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Border Crossings Magazine
Not Without Design

Roy Kiyooka and the Regina Five 8

Doug Morton Ken Lochhead Art McKay Ron Bloore Comments


TG: Part of me never left Regina. It's like coming back to warm memories, walking through the room and seeing some of the early Bloores that we painted together, together because we shared a studio. I swear to God he would make white paintings because he looked at my colour paintings. And I would look at his white paintings, and they were so goddamn austere that I made my colour paintings in response. So in a way we gave our paintings to each other. 1

BORDER CROSSINGS: Bloore has a reputation for being an incredibly difficult man. What was he like when you were sharing a studio and making paintings together?

TG: Anyone who is committed is difficult because he has principles in a world that has none. Ron is not difficult. A world without principles is the difficulty.

BC: What's your assessment of the body of work as you look back over his distinguished career?

TG: Well, you know the book ain't writ yet, there's still one or two chapters left. I'm amazed at the wonderful diversity. You know, the most exciting painter in Canada is Jack Shadbolt. Here's this old dude, over 80 years old, who's absolutely wild. I mean, he's more adventuresome than some 22-year-olds I've taught. It's fabulous. And Ron Bloore in his very austere way, using only white, is equally adventuresome and fearless. He'll push anything to the edge and that's where real brilliance comes in.

BC: Did you ever tell him to stop using white and get colourful for a while? Did you ever fight about painting?

TG: All the time. I never stopped.

BC: It obviously didn't work. There's only a small handful of paintings in the exhibition that could be called marginally colourful. 2

TG: I'll tell you something. When Ron and I were in Greece together in '61 he made a whole series of large, coloured paintings. Then he went to Egypt where he looked at the temples and the pyramids, and when he came back he burned the paintings. It was logically and intellectually consistent with the self appointed mission of this senior gentle man of Canadian art.

Top of Page Ken Lochhead Art McKay Ron Bloore Comments


BC: Do memories come back when you see Bloore's early works hanging on the walls here?

DM: They sure do. Seeing them in this setting is so different from seeing them in the old gallery. They look so much better here. And the colour and the scale are improved. The space has made a terrific difference to all the work. 3

BC: What was it like back in the early '60s when you were together here in Regina?

DM: I was in business. The other guys were either teaching or in the design field, but we got along very well. We never had arguments of any consequence.

BC: Did you know at the time that you were going to become institutionalized in Canadian art as the Regina Five?

DM: No, not at all. We were just doing our thing, bouncing off each other, seeing each other's work on a regular basis and getting excited. We were all working, painting late at night and early in the morning, cranking them out.

BC: Was it a lot of fun?

DM: Yeah, after hours. But we were all working, we were all raising families and we all had jobs.

BC: What's it like to see Bloore's new work?

DM: Ron and I shared a studio in Toronto at York so l saw his work developing right up until 1980 when I left and went out to the west coast. So I followed his work fairly closely. When I go back to Toronto I see his work on a regular basis. He's a very directed artist and there's this fine intellect and great sensibility behind what he does. He surprises the hell out of me in terms of the quantity of stuff he can crank out during any period of time. Then, like all of us, nothing will happen for a few months, and then all of a sudden there'll be a burst of work. He's just unbelievable.

BC: He's also an extremely sensitive drawer. Some of the drawings are almost painfully exquisite.

DM: He has the remarkable capacity to sit down and do a line drawing that might be six inches long for a painting that's going to be eight feet long. And he knows exactly the way it's going to develop. The lines will become the raised paint surface and from there on he orchestrates his palette of whites. And he has a great repertoire of whites, as you know. He can make yellows and blues appear and greys and marvelous browny colours. But he must know every white made by every artist's paint manufacturer in the western world and how they're all different. He used to document the white he was using on the backs of his paintings.

BC: If they've made Yves Klein Blue, don't you think they should give Bloore a colour? Ron Bloore White.

DM: I think somebody should do that. Absolutely.

Top of Page Doug Morton Art McKay Ron Bloore Comments


BC: You must have seen a lot of the early paintings in this exhibition just as the oil was drying on their masonite surfaces .

KL: You're right. The early paintings certainly brought back a lot and it just showed me I was right about them back then. I thought they were incredible paintings and I figured I'd go in and realize they were still incredible paintings. But when I walked in they looked even better. Bloore gets better with time.

BC: He seems to have had an almost religious devotion to the making of art.

KL: It's totally staggering. He has this amazing self-discipline and commitment and has the knowledge to support it. The man's range of knowledge about art is just incredible; he not only knows his history, but he knows about surface nuances and subtleties. And that's why he's unique. He's not a studio person and he didn't go to art school. He came out of archaeology, out of a very strong tradition, and he's cut his own track through it. That's what's so exciting; nobody is referring to the things that he refers to. He's also the most elegant contemporary artist I know. His abstracts are the most elegant pieces I've ever seen and that includes looking at art abroad.

