Jack Chambers (1931-1978) was a groundbreaking artist and filmmaker whose photo-realistic style was influenced by his contact with surrealism during early study in Spain. It was his diagnosis with leukemia in 1969, at age 38, which prompted him to work relentlessly on paintings, prints and film while he travelled the world in search of a cure.
“Chambers’s illness led him to focus on the miraculousness of life and the significance of the everyday; he often depicted domestic scenes, such as his renowned Sunday Morning No. 2, 1968–70.” –Art Canada Institute
Photographs were important sources for Chambers’s paintings. After selecting one of his own snapshots, he would meticulously work to recreate the experience of the original scene. Paintings such as 401 Towards London No. 1, 1968–69, (oil on wood, 183 x 244 cm) at the top of this post were the impressive results. Lunch (below) is a rare self-portrait.
Chambers began painting in high school, tried Quebec, Mexico and the University of Western Ontario but sailed to Europe in 1953, hoping for a path to become a serious artist. He found it in Spain, where he graduated from Escuela Central de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in 1959, bought a flat, met his future wife, converted to Catholicism and planned to stay. But his mother was ill, so he returned to London, where he was thrilled by the booming art scene, led by his friend Greg Curnoe.
In 1966 and 1967 Chambers devoted himself exclusively to filmmaking and to a series of so-called silver paintings, radical works in aluminum paint that use the positive/negative visual effects of the paint to convey movement.
Although Chambers is one of Canada’s most renowned painters, outside of the country, he is best known as an innovative experimental filmmaker. His magnum opus, The Hart of London, uses footage of a 1954 trapping and killing of a deer in downtown London, Ontario “as a grand metaphor for the destructive cost of civilization,” according to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The film uses newsreel footage of disasters, and urban and nature imagery to represent life and death.
Jack Chambers on the Art Canada Institute site, here.
National Gallery of Canada, here.
The Art Gallery of Ontario, here.
A PERSONAL NOTE
I grew up in London at the time of the city’s artistic renaissance, a regional movement led by Chambers, Greg Curnoe, Tony Urquhart, Kim Ondaatje and others. These two Silver Period works by Chambers hung in our home, along with other locally representative artist’s works.
I did not like these paintings, which felt sterile. I found The Hart of London disturbing (the Vimeo clip in this post gives just a glimpse). It was not until I went to university and drove the stretch of Highway 401 towards London that I began to understand Chambers’ true power as an artist, separate from how his work affected me.
It was a gift, though, to grow up in a community with such a commanding arts scene. The exposure to renegades and visionaries formed and strengthened my appreciation of art.