By PAUL GESSELL
Ottawa is not always kind to its deceased artists. While alive, major talents from this area are given exhibitions in both public and commercial galleries. The City of Ottawa, through its annual art purchase program, buys works by those artists to hang in public buildings.
But once an artist dies, we rarely hear anything about him or her, unless one or two works are dusted off for some themed exhibition. Occasionally a Henri Masson or Jean Dallaire painting will appear for sale at one gallery or another. But those are the exceptions.
And that is why the new exhibition at the Ottawa Art Gallery of drawings and paintings by the late Gerald Trottier is so welcomed. The exhibition, called Perspective, is at the gallery’s sales and rental space in Arts Court. All but one of the few dozen works on view is for sale. That one, a spectacular painting called Pilgrimage, is part of a donation of 100 of the artist’s works to Ottawa Art Gallery from Trottier’s widow, Irma. This is the largest donation of artwork ever received by the gallery.
The exhibition begins April 10 and will run until June 14. The gallery may temporarily show some of the other donated works in the Firestone Gallery on April 24, when the official vernissage is held for Perspective from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Perspective offers a good cross-section of the evolving styles of Trottier’s work leading up to his death in 2004. There are self-portraits, landscapes, many works on religious themes, and the most penetrating portrait of the tormented artist Vincent Van Gogh that I have ever seen.
Unlike Van Gogh, Trottier’s greatness was recognized while he was still alive. The National Gallery of Canada collected his work and the artist represented Canada at major art biennials at Sao Paulo, Mexico City, and Salzburg.
Many of Trottier’s finest works are not portable. He created an amazing mosaic, The Pilgrimage of Man, for the H.M. Tory Building at Carleton University and did decorative liturgical works for several churches in Ottawa. Those can’t be ripped from their moorings but we do get to see a preparatory sketch for a stained glass window at St. Maurice Roman Catholic Church.
Religion played a large part in Trottier’s life and art. Perhaps his most famous body of work is the so-called Easter Series of which the painting Pilgrimage is a part. Some related drawings are also in the exhibition.
“The Easter Series, despite its name and recurring depictions of the crucifixion and resurrection, is not related exclusively to Easter, nor does it recount a linear narrative in the manner of the Way of the Cross,” Sandra Dyck, director of the Carleton University Art Gallery, wrote in the catalogue for a 2006 Trottier retrospective at that gallery. “In the series, fundamental elements of the artist’s worldview – his profound religious belief, his lifelong fascination with pilgrimage, his searching mindset and his emotional connection to Calumet Island – coalesce and find expression in large acrylic paintings rendered with the trenchant palette and realism of his London years. The works are at once suffused with pessimism and faith, violence and calm, mortality and transcendence, fear and joy. But Trottier never chooses between them, preferring instead to capture the ‘carnival of life’ as he described it, in all its complexity and absurdity.”
The Ottawa Art Gallery has another exhibition by a recently deceased artist on the horizon. A retrospective of the late Ottawa artist Alma Duncan will be held this fall. Duncan died the same year as Trottier.