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For more than 30 years, Ed Bartram, one of Canada's foremost painter/printmakers, consistently found his source of inspiration to be the rugged northern landscape of the Precambrian Shield. On August 25th, 2019, he died at the age of 81. The Toronto Star published an article about his life and career that can be read here.
Unlike his predecessors, such as the Group of Seven, Bartram explored contemporary techniques and influences to focus upon the abstract and dynamic elements in the landscape. With his innovative techniques, he effectively captured the powerful forces which were at work during the formation of Georgian Bay's metamorphic bedrock.
Inspired by Georgian Bay's unique landscape, Ed Bartram translated its precambrian rocks, clear waters, and windswept trees into paintings, prints and photographs for over 50 years. Born in London, Ontario in the late 1930s, Ed graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a BA in History and went on to get his MA in Art History from the University of Toronto. He became an instructor of Art History and Printmaking at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, where he taught until his retirement in 2003. He then worked on his art full-time on Bartram Island in the summer and King Creek in the winter.
Ed first discovered his island studio, Bartram Island, while leading canoe trips from Camp Hurontario. Having studied the art of the Abstract Expressionists, Ed became fascinated by the structures of the island's precambrian rock surfaces. While working on a series of etchings inspired by computer circuits, he realized that the rock formations under his feet contained the gestures and energies of the New York School. In 1970, Bartram began several oil paintings and the 'Canadian Shield' series of etchings, all inspired by the rocks of Georgian Bay. The Canadian Shield series established Bartram's national reputation as an important printmaker. He received a number of awards for his work and became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He has been represented by the Mira Godard Gallery in Toronto since the 1980s, and they continue to represent him posthumously.
"These rocks of the Canadian Shield, which are older than life itself were pushed towards the core of the earth where, under the weight of great mountains, they metamorphosed into molten chocolate ripple-like swirls of pink and black. When they surfaced again in GB, the rock formed an archipelago of 30,000 wildly striated islands. That is why my prints & paintings are not just of rocks & islands, but a testament to the primordial forces that created the nucleus of the continent, the Canadian Shield." - From 'Shared Passion, An Artist's Eye' La Vie Claire Magazine, article by Jill Rigby
Georgian Bay and the Canadian Shield formed the basis of Bartram's imagery since 1970, and he continued to experiment with different printmaking techniques, from photo etching to mixed media carborundum prints. Bartram executed and printed by hand all of his images on an etching press in his King City print studio. While working on the island, Ed worked on large paintings on canvas that depicted both landscapes and extreme close-ups of Georgian Bay's rocks, employing acrylic medium and black sand obtained from nearby beaches to give the paintings textures nearly indecipherable from the rocks on which they are painted.
"It's impossible to separate Bartram, one of the country's foremost printmakers, from the elements that mashed, gnawed and bubbled until the earth was formed. His prints are the result of [scrapers] and acid acting on [the] etching plate with the same grittiness as a glacier. His canvases incorporate local coloured sand to evoke the rock more physically." - From 'Shared Passion, An Artist's Eye', La Vie Claire magazine, article by Jill Rigby
Though he had been using photography as reference for his prints and paintings, Ed had recently begun to produce limited edition giclée photographs, finding that, after searching the 30,000 islands for 50 years looking for interesting abstract rock structures to inspire his art, it would be interesting to let the source images stand on their own. The new digital technology available made it possible for Bartram to be involved in the process of creating and printing archivally stable coloured photographs.