BC: Is there a danger that he can get too elegant?

KL: It's like walking into a beauty pageant; they're all beautiful. And there's nothing wrong with that. But the show is totally overwhelming. It's like all of Wagner at the same time; it's that kind of weight and intensity. One painting after another. So I don't know how to respond to your question other than to say that I think you have to risk being elegant. He says, "I'm going to try to make as clear and concise a statement as I can make." 4 He's just brutally honest and insistent.

BC: What's kept him at it, do you think? I'm astonished by how much work has been done in the last couple of years, let alone in the last decade.

KL: I can't see him really getting involved with anything else. The most wonderful obsession, the most wonderful addiction you can have is to be totally wrapped up in this wondrous state of mind. And being able to use his hands: he's a craftsman of the first order. Craft is still a good word when you look at someone like Bloore.

BC: So life inside the painterly beauty pageant isn't so bad?

KL: He's having a ball. He's just so wrapped up in what he's doing. And isn't that what it really is all about, being totally wrapped up?

Top of Page Doug Morton Ken Lochhead Ron Bloore Comments


BC: What's it like for you to walk in and see those early paintings?

AM: There's so much more than what we saw then. Ron's been working for 20 years or more, and I only saw the beginning of that stuff. I'm struck by certain paintings, as well, when I recognize how influential they were. With five artists of a similar calibre in a small town like this, it's no wonder that some of our paintings looked alike.

BC: Are you talking about the mandalas?

AM: Yeah. He stole it from Jasper Johns 5 and I stole it from him in turn. Of course, the Buddhists had it 4000 years ago. The circle is over the hill, after all. Very prehistoric.

BC: So nobody owns the circle?

AM: That's right, but people do own the painting.

BC: Does the Bloore exhibition bring back fond memories at all?

AM: It makes me think that we were goddamned lucky to have Dr. Riddell as the boss. He used to get phone calls from all over the place, saying, these guys are disturbing the scene and we don't want them around. There was also a bunch of high school teachers trying to get us fired. Sometimes you're a threat to people because they don't know what you're doing. These are the kind of people who walk into an art gallery and figure they should know something. The only way for me to walk into an art gallery is to pretend I don't know anything and then find out what it's trying to say by the look of the sucker.

BC: One of the things that struck me about the Bloore exhibition is how much work he's done over his career. What do you think keeps him going?

AM: Will-power combined with ambition.

BC: And it's still there for him, isn't it?

AM: Oh yes. It has to be if you want to keep going. I stopped for a while and I wasn't happy with that. And I started again and I wasn't happy with that, either. I really don't know what I'm going to do for an encore.

BC: Do you feel like a walking part of history when you get together with these four guys?

AM: Yeah, we're aware of local ways. It was partially through happenstance and partially through geography. You've seen a demographic map of Canada; it's not a very big country and there's a thin red line all the way from Toronto down to the mountains.

BC: Do you admire Bloore's work?

AM: Very much so. It's the most spiritual stuff. And "spiritual" doesn't have anything to do with religion. That I've seen for a long time. He knew what he was doing. He wanted to study something, so he went right into it. He followed the source of his thoughts right to the place where they originated. And that's a very emotional experience for anybody.

Top of Page Doug Morton Ken Lochhead Art McKay Comments


BC: Let me start at the back end of the show. I'm astonished at how much work you've made over the last five years, even in the last year the number of quite large paintings. What keeps you at it with so much intensity?

RB: I've been lucky in a way. I haven't had to teach since 1985. I ran into some health problems, was on long term disability for five years, and now I've retired. It meant, simply, I could paint seven days a week. I leased a big studio in downtown Toronto: 1400 square feet with something like 12 to 14-foot-high ceilings [eleven foot! - H.R.] and I thought, what the hell, nobody's buying anything anyway, so let's paint 'em. And I started off at one end and just went around the studio, then started off the other side, and before I quit I had something like 34 of these paintings.

BC: But there must be some kind of emotional commitment to the act of getting those marks on masonite that is absolutely enthralling to you.

RB: I don't know whether it's enthralling; it's a hell of a lot of work. It really is. I try to persuade people that painting is about 90% boredom. It's five percent fun at the beginning and then it's just a procedure of trying to complete the work. The last five percent is seeing how close you can get to the initial idea that you had before you say to hell with it, let's get on to the next one. I think painters on the whole tend to be that way: it's always the next one. History is tomorrow, not yesterday. But it's important to keep going to try to find something. I'm a senior citizen now and I've never painted any harder than now.

BC: So you hold the painting in your head and then it's a question of exactly getting that idea out into space?

