The 25 Greatest Works of Art Ever Made in Newfoundland and Labrador

Aug 13 2009

by Craig Francis Power

This year, the artist-run centre Eastern Edge Gallery is celebrating 25 years of fostering provocative, controversial, exciting art. Since this is the month they hold their biggest party of the year, the 24 Hour Art Marathon, to help celebrate we thought we’d bring an outspoken local art critic out of hiding and ask a provocative, controversial, exciting question: What are the most important works of art ever made in the province?


Christopher Pratt

House in August (1969)

Often imitated, never duplicated. The shadow cast by Pratt’s long career as a visual artist is comparable to the looming presence of the Catholic church in Newfoundland. This is one in a series of paintings depicting out-port homes with blinds covering the windows; a none too subtle reference to death.


Excerpt from Fall.

Marlene Creates

Water Flowing to the Sea… (2002)

Time, loss, landscape. Creates’ photo installation captures the ever changing and evolving character of the natural world as it relates to our own mortality, inverting the photographer’s relationship to subject by taking photos from the river’s point of view.

Michael Flaherty

The Grey Islands (2009)

Living on the Grey Islands off the Northern Peninsula for three months while building an inside-out kiln for the purposes of making the islands into a piece of conceptual ceramic sculpture sounds pretty important in the face our province’s absurdly conservative aesthetic choices. See: www.thegreyislands.blogspot.com

David Blackwood

Fire Down On The Labrador (1980)

Reprinted ad nauseum, Blackwood must be making a killing from this one image alone. So insufferably iconic, this work sets contemporary Newfoundland artists’ teeth on edge. How do you deal with a piece like this that so dominates our collective imagination? In any event, there’s no denying the importance of his output in developing our province’s visual culture. See: St. Michael’s Printshop.


Image courtesy The Beothuk Interpretation Centre, Boyd’s Cove

Gerald Squires

Spirit of the Beothuck (2005)

Apparently the result of Squires’ mystic vision in the Newfoundland wilderness, this bronze sculpture of Shanadithit embodies our collective guilt over the Beothuck’s genocide, and our attempts to alleviate said guilt. I just wonder how First Nations people feel about it. Let’s ask Rebecca Bellmore.

Don Wright

The Red Trench (198?)

A gigantic blood-covered gash of a vagina. What controversy? No. Couldn’t be. It hung in the Arts and Admin building at MUN for years. Whenever someone uses the word “cunt,” I see The Red Trench flash momentarily in my mind’s eye. That’s how you know someone’s made important work.


Pam Hall’s On the Physiology of Female Reciprocity from New Readings in Female Anatomy (2000)

Pam Hall

Re-Writing the Body: Towards the Reading Room (2000 and ongoing)

This massive, ongoing collaborative piece is a collection of written accounts of women describing, sometimes in just a few lines, how they feel about their own bodies, their lives, their work under a patriarchal society. Touching, painful, angry, funny, and as important as fuck.


Photo of the work by John Haney

Kym Greeley

Alone Together 2

The long lost love child of Chris Pratt and Andy Warhol, Greeley’s art manages to exist where the lineage of Newfoundland landscape painting and more contemporary practices intersect. What makes it work is how she reveals how our relationship to landscape is increasingly mediated by industrial and technological processes. Her paintings also look fucking sweet.

Manfred Buchheit

Container Ship at the Dock (1978)

Is there anyone who’s captured downtown St. John’s more completely? The guy’s an image encyclopedia. Perhaps even moreso than his artwork itself, Buchheit’s influence as a mentor extends to a vast generation of Newfoundland artists—a loyal and passionate loose association of acolytes, students, and collaborators. This guy is the Godfather.


A detail of the work

Barb Hunt

…and the rocks knew us

A huge, indigo silk-like backdrop studded with round white and grey beach rocks. Braille. The night sky. The ocean. A beautiful tension between the visual and the tactile. If you think NL’s textile work is limited to rug-hooking and sock darning, think again, cause this piece will dropkick your ass into next week.

Mary Pratt

Silver Fish on Crimson Foil (1987)

While not exactly a feminist on par with Carolee Scheenmann, Pratt’s depictions of everyday domestic beauty are often tinged with something somehow a little menacing or brutal. Blood, gore, kitchen knives, dead animals. Oh yeah. She’s also responsible for our province’s obsession with photo-realist painting.

Bill Rose

Fetish (1998)

Ah yes, thank you. My kind of man, is Mr. Rose. The wit, the scathing critique, the satire. Despite our famed national sense of humour, comedy in NL visual art is a truly fucking rare occurrence. We’re a ponderous, pretentious, contemplative boring lot yawning on and on about the SUBLIME. Thankfully, Bill Rose makes up for all that, poking holes in the innumerable myths that make up our culture.

