Work of Art: Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study) by Jack Shadbolt

Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study) is one of several abstract paintings displayed in the West Tower of downtown’s Eighth Avenue Place.

Photograph by Jared Sych.

Title: Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study)
Date: 1967
Artist: Jack Shadbolt (1909 – 1998)
Media: Oil, Lucite on canvas Size 200 cm by 120 cm
Location: Eighth Avenue Place (West Tower), 525 8 Ave. S.W.
Notes: Collection of Eighth Avenue Place owners: Matco Investments Ltd., AIMCo and Ivanhoé Cambridge. Another Shadbolt, Wild Grass Suite – Quintet (1979), is in the East Tower. The Estate of Jack Shadbolt is managed by Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.

Patchwork forms pulse in an azure field. Notice the crisp edges, blurred sections, slight disruptions in overlapping layers, the dynamics of one colour next to another, the spatial suggestion that a cut edge casts a curving shadow. Follow the implied arc that links the two dominant forms: the edges of thick slabs, brushstrokes and random bumps are textural clues to this painting’s history, now evenly covered with blue. See how the underpainted colours give life to the ones above. Consider how the artist, Jack Shadbolt, delights in the painted surface and handles the push and pull of line and form with verve.

When he painted Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study) in 1967, Shadbolt was already a highly regarded artist and teacher, recently retired from the Vancouver School of Art. Born in England, Shadbolt studied art in Victoria, Vancouver, New York, England and France. He enlisted in the army during the Second World War and was sent by the Canadian Army War Artists Administration to document bombed sites of London. His experiences are reflected in his work.

The title of this particular piece is something of a puzzle, as there doesn’t seem to be any record of a mural called Northern Emblem. Shadbolt had, however, painted an earlier mural, Bush Pilot in Northern Sky (1963), for the Edmonton airport and donated a trove of preparatory drawings and sketches to the Art Gallery of Alberta, indicating the influence of aerial photography. One particular sketch echoes the rectangular forms, triangles and some textures seen in Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study).

A typewritten label states: “Several studies were made of the somewhat blurred effect of the bush terrain as one flew over in a fast plane. These were the beginnings of an attempt to visualize the country from the pilot’s point of view,” suggesting that this particular “mural study” might be a carry-over from the airport mural.

Northern Emblem (No. 1 mural study) is one of several abstract paintings displayed in the West Tower of downtown’s Eighth Avenue Place. During an early tour of the building site, Ron Mathison, president, founder and CEO of Matco Investments, and his colleague, Michael Tims (then-chair of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Canada), decided to complement the grandeur of the architecture with paintings by major 20th century Canadian artists on permanent display — a generous gesture that adds to the culture of the building and contributes to the life of the city.

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This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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