RB: Yes. There are preparatory drawings and sometimes the drawings can take longer to make. The drawing is about figuring out the kind of image that I respond to. I sometimes start all over again, wiping the whole thing out with a cordless electric eraser, until I finally get it. Then I can grid it up and transfer it: so the painting is totally preconceived and it's really a technical problem to finish it. 6

BC: Sometimes the drawings seem almost heart-breaking; they're so delicate as to become almost invisible. 7

RB: I don't know about that, but they are the total opposite of the paintings. The paintings are preconceived, the drawings are all automatic. I do them as fast as possible. It probably takes about an hour and a half to complete one. It's a problem of trying to put something down very, very quickly, without preconception. It's curious, though, no matter how much I try to avoid them, certain shapes and forms crop up over and over again. Sometimes I'll start them off with my left hand rather than my right hand.

BC: Just to frustrate your technical ability?

RB: Just to try to get a different kind of imagery. 'Come on Bloore, you've done this before'. It's like A B C D E F G - you've got shapes that you use over and over again and they mean something. They click. They're ink and water and I use hair dryers to speed up the whole process of drying. Very fine hair dryers. I bought them along with High and Dry paper towels; the most absorbent paper towels I've encountered.

BC: Is this an advertisement?

RB: No, it's not an advertisement, I'm just telling people that I've experimented with all of them and that's the way it goes. You have to have this sense of experimentation; then you hone it down. I have to [peel] off all the white lines as a result of having tape on there. I remove all the tape, and take a look at it for about five seconds and decide yes or no. There's no correction; there's no change; there's nothing. If I don't like it, I rip it up. It's unfortunate to see a beautiful piece of paper go down the tube but that has to happen.

BC: Let me ask you a general question. Prior to installing the show, I don't imagine you'd had the opportunity of seeing this large body of work in the same place. Can you give me a sense of what it was like to walk in and see your life in that room?

RB: Well, that's an aspect of my life. There are other aspects of my life that I wouldn't want to see in that room, that's for sure. But what I really liked was going in and seeing the works beautifully illuminated in a perfect space. Then you have to ask whether you've been wasting your time. I won't exactly say that I have. I'm certainly not going to quit painting because of what's in the exhibition. I'm going to work all the harder and one of these days I'm going to do a good painting.

BC: Oh come on, you must know that there's a considerable achievement in these galleries.

RB: It's always the next one. I'm doing a bunch of four-feet by four-feet paintings now, which makes my wife a little happier because she keeps asking what am I going to do with 34 eight by eight-foot paintings. I mean, people have got eight and a half-foot ceilings. So they're stacked up, but that's okay. Selling the painting is not the important thing. The important thing is the next one. Always the next one.

BC: But you must be pleased to see how well the early paintings stand up. Did you know how good they were at the time?

RB: Well, I knew what the so-called Regina Five was doing here in Regina at the time. I think Ken Lochhead referred to us as painting by numbers ["Group of 7", "Painters 11"...]. That's true. In fact, when we had the initial show here in Regina (it was called the May Show) the other guys wanted me to include Roy Kiyooka because Roy had been here for a period of time and was part of the painting, beer drinking, family association that we had. But Roy had already left by the time I was planning the exhibition. But the guys said, "Hey, what about Roy?" and I said, "Sorry, Roy isn't here. We do paint by number and you cannot have a group if one guy's 1500 miles away over the mountains." Roy has generously forgiven me for that attitude.

BC: What about Cliff Wiens, the architect? Wasn't he part of the original exhibition?

RB: Sure he was part of it. We made no distinction. Cliff is interesting because the original show did include Wiens but when the National Gallery picked up the show, they said, we can't take him because he's an architect and not an artist. I was furious. Because when people came in to look at the original show they didn't look at Lochhead or McKay. No, they went downstairs where Cliff had a room full of models of his buildings, with his original drawings and blueprints up on the wall. People spent all their time downstairs looking at Cliff Wiens's stuff. It was marvelous.

BC: Is it significant for you when the Regina Five gets together? Are you nostalgic about it?

RB: No, the one who is nostalgic about it is Ted Godwin. I mean, we all like to get together and Lochhead and I have been known to have a good time over a few Scotches. And Doug has been a close friend over the years, as a colleague at York University and obviously from Regina as well. Yeah, we're all good friends, but I have no nostalgia. Again, history is tomorrow, not in the past.

BC: I want to talk about white. You have an unprecedented commitment to the complexity and the wonder of white. What first attracted you to the colour and why have you stuck with it in such a passionate way?