Will Gill

Cloud (2006)

I had a dream where Will Gill and I rode together on the back of a purple unicorn up a ramshackle ladder into a pink cloud where, dismounted from our trusty steed, we looked down upon the province of Newfoundland-Labrador, laid out below us in all its majesty. I looked at him, and said: “Man, thank God you’re here.” This piece was in that dream.

Michael Massie

Come Sit and Have Some Tea (2005)

Massie’s skill with silver is inspiring a generation of artists (First Nations and otherwise) within this province and beyond. Combining traditional stories, imagery, and myth with clever art historical references and contemporary life, Massie has garnered a national reputation. He deserves it.

Andrea Cooper

starring: part 2 (2002)

The attack of the 60-foot woman meets the NL landscape. First time I saw this, I kept trying to see up Cooper’s skirt. Does this make me a misogynist? Technologically impressive for its time, this piece laid the groundwork for Cooper’s continued interest in technology, sexuality, the absurd, and the female body. We miss you.

Scott Waldon

Unsettled #01, Ireland’s Eye, Trinity Bay (1998)

I remember there being something of a shit storm when these photos hit the street. “Why, dis buddy ain’t even from Newfoundland!” “Dis here is our culture, and we don’t need no Yank takin’ pictures of it!” Etcetera. While entropy has a long history in the larger art world, this was the first time Newfoundlanders saw it so close to home, presented in such stark, devastating detail.

Helen Gregory

Skeletal Study With Sea Bird Remains (2000)

National Gallery of Canada, anyone?

Anne Meredith Barry

Island Light (1982)

Anything I say about this woman’s life, art, and influence upon NL visual art would be shit compared to what’s already been said by people far better than me. Let’s just say Thank You.

Rae Perlin

Newfoundland Scene

See above.


Video still from the Tenth Annual Drag Race

Mike Hickey

The Drag Race

Part performance art, part community engagement, part party, the Drag Race features the best (and worst) drag queens St. John’s has to offer in an annual, ridiculously funny, sometimes unnerving foot race in high heels. Lots of bumps, scrapes, blood, tears, laughs and victory.


Photo by C. Darlington

Anne Troake

Pretty Big Dig (2003)

If you choreographed a bunch of back-hoes into a charming, hilarious dance routine, you also might have made this list. But you’re just some greaseball waster reading this on your smoke break, sitting on a milk crate outside the A&W on Kenmount Road. So don’t worry, Troake has already done it for you. Brilliant, funny and beautiful.


Sacrament from Drink

Grant Boland

Drink (1997)

Not one piece, but an entire show at Christina Parker Gallery back in 1997. The baton was being passed. We all had this emerging wunderkind on our hands who painted like the Arc-angel Gabriel, and who was interested in booze. He was one of us.


Photo by Steve Topping

Steve Topping

The Stage

A derelict, abandoned fishing stage where a select few are invited to hang out, talk art, drink, smoke, play cards and listen to country music. A kind of ongoing installation, laboratory, performance piece and haven, the line between art/life isn’t blurred, it’s eradicated. You don’t know about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most important art events happening in the province.

Luben Boykov

The Gate

When I die, I’d like Luben Boykov to install a bronze statue of me outside Eastern Edge Gallery, flipping both middle fingers up at the Narrows, Cabot Tower, and whatever lame ass tourists are buzzing around off the cruise ships, looking for faux-Folk Art trinkets to haul home to Belleville. Mmm. Heaven.

To read lists by other prominent local artists and curators, click here. Feel free to write your own list in a comment.

24 responses so far

  1. Hmmmm… Sooooooo subjective.
    Red Trench and Cloud would have made my list for sure. So many other pieces coulda shoulda.

  2. Article & photos online = excellent!

  3. Jody Richardons

    Maybe… if you ask 25 different people what their 25 favorites are then we might start to walk onto the lawn of making a proper consideration…

    40 people are asked about what they think of the word “Newfie” but….?

    We are an insanely prolifically artistic culture and to limit it to this…..

    Poetry? Music? Theatre? Film?………Let alone OTHER visual choices.

    look forward to everybody sending in their own list and The Scope publishing the contributions.

    Chuck Art (Jody Richardson)

  4. Well done Craig FP.

    I would put a few different ones (but not many). Thank you for taking the time and for thinking to include A Troake too.

  5. Good Job, CFP! I hope you, the “Local, outspoken art critic” can continue to do the critical talk.

    This province needs it.

  6. some of these selections are appropriate, some are downright laughable.

    the list seems to be a who’s who of folk who have been able to swindle the most government grants.

  7. Well done CFP. Gutsy and fascinating.
    I even agree with a couple of your choices.

  8. Okay. First of all, there are only 24 items in your list. Secondly, I question your judgement in asserting that of “The 25 Greatest Works of Art Ever Made in Newfoundland and Labrador”, over half have been created in the past 10 years. A little shortsighted, no?

