Society

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Group of Seven on trial

By Paul Gessell

Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft, Canada’s Queen of Creep, was the star witness for the defence at the recent Ottawa trial of that very iconic band of painters known as the Group of Seven.

Yes, the Group of Seven was on trial in 2011 for having staged something of a coup d’etat of the Canadian art world almost a century ago. More on that later. First, more on Thorneycroft.

All works by Diana Thorneycroft. From left: Martyrdom of the Great One, C print; Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Jack Pine), C print, 2007; Early Snow with Bob and Doug, C print, 2005

Thorneycroft is infamous for making art out of dead bunnies, forcing Mickey Mouse into cruel situations and, more recently, creating and then photographing dioramas in which dolls are abused in a variety of exquisitely clever ways. There are drownings, maulings by wild animals, plane crashes, and even a crucifixion of a doll-sized replica of hockey great Wayne Gretzky.

One body of Thorneycroft’s work is titled Group of Seven Awkward Moments; in this series, very Canadian stories involving black humour are played out in front of reproductions of paintings created by Group of Seven artists and their sidekick Tom Thomson. These wickedly funny artworks are meant to be cheeky send-ups of the best and worst of Canadian culture.

One of these Awkward Moments was Exhibit A at the aforementioned Group of Seven trial in Ottawa. Exhibit A, one of Thorneycroft’s tamer works, is titled Early Snow with Bob and Doug. Doll-sized replicas of hosers par extraordinaire, Bob and Doug McKenzie, sit around a campfire, drinking beer of course, while Tom Thomson’s painting Early Snow forms the backdrop.

From left: John Macfarlane and Shelley Ambrose, co-publishers of The Walrus; John Cook, architect, and wife Maria Cook; National Gallery of Canada director Marc Mayer. Event photography by Brent Gervais.

The trial was held May 11 at — where else? — the National Gallery of Canada, which championed the Group back in the early 1920s when much of the art establishment would have nothing to do with the landscape painters. The issue in the trial: Is the Group of Seven relevant today, or are those painters of yesteryear merely historical curiosities that should be sent packing back to the 1920s?

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