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Gordon A Smith

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Name  Gordon Smith

Gordon A. Smith 2000 Recipient Gordon A Smith West Vancouver Order of BC

Gordon Appelbe Smith (born June 18, 1919) is a Canadian painter, printmaker, sculptor, and teacher living in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Smith taught with contemporaries Bruno Bobak, B.C. Binning and Jack Shadbolt at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) for ten years, then 26 years at the University of British Columbia before retiring in 1982 to paint full-time.


Life and career

Smith was born in East Brighton, England. His father, William George Smith, was an amateur watercolourist. He took Gordon and his brother Donald on frequent visits to the National Gallery, London and to the Tate. They often walked the English countryside for inspiration in their work. The father critiqued the boys' paintings regularly. Great care was taken with their education. The brothers attended the Harrow County School for Boys where Gordon received four years of formal art training and several prizes for his art.

In 1933, Smith's parents separated. His mother Daisy Smith took the boys to live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Gordon did not see his father again until he went to England as an intelligence officer during World War II.

Before Smith went overseas for war service he took a vacation in Vancouver. He met and befriended Marion Fleming, newly graduated from the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 1941 they were married and Marion worked as a social worker while Gordon was away in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment. In Sicily, in 1943, Smith was seriously wounded. His shattered leg would require a long recovery period. In 1944 he returned to Vancouver where the Vancouver Art Gallery had a solo show for the work he produced overseas. In 1953 Gordon and Marion Smith moved to the North Shore of Vancouver into their first house designed by renowned Modernist architect Arthur Erickson. The need for a larger studio space prompted them to move to a second new house in West Vancouver, commissioned of friend Erickson in 1966. After Marion's passing in 2009, Smith continues to live there alone.

Smith continues to be involved in the contemporary art scene. He has exhibitions regularly at the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver. He still gives a talk on special occasions like the opening of the West Vancouver Community Centre in 2009. He is always forward thinking about his new work and continues to encourage emerging artists. A quiet, modest, yet confident man, Smith has said when praised for his work "I am a hundred artists deep." The focus is taken off himself and onto his influences.


  • 1937-1940 Winnipeg School of Art
  • 1944 teacher training at Normal School, Vancouver
  • 1944 was accepted into 4th year at Vancouver School of Art
  • 1951 summer courses at California School of Fine Arts
  • 1957 summer art history courses at Harvard University
  • Teacher/Educator

  • 1937-1940 taught children - Winnipeg Art Gallery
  • 1944 welcomed by important artist Charles Hepborn Scott to teach night school at Vancouver School of Art
  • 1944 started Vancouver School Board teaching summer courses for teachers, emphasizing that teaching is an art form too
  • 1946 started teaching graphics, design and commercial art at Vancouver School of Art full-time with colleagues, Binning, Shadbolt and Bruno Bobak
  • 1946 started summer teaching at Victoria Normal School art methods to teachers, especially the importance of personal expression in art
  • 1956 invited to teach, new faculty of Education Department at UBC to train teachers, exposing them to wide range of influences/experiences to form personal voice in art
  • 1958 begins teaching summer workshops, Kelowna, Jasper, Banff and throughout Canada
  • Selected Influences/Experiences

  • 1937-1940 employed part-time as draftsman, Brigden's firm, Winnipeg in design department
  • 1939 visit to San Francisco for the Golden Gate International Exposition - exposed to work of European, American and Canadian Modernist artists
  • 1941 marries Marion Fleming, his lifelong supporter
  • 1942/43 made maps and topographical sketches in England, Scotland and Europe; visited artists, galleries and museums, during WWII
  • 1944 employed part-time with the Vancouver Sun, art/design department
  • 1944 contacted by painter, educator W.P. Weston (1879–1967) - suggested Smith go into teaching
  • 1944 studied under important Canadian Modernists B.C Binning and Jack Shadbolt and became friends with them, as well as becoming part of social group with Alistair and Betty Bell, Arthur Erickson, Geoffrey Massey, Bert and Jessie Binning, Bess and Lawren Harris, Nan Cheney, and the Andrew family
  • 1944 first one-man show at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG)
  • 1947 second one-man show at VAG
  • 1947 visits Alert Bay, location known to Emily Carr and other important B.C. artists
  • 1949 involved with Design for Living show with Binning at VAG about the importance of design and art in daily life
  • 1951 in San Francisco sees Abstract Expressionist art of Elmer Bischoff, Clyfford Still, Richard Diebenkorn etc., starts to focus on the paint as subject in his work
  • 1956 invited to join and show with The Canadian Group of Painters
  • 1957 influenced by visits to galleries in New York
  • 1960 highly experimental work chosen to represent Canada at the São Paulo Bienal
  • 1960 visited galleries in Montreal, Europe, revisited the Tate in London, especially revisiting the freedom of technique in the work of J.M.W. Turner
  • 1961 taught summer workshops Banff Centre School of Fine Arts
  • 1964 asked to design two murals for new Simon Fraser University, Arthur Erickson architect
  • 1970 major commission requested by Erickson for Canadian Pavilion, Expo 70, Osaka, Japan
  • 1970 first of 3 visits to Egypt, influences his use of colour
  • 1976 major retrospective of his work at VAG, work evokes memory of life, place
  • 1979 visits and paints in New Brunswick, horizontal light colourful landscapes
  • 1982 retires from UBC to concentrate on painting
  • 1984 second visit to Queen Charlotte Islands, returns to more sombre colours, frees up painterly markmaking, more abstraction
  • 1987 major commission requested by Erickson for the new Canadian Chancery building in Washington, D.C
  • 1990 second studio built to work on grand scale paintings
  • 1995 visit to Claude Monet's home Giverny start of "Pond" series
  • Selected Awards

    An accomplished internationally recognized artist, Smith won the "Structure with Red Sun Award" in 1995. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1996. He is an Education Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 2007 he received the Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts. In March 2009 at The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, he was named a laureate and presented with the Governor General's Award in the Visual and Media Arts. He was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

    Selected Collections

    His works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, as well as the Vancouver Art Gallery. He continues to have regular exhibitions of his large works at the Equinox Gallery in Vancouver. As a well-respected contemporary painter his works fill many corporate and private collections. In 2009 his massive wall sculpture [1] "Beach Tangle" was installed in the lobby of the West Vancouver Community Centre, one of the venues for celebration during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.


    Gordon A. Smith Wikipedia