A Simple Crush: Tom Thomson and Joyce Wieland at the McMichael
Joyce Wieland had a major crush on Tom Thomson, according to a new exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario.
Passion Over Reason: Tom Thomson and Joyce Wieland commemorates the art of these two Canadian-born artists, while paying tribute to Wieland’s love and appreciation of Thomson’s work.
“Joyce Wieland had a tendency to work obsessively, as a lot of artists do,” said Sarah Stanners, Director of Curatorial and Collections at the McMichael, during an interview with the Magazine. “In this exhibition, we’re celebrating the crush that Wieland had on Tom Thomson, while making the public aware that they often fetishize him, too.”
Born in Claremont, Ontario in 1877, Thomson forged an influential career as an artist in the early twentieth century, gaining notoriety through his connection to the Group of Seven. Following his mysterious death in Algonquin Park in 1917, Thomson’s work continued to be cherished for its moving portrayal of Canadian landscapes.
From paintings and drawings to photographs and personal objects, Passion Over Reason —organized by Stanners — explores popular notions of Thomson’s “masculine mystique,” while revealing him to be more than simply a “virile painter in the woods.”
“In many ways, Tom is a blank canvas for us, since there’s not a lot of primary evidence about his life,” says Stanners. “We can project our own ideas about what makes him such a heroic Canadian painter. That’s why we feel so connected to him.”
Joyce Wieland was an equally heroic artist, known as a feminist figure unabashed in her strength and sexuality. Born in 1930, Wieland established a career as an experimental filmmaker and mixed media artist. She set up a studio practice in Toronto and worked there until she died in 1998 from Alzheimer's disease. In 1971, her exhibition True Patriot Love opened at the National Gallery of Canada. It was the Gallery’s first solo show of a living Canadian female artist.
“This was pivotal,” says Stanners. “It was a very cutting edge exhibition, where Wieland revelled in her love for Canada in her own unique way.” The McMichael’s Passion Over Reason deconstructs this milestone show and presents it alongside Wieland’s 1976 film Far Shore, which also serves as a love letter to Thomson. Two works on loan from the National Gallery of Canada are also on view at the exhibition: Wieland’s stained linen sheet Heart-On (1961) and a cotton quilt titled Reason Over Passion (1968).
“The quilt is the jewel of the exhibition,” says Stanners. “Wieland took a quote from Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who believed in applying reason over passion in his writing. It’s a perfect example of how she politicized seemingly soft women’s work.”
The exhibition also features contemporary Canadian artists who have been inspired by Thomson. Zachari Logan, for example, plays with concepts of gender and sexuality in his explorations of flora and fauna, modernizing and mirroring the subject matter of both Wieland and Thomson’s art. In one particular piece, Logan responds to a 1914 image in which the shadow of the photographer stretches over the figure of Thomson, who is standing next to some fish hanging on a fence.
“Zachari saw this photo and loved it,” says Stanners. “In portraying a similar shadow in one of his pastel works, Zachari is alerting us to the fact that Thomson himself is a kind of shadow. We don’t have a lot of evidence as to who he was, other than his paintings.”
Explored in its entirety, Passion Over Reason mixes sexuality and gender with politics, nature and nationalism. Wieland’s love for Thomson echoes Thomson’s own love for the Canadian landscape, highlighting the romance, obsession, passion, and appreciation that can evolve from something as simple as a crush.
Passion Over Reason: Tom Thomson and Joyce Wieland is on view at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection until November 19, 2017. Joyce Wieland’s work is also currently on view in the Contemporary Galleries at the National Gallery of Canada in Canadian and Indigenous Art: From 1968 to Present