Few cities in Canada can boast such a vibrant art scene that it becomes gilded with the nickname ‘Florence of the North,’ but then again, not all cities are Kingston, Ontario – where names like Joanne Gervais, Patricia Van Asperen, Heather Haynes, and Peter Hawke Hill fly off the tongues of art enthusiasts as readily as flecks of paint fly from a brush.
The Kingston art scene is already chock-full of nationally-celebrated and world-renowned visual artists, but one very talented Kingstonian has put brush to canvas for his community, the planet, and for his own artistic catharsis, while his name has gone relatively unsung in the sagas.
Dave Gordon, now 77, is a landscape artist, caricaturist, and retired Kingston art professor — among other mantles — who has influenced and contributed to art and culture in Kingston from behind the scenes for decades.
“I’ve been in Kingston since about 1976 or ‘77. I taught at St. Lawrence College in the fine art department there for about 20 years. The [college] program was cancelled in 1993, but wound down, so I was there until about ’95 or ’96. I was involved in the founding of the Kingston School of Art, which is up on Princess Street. After the college [program] closed, I worked with the group that founded that, so I contributed works to raise money for its creation, as well,” Gordon noted, summarizing his art career in Kingston.
Gordon’s career stretches even beyond those contributions. Over the years, he has painted a number of commissioned portraits of Canadians prominent in the arts, including some of the late Leonard Cohen, which Gordon rendered from photographs and re-envisioned in bright acrylic.
His style of painting, Gordon said, comes primarily from influences in his youth. He grew up in London, Ontario, where he was fascinated by watercolour landscapes and portraits painted by local artists, which were growing in popularity during the 70s and 80s, he recalled.
“There was quite a thriving art scene when I was a kid and was trying to get involved — Jack Chambers was definitely influential for me as an artist from there, in terms of developing my own landscape style. Originally, I painted my region in London for landscapes, and when I came to Kingston I continued to do that with the Kingston area. I also lived in Sydenham for a little while, which was in a beautiful landscape. There’s no shortage of inspiration in this part of Ontario when it comes to landscape works.”
A recurring theme in Gordon’s landscapes has been a focus on animal images which, in his words, “rather brazenly don’t belong” in the scenes in which they’re depicted. He explained that is part of the message he wants to convey in much of his art. “In recent works, I’ve been taking a typical northern Kingston landscape scene with trees and forests and putting in some kind of totally foreign species. It’s juxtaposition and a fantasy, but it also refers to invasive species and climate change,” he noted.
Themes in Gordon’s works encompass a wide variety of ideas and topics – topics which Gordon admits have, at times, been seen as controversial to those with strong opinions that go against the grain of his works’ messages. “I work towards contemporary concerns like climate degradation, climate change, invasive species, etc., and I also do portraits that are very politically charged — portraits of politicians, writers, and artists that often resonate with a specific type of person,” he explained, noting playfully that, as a caricaturist, “Trump was one of my natural targets.”
Gordon said that, while his drawings and paintings aren’t widely available throughout social media, much of his work is modestly displayed on his Facebook page, Dave Gordon Art. However, he much prefers visits to his home gallery and in-person exhibitions held at public venues. In the past, many such art shows have featured Gordon’s works with proceeds going towards local charitable causes, mostly through Queen’s University.
And for those who want to see Gordon’s works the way he prefers and intends — up close and in person — a current gallery show offers just that opportunity.
“I’m having an exhibition for the month of March at Kingston Frameworks, which is a framing shop, which also happens to have a small gallery at the front of their store. They feature Kingston artists right now, and Pat Shea’s work is in there, but I’m featuring about 15 paintings there,” Gordon said, expressing his affinity towards the exhibit space at Frameworks.
“It’s on Princess Street, right in the open, so it gets exposure to people who might not have otherwise bothered with art enough to go into an art gallery,” he mused.
Gordon’s canvases currently on display at Frameworks feature exotic and colourful birds, some done in a portrait-bust style usually associated with paintings of humans, and some situated in Canadian woodland landscapes. Art enthusiasts and anyone who needs a pop of colour in their day can stop by Kingston Frameworks at 198 Princess Street, where Gordon’s whimsical birds will be available for admiration and for purchase through the end of March.