9 Famous Canadian Artists Worth Knowing About

famous Canadian artists Larry Towell

Canadian artists have the particular characteristic of being permeated with a diversity of cultures. Canada was first inhabited for about a thousand years by First Nations Peoples and then witnessed in the 18th and 19th-century waves of immigration that brought in artists from European descent, with mainly French and English heritage. Today, the immigrant flow hasn’t stopped, with Canada receiving 250000 immigrants every year from over 200 countries all over the world.

This diverse immigration has played and continues to play an integral part in the multiculturalism in Canada. It brought in people from all over the world, bringing with them part of their culture which is eventually reflected in their rich artistic universe. Undoubtedly, Canadian Art is an attractive art melting pot composed of various cultures and influences.

We give here a small but deeply representative sample of this savory Canadian mix with 9 of their most representative artists.

Canadian Artist Kent Monkman

Kent Monkman is a multimedia artist, a fancy word in the art world to describe the incredible diversity of his work. He was born in 1965 and is considered a multimedia artist mainly because he uses various mediums such as painting, film, and video to express his art. Due to the creative nature of his work, he has hosted several solo exhibitions at different museums and art galleries in Canada, the US and Europe. Thanks to his ability to cleverly recast historical events and the ease with which he combines disparate genre conventions with color and a touch of modernity, he has been able to achieve international recognition. Ultimately, one of the things that make his paintings so special and unique is the touch of modernity he adds to his paintings that would otherwise seem ancient.

Canadian Photographer Larry Towell

Larry Towell is a famous photographer born in 1953 who studied visual arts at York University in Toronto. Poet, folk musician, farmer, and photographer Larry Towell has been documenting dispossessed populations worldwide since 1984, in searing poetic, black-and-white photographs.

His work focuses on issues of unrest, identity, and “landlessness,” and includes extensive coverage of social, political, and military conflict in Central America, the United States, Mexico, and Palestine. He worked for many years as a freelance Magnum photographer in areas of conflict and social unrest. Larry Towell usually prioritizes his work on war and its effects on civilians. His fame derives from his uncanny ability to take genuine and truthful shots which embody the saying “an image is worth more than a thousand words”.

His work in those areas has resulted in thirteen books, hundreds of journal publications, and numerous exhibitions around the world.  Towell’s long-term projects have won many international awards, including World Press Photo of The Year, Pictures of the Year International, The Hasselblad Award, and The Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, amongst others.

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Canadian Artist Rodney Graham

Rodney Graham is the embodiment of the modern artist, being extremely versatile and being able to suit his ideas to the realms of photography, film, music, performance,  painting and any other media that might reflect his thoughts soundly.

He was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada in 1949. He graduated from the University of British Columbia, Burnaby, Canada in 1971 and lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. He is now strongly associated with the Vancouver School.

Most of his multimedia works include historical, philosophic, literary or cinematic allusions whose purposes are to birth interrogations in the mind of the viewer. One of his most striking work is “Vexation Island”, a 9 minutes video whose characters trigger the mind of the viewer and allow his/her imagination to wander freely.

Canadian Artist Ursula Johnson

Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Ursula Johnson is an emerging performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw First Nation ancestry. She graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and has participated in over 30 group shows and 5 solo exhibitions.

Her performances are often place-based and employ cooperative didactic intervention. Her work is a beautiful combination of the Mi’kmaq tradition of basket weaving with sculpture, installation and performance art.

Beyond entertainment, she aims at confronting and educating her viewers about important issues such as identity, colonial history, tradition and cultural practice.

 Just recently in 2017, she won the Sobey Art Award.

She said:

“I define my practice as Interdisciplinary. In my art I combine a multitude of elements in order to encourage dialogue between the viewers and the work, frequently challenging the viewers to explore with me ideas of identity, ancestry and cultural practice.”

Canadian Sculptor Evan Penny

Evan Penny is an extraordinary sculptor whose works can almost make you doubt they are lifeless. Indeed, he makes human-like sculptures out of materials like silicone, pigment, hair, and aluminum. Evan Penny makes the kind of sculpture that is so realistic, so detailed … that it literally stops people in their tracks.

