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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Charles Pachter Canada's Artist

The first time I heard of Charles Pachter was in the Walrus magazine when I saw his famous painting of the Canadian flag. It was a simple and yet a magnetic image of the red maple leaf in a red and white background.

The painting compelled me to do a Google search on Pachter and I discovered a Canadian institution who enjoys a global reputation for his iconic work on the British royalty and the Canadian moose, the Toronto Streetcar. 

He was also a friend of my friend Ali Adil Khan, the art connoisseur, who is a pillar of Canada’s new art establishment.  

In 2016, when Mawenzi House Publishers and I were looking for a cover for my debut novel, we approached Ali to help us. Among the suggestions that we got from him was a self-portrait of Charles Pachter called Decoy, painted in 1968.

I immediately selected it to be the cover of my novel because the boy-man in the sketch had a somewhat perplexed and anguished look on his face and uncertainty and hesitancy in his gaze. To me, it was as near a representation of Rafiq, the lead protagonist of my novel.

Thanks to Ali’s influence, Pachter gave us the permission to use the sketch for free and it became the cover of my novel. Through Ali, we were also able to invite Pachter to the launch program at the Gladstone last November, and surprisingly, he came and stayed till the end.

As a person with some understanding of marketing, I believe that one of the reasons Belief has done well is because of the unique cover that we were able to manage, thanks to Pachter.

Earlier this year, on the occasion of the launch of his biography Charles Pachter Canada’s Artist by Leonard Wise (Dundurn), I went to his famous studio-home behind AGO in the Grange. The place is an art gallery that utilises limited space effectively and efficiently with postmodern minimalism.  

Leonard Wise’s biography is a lush coffee table book with many illustrations of Pachter’s works and an endearing Appreciation by Margaret Atwood.

From the book, I learnt the story behind the Painted Flag. Wise notes:

“One of the Atwood poems, “eath of a Young Son by Drowning,” ends with the line, “I planted him in this country like a flag.” Charles has often surmised that this may have led him to a new phase of his painting. In any case, one summer night in 1980, at his farm in Oro-Medonite, he constructed a flimsy, homemade flagpole – out of two-by-fours, hastily nailed together – to which he attached a small rayon Canadian flag that he had purchased at a Canadian Tire store in Orillia. He manoeuvred the unwieldy mast into a fence-post hole,  lay down in a hammock to survey his handiwork as the sun set, and watched the flag unfurl, undulating slowly in the breeze, rocking back and forth like a primitive mobile at the top of its slender stem. The effect of wind, light, and motion struck him immediately…

In March 1981, Charles began painting variations of the flag at his Grange Place studio, one after the other. Swept along by the possibilities of different compositions based on the effects of wind and light, he could have continued ad infinitum. But eventually he became “flagged out,” and after completing thirty paintings, he began preparing for an exhibition of these new works.

The Painted Flag exhibition opened on November 7, 1981, the day after Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had coincidentally announced that the constitution was being patriated to Canada…In her November 14, 1981, Toronto Star review of the show, Lisa Bowen stated, “there is humour and excitement, colour and texture in this astonishing show.” John Bentley Mays in the Globe and Mail had a different view, labelling it “over-the-couch art for the walls of patriotic dentists.”

The book also has innumerable anecdotes from Pachter’s memorable life, such as his 30-second encounter with        Queen Elizabeth.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “this is such an honour. Forty-three years ago I painted you as the queen of Canada riding a moose, and it became one of my best-known images. Thanks to you I’ve made a living all these years.”  

She smiled radiantly, and said, “How amusing!”

The exchange lasted only thirty seconds but that was long enough for a Reuters photographer to take their picture. The next morning the byline “Artist who painted Queen on Moose meets queen” was in the Daily Telegraph. Charles emailed the photo to John Hondreich, the publisher of the Toronto Star, who published the 1973 picture of Charles with Queen on the Moose next to the 2015 picture of him meeting the queen in London.”

Let me conclude this post with a paragraph from Margaret Atwood’s Appreciation.

“…in a career that has now lasted three decades, Pachter has continued vigorously to explore his several media, to diversify his imagery, and to structure and restructure his visual world. In doing so he has restructured the world around him, and has changed profoundly the way we look at our own familiar iconography, even our own banalities. His output has been immense, his wit and versatility have remained constant, and his range continues to broaden. His is a sophisticated art which draws upon many techniques and evokes many echoes, yet it remains strongly individual, and firmly rooted in a ground which Pachter has both excavated and cultivated himself.”

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