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“Simplify,” he said. “Pare it back to essentials. Get rid of the extraneous.“ But there was nothing Minimalist about this. The minimal is extraneous, and the conceptual is extraneous. The essential, according to Bloore, is hand made. Not automated. Not fabricated. Not delegated. Crafted, hewn, built up and worked by hand.
By 1971, when this panel was made as one of a series of 8 or so, the painter was actually power sanding the final surfaces to get their windblown-for-centuries appearance. But it is more than an appearance. It is a texture, it is a physical sensation, a feeling of age, of time as our co-creator. Bloore's works of the early 1970’s in particular looked a thousand years old the day they went into their frames.
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Bloore broke through from abstraction to non-representation in 1958, to white on white in 1960 and to a fully realized personal vision in 1964. From then on he always spoke of developments and drive, until 2001 when painting slowed to a trickle and a stop. He needed to break through again, this time, he said, to “an old man’s style.” And it might mean, and it did mean, breaking away from white.
Over the next few years the white ground went away and the colours came out to play, and by 2007 when this painting was done it was clear what the ink works of 1983 to 86 had really been about. They were colour and light in a world of darkness, a beautiful darkness that was not black.
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In the 70's white was the way, all the way. The world thought of Bloore as the white-on-white guy and this suited him fine, as long as it was seen as a physical, archeological whiteness and not a puritanical, dogmatic one. His many white paints interacted with one another by virtue of being materially different from each other.
The back of Byzantine Lights Series XII on the left indicates that it was finished many months after being started, even though it looks like it was executed in a matter of minutes. Meanwhile the two small oil sketches on paper at the right were indeed both produced the same day in 1979 and they hang together very nicely as a pair.
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Once a painting can be non-representational it can then be square. From 1959 onward most Bloores are square. They are defiantly not portraits nor landscapes, allegories or icons. In feeling they are sometimes similar to icons. This may have been the appeal of squares for Bloore as he was a great lover of Byzantine art in general and icons in particular.
A square can seem to confront us with absolute truth, and that can seem a bit much for an everyday living room wall. But in the spring of 2000 this supple and sinuous scene was caught swirling by Bloore who barely contained it, indeed he intentionally failed to contain it within the square borders of what now appeared to be a window onto some vast eternal world of whiteness.
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Paper provides a ground for experimentation where the stakes are not as high as with painting, especially oil painting on panel which is severe and monumental by comparison. Bloore took an entirely improvisational approach to the composition of works on paper from 1959 right through to 1994. They range from the colourfully bombastic to the nearly invisible, from the provocative and preposterous to the sublime.
There is a curious and deceptive lightness about this example ink work from 1984. Is this a caprice? Is this a beauty less profound because it seems more resolved than that of the wide white panels?
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Here are two examples of the important and impactful serious business of oil on panel painting in a compact, intimate scale. The small maquettes are sometimes called Baby Bloores, a nick-name that reflects both their delicacy and their importance, their lightness and their weightiness. The top one is a particularly small exercise in paint-work from 1970, while the one below is a 1975 experiment with “Byzantine Lights” compositions executed with black under-paint.
On the adjacent wall is a “Nailie” from 1970 by David Partridge (1919-2006) the American - Canadian - English painter and sculptor. This distinctive type of wall-hung sculpture, invented by Partridge gave him the enviable ability to create art with a hammer, and marvellous art it is. There is another small Nailie on the piano a few images back.
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In a remote hallway, far from any windows or frequently used lights, hang works on paper and Guatamalan fabric art along with some small oil paintings. There are two drawings and an oil by Tony Urquhart (the oil is just outside this photo). Two small Bloore maquettes are in the centre and in the bottom row on either side of a Campigli print are two of Bloore's drawings from the summer of 1964. The one at the far left which was drawn at Lac La Ronge, Saskatchewan was recently removed to storage. And the other, at the near right, which was done at Fanny Bay, British Columbia is now available for purchase at the Rumi Galleries in Toronto and Oakville.
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A most cherished survivor of Bloore's “Great Elimination” this splendid large panel done in 1960 or ’61, stayed with the painter from studio to studio throughout his life and was never shown until the Tribute at the Royal Ontario Museum shortly after his death where it made a considerable splash. During her speech the former Governor General voiced a typical response:
“When the white paintings came out [in 1964] I was just knocked out by them. Although when I saw, tonight coming in, that red painting: I have to say I would like to walk right out with it now! I really think that red painting is something else.” - Adrienne Clarkson
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Bloore's last nine paintings, done between January and July 2007 all have one or two black lines across the top. They make their first appearance in this work about a foot in from the left and go completely across all the others. He had actually used a white version of the same line (which turned yellow), entering from the left and interrupted in the centre, in a 4-by-6' painting, No.2 from 1999.
In front of the painting in the centre is a small work by sculptor Don Bonham, to the left a piece by Ulysse Comtois and on the wall to the right hangs a self portrait by Jan Wyers.
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After being creatively blocked for many many months in 2003 Bloore set himself the task of conquering an entirely new mode. This protracted aesthetic conquest led him to conquering, in the end, two different entirely new modes. For the first time he went exclusively vertical. Symbolically this was a narrowing down of concerns, devaluing endurance (through time) in favour of inspiration. Taking a thinner slice of our subject affords a less encumbered, more pleasurable type of content. This was just the idea he needed to finally get colour into his paintings, establish a new vocabulary of forms and a new dark space of context with which and within which to confront his impending demise with a strong “old man’s style.”
This 2004 painting brings forward the easy elegance of the preceding series (as in the 2000 work above the piano) into a new dark brown field with a heavy reliance on strong new blacks. Soon afterward, as with the ink works 20 years before, the blacks would diverge into a multitude of colours (as in the 2007 work above this one).
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Around 1970 Bloore produced a large number of small sculptures called “Sploores” made from wooden spoons and other wooden kitchen implements. They were intentionally anthropomorphic, directly inspired by primitive art and indirectly by Joan Miro. Bloore insisted they were “deadly serious” and the only thing flippant about them was their name.
Improvising sculptures from found objects was something Bloore had occasionally done before, most famously for the notorious “Win Hedore” exhibition of 1960. In this photo the twin little dogs are fashioned from two broken pull-down window blind brackets.