiting with the Canadian Group of Painters at the Art Gallery of Toronto, and befriending John Lyman, Jori Smith and Jean Palardy. By the mid-1930s, Humphrey was achieving recognition outside New Brunswick. In 1938, he travelled to Mexico, where he made over 100 watercolours and drawings, which he exhibited the following year at Toronto's Picture Loan Society. During the war, he was commissioned as an unofficial war artist to paint portraits of soldiers. In 1952, Humphrey returned to France on a fellowship, spending a year in Paris and two months in Brittany.
Humphrey's work from the 1930s shows that he was already concerned with formal organization and colour. The experimentation of his early work is evident in the drawing Still-life with Oil Lamp (1930). Edith White (1939) demonstrates the naturalism and textured brushwork that is typical of his portraits of children. In Shore of Night (1958), the artist moves towards more abstraction, with a new palette of primary colours with black accents.
Humphrey was a member of the Canadian Group of Painters, Eastern Group of Painters, Contemporary Arts Society, Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, Canadian Society of Graphic Arts, and International Association of Plastic Arts, and a Fellow of the International Institute of Arts and Letters. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of New Brunswick in 1951.