  9. I lived and worked in Newfoundland for fifteen years, and have collected a number of works by Blackwood and Pratt.
    In the image you’ve chosen, the door does not seem to have a door-knob, perhaps another reference to death: we can never penetrate the mystery from the outside, and the dead have no need of communication.
    Thanks for this interesting selectionl
    Best wishes,
    Lawrence Sipe
    Professor of Children’s Literature
    Graduate School of Education
    The University of Pennnsylvania
    Philadelphia, PA

  10. I was wondering how far things would go before someone noticed. Congratulations Matthew and thanks for playing along. I’ve left a space for readers to insert their own work into the list ha ha. While I realize half of the works have been created recently, the point of this list is to provoke discussion about art, and not for the purposes of opening myself up to criticism for not being open minded enough. I’d be interested to see which works you might select and why.

    As for poetry, music, theatre and film… well, I guess that’s a column for someone more educated in those fields to write about.

    and ken power, how is receiving an art grant a swindle, and how is such a swindle different from small business grants, or scientific research grants, or any other subsidy handed out by gov’t through arms length, peer reviewed juries? I’m sorry, but you just sound like someone who doesn’t like art. Thanks.

  11. government grants given to people who don’t need them is a swindle. please don’t pretend you don’t know what i’m talking about.

    yeah, i hate art. sadly, i’ve been forced to make an honest living doing it for the past 12 years.

  12. Jody Richardson

    Excellent. Here’s to more choices all around.

  13. Well Ken, sadly, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Do you have the ludicrous ego required to decide alone which artists NEED grants and which don’t? And you conveniently sidestepped my question: how are artist grants different than grants for starting businesses or scholarly research? I’m glad you’ve been “making an honest living” in the artworld. How have the above not been?

  14. who's butt do i need to lick

    oh yeah CFP.. You don’t know what ken is talking about? I seen your last project and if your going to say that you didn’t “swindle” at all…please…

    25 greatests works of newfoundland.. ha!! I do give MAJOR credit to about half of these artists.. but really .. this article is nothing more than an opinion of a self endulgent douchebag but thats just MY opinion. CFP is so overrated!

  15. who's butt do i need to lick

    yeah. go ahead and mock my spelling errors .. it might make you feel even more above the rest of us low lifes.

  16. Go back to therapy.

  17. Twelve noon today I will lock comments on this thread, so if you have anything to say, please do it before then.

    Cheers!

  18. After a cooling-down period, we’ve decided to reopen comments on this article.

    But a warning to all: This is supposed to be a discussion, not a fight. If you leave a comment that is abusive or otherwise ridiculous, it will be deleted.

  19. I enjoyed the article and agree with a few of the choices myself. And I also hated some of them! It’s so fun and interesting to read comments like this again, as I really miss CFP’s old Art in NL blog. Unfortunately, it often brings out the crooked inner child in many of us.

  20. Joe Beuys Wannabe of Pleasant St.

    ken power says like it is! Well done! And most of the grants are won by the mainlander elitists who can’t get a grant upalong so come down here to grab what they can. Sad to see the NL artists so wimpy to stand up say enough is enough. Hoodwinked is putting it mildly what has happened here in NL art scene.

  21. Of course Ken Power is entitled to his opinion. It is an interesting point, however, about how people make a living at art. Some people make art that is commercially viable other people don’t. For myself sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Some people would say that making limited edition reproductions and cslling them prints, not reproductions, misleads the average joe on the street into thinking they are getting either a) an original work of art or b) something more valuable than it really is, as it is only a poster. That could be seen as a swindle. I think it is extremely hard for anyone to make a living at art. I admire Ken for using his real name which is rare these days but I think its important to choose words carefully.

  22. Interesting stuff. What’s with the profanity laced descriptions?

  23. “But you’re just some greaseball waster reading this on your smoke break, sitting on a milk crate outside the A&W on Kenmount Road.”

    What the fuck?
    Elitist much?

  24. As a “mainlander” who spent a few years in Newfoundland working at Eastern Edge Gallery with both local and visiting artists, I find this comment highly unproductive. Mainlanders do not come to NL to steal anything from anyone, they simply (like anyone) wish to have the opportunity to work and live a happy life. Newfoundland is a beautiful place to live and work on creative practices.

    I would rather see constructive criticism happen in the arts scene, get a dialogue going!, rather make up farsical rules of who should and should not be able to make art. If you don’t like whats out there, makes something, get informed, participate.

    According to the NLAC grant eligibility for NL artists requires 12 months residence prior to application. That is what the arts council decided on this issue. If you moved to any other province I would support the same opportunity for you. There is so much more to be said for a diverse array of practices, and to be able to have a flexible granting system, municipally, provincially and nationally to fuel contemporary art production.

    Regards,
    Mary MacDonald