RB: I'm sorry but I never answer those questions. I never read anything that's written about me and I will never say anything more about my painting than how I do them technically. I mean, you can't look at them and say they're landscapes. If you say that, then I'm going to destroy the bloody things. I don't mind if the drawings (the sort of automatic drawing) have star patterns and sometimes it's nice to put in a diagonal and give the suggestion of perspective, but not for the serious stuff. No, not for the paintings.

BC: Are you proud tonight?

RB: I am relaxed and not ashamed of what I've done. I think that's the major point.

Top of Page Doug Morton Ken Lochhead Art McKay Ron Bloore


  1. Bloore has also said that it was their dramatically different approaches that made them functional as studio-mates; because influence in either direction was inconceivable.

    Another painter Bloore shared a studio with in those years was Doug Morton, a man much closer to his own age and experience. This was a case of sympathetic visions constructively cohabitating:

    " person's formal criticism that I did listen to (and the only guy that could do it) was Doug Morton. He had the most phenomenal eye! I can still recall one time... he came in and looked at the painting. This is when I used to still use colour (or other colours ). And he looked at it and said 'you've got these problems with it: A, B, C, D.' And he was absolutely in order. At a glance. Incredible formal eye that guy's got. Very subtle eye; very logical eye." (Jan.10,'78, interview with J. Murray) (back) (top)

  2. This question could only have been asked before the interviewer had perused the exhibition as it contained many very colourful works, some of which can seen in the catalogue. (for example) (back) (top)

  3. Bloore had managed the installation himself and had most of the walls painted strong, fairly dark, colours to help the works stand out in their gold and silver frames.

    "... a canvas must be the material contrast of the wall on which one hangs it, it must personify the full force of movement and life." (Fernand Léger -1919) (back) (top)

  4. As with many true statements on art, the opposite of this is as often true. While a clarity of vision is always essential, Bloore themes range from simple to obtuse, monumental to chaotic, with many stops in between. However, when it comes to talking and writing about art he values clear statements and is notoriously, "brutally honest and insistent." (back) (top)

  5. Artists often take imagery from around them, including the minor arts and even the works of minor artists, in a manner that in no way involves influence. Still, it should be reiterated that Bloore had studied many truly meaningful mandalas before ever seeing a Johns. (back) (top)

  6. In an interview with fellow painter, Eugene Knapik, for WorkSeen (Dec.'90):

    "The paintings are in a sense calculated ahead of time as much as possible but they have to undergo fantastic changes in the process of execution, because I'm working from a little drawing, a little sketch in pencil. I'm currently working on eight-by-eight-foot paintings. A lot of changes happen...

    "Sometimes l use the raw masonite as part of my paintings. I just keep it raw or in some cases where I want to go darker, I keep staining it with linseed oil. I started to do that simply because I was painting one day and I noticed that one of my colours was bleeding out into the masonite. It looked dark. And well, why not? I am willing to respond to accidents in my painting. They're not all uptight." (back) (top)

  7. In the mid to late sixties Bloore did a series of beautiful drawings in which patterns fade out to nothing in regions. The "Not Without Design" catalogue has a good attempt at reproducing one from the show. They have much in common with some of the paintings of that time, excepting their colours. Unfortunately, Bloore does not realize Enright is referring to these early pieces. He talks instead about the much different inkworks which, until this point, we still conventionally called "drawings" simply because they were done on paper, and in spite of the fact that they were done with brushes, and no drawing whatsoever. (back) (top)

  8. This article was printed in the Winter 1993 issue, Vol. 12 No. 1, with the title "Roy Kiyooka and the Regina Five" but the text, contributed by Kiyooka himself, is omitted here because I don't understand a word of it. He should have been interviewed the same way as, and included here with the others.

    Why wasn't he at the opening? Outside the main show, the Mackenzie Gallery hung early works by Ron's colleagues of the Regina days: these 4 guys but not Roy. Why? All six have regularly asserted they didn't paint as a group of 5. Roy was not in Bloore's "May Show" of 1960 because he had left. Why did Andrew Oko exclude him from this show? (back to top)

Top of Page Doug Morton Ken Lochhead Art McKay Ron Bloore

Bloore on Canadian Art -1951
Bloore on Folk Art -1960
Bloore at the Wyers Retro -1989
Bloore at the Morton Retro -1994

Bloore at Eighty - by Illi Tamplin -2005
Canadian Encyclopedia - and the Oxford -1998
Five Interviews - by Robert Enright -1993
Tamplin Collection Donation - by Kay Kritzwiser -1988
R.L. Bloore Drawings 1960-1988 - by Illi Tamplin -1988
Regina Five In Creemore - with Olive Price-Adams -1981
Bloore - and contemporary art criticism - by Barry Lord -1966
Bloore - at the Here And Now - by Robert Fulford -1962
Win Hedore in Time Magazine - I Remember Dada -1960

Not Without Design - by Terrence Heath -1991