His pieces, however, are not always human-like as he also does blur-like and stretched sculptures. One of his interests, he says, is to “situate the sculptures perceptually between the way we might see each other in real time and space and the way we imagine our equivalent in a photographic representation.” Despite the accurate precision of his works, he believes that the real can neither be represented nor symbolized.

Rebecca Belmore - sister - Famous Canadian Artist
Opening spread for "Evan Penny: Larger Than Life" by David Balzer, Canadian Art, Winter 2012, pp 82-83

Canadian Photographer Jeff Wall

 Jeff Wall was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. While studying art history at the University of British Columbia in the 1960s, he became interested in Vancouver’s experimental art scene and taught himself photography, seeing it as the best tool for expressing his conceptual ideas.

Jeff Wall is an artist who is said to have redefined the photographic image in art over the last three decades. How you may wonder? By his large-scale captivating photographs that display the dramatic power of history painting mixed with contemporary scenes from everyday life and materials. He himself refers to his photographs as “near documentaries” as they reflect scenes he witnessed himself.

The majority of his pieces are set in Vancouver and contain references to art, the media, and socio-economic problems.

Listener - Jeff Wall - famous Canadian artist
Listener by Jeff Wall - courtesy of White Cube gallery

Canadian Artist Rebecca Belmore

Rebecca Belmore is an interdisciplinary artist born in 1960 in Upsala, Ontario, who is particularly notable for politically conscious and socially aware performance and installation work. She attended the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto and is internationally recognized for her performance and installation art. She’s currently living in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

Her poetic and elegant work answers to the pressing issues of our time, including water and land rights, women’s lives and dignity, violence against Indigenous people by the state and police, and the role of the artist in contemporary life. She’s shown numerous times her interest in politics, and more specifically, its relationship with the construction of one’s identity and the ideas of representation.

Rebecca Belmore - sister - Famous Canadian Artist
Rebecca Belmore, sister, 2010. Colour ink-jet on transparencies, 2.13 x 3.66 m (overall). Courtesy the artist. © Rebecca Belmore.

Canadian Artist Brian Jungen

Born in Fort St. John, British Columbia in 1970, Brian Jungen is an artist who finds his inspiration in a diverse range of two and three-dimensional materials. For this reason, he is widely regarded as a leading member of a new generation of Vancouver artists. For many years now, he has centered his work on controversial topics such as Indigeneity and identity politics.

His work addresses many misconceptions from the audience about the fact that “native artists are not allowed to do works that are not about their First Nation’s identity”. He does so by making poetic artworks that defy categorization.

Brian Jungen has received notable international acclaim for his imaginative and critical transformation of consumer goods into anthropomorphic forms that evoke a range of contexts from Aboriginal sculpture to natural history museums and retail display. His installations are unique and integrate the complex circuitry of desire, mimicry, and fetishization that shape global cultural and economic exchange.

Canadian Poet Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle is a member of the Stó:lō Nation, the daughter of a Métis mother and Salish father and a granddaughter of Chief Dan George. Born on 2 July 1950 in Vancouver, BC Lee Maracle grew up in a poor neighborhood called North Shore mud flats in North Vancouver, east of the Second Narrows Bridge. 

Unlike all of the above-discussed artists, who express themselves through painting or photography, Lee Maracle instead uses the art of manipulating words; poetry. She is particularly known for speaking out as a critic of the treatment of indigenous people by Europeans and particularly highlights the issues relating to indigenous women. She is an award-winning poet, novelist, performance storyteller, scriptwriter, actor and keeper/mythmaker among her people, the Stó:lō people.

Mother and grandmother, Canadian Poet Lee Maracle is currently an instructor at the University of Toronto. She is also the Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and instructor with the Centre for Indigenous Theatre and the Support for Aboriginal Graduate Education as well as the Banff Centre for the Arts writing instructor. 

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