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Book Reviews

A First Book of Canadian Art

by Richard Rhodes

This gorgeous book proves that Canadian art doesn’t begin and end with the Group of Seven. It takes the reader on a journey through the history of our art, from the petroglyphs and masks of Canada’s native peoples through the various important artistic movements of the 19th and 20th centuries in both French and English Canada. Lavishly illustrated with full-colour reproductions, the book provides an accessible overview of painting, sculpture, photography, and installation art.

Organized chronologically, the book groups artists with similar influences and goals under such headings as “Canadian Impressionism,” “Quebec Abstraction,” and “Cold War Realism.” Many illustrations, like the painting of a girl with her cat or Krieghoff’s sleigh-riders tumbling into the snow, are clearly chosen as much for human interest as for artistic value. The text and illustrations highlight connections between earlier artists and later ones who were influenced by them. Particularly interesting are the relationships between native artists of the 1990s and their various traditions, as evident in the ironic and surreal use of traditional motifs and colours in Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s work.

Despite its title, its helpful glossary, and its short blocks of text, the book is not really aimed at 10-year-olds approaching art for the first time. Its natural audience is young people who have some knowledge of and interest in Canadian art – those who have visited a gallery or tried their hand at painting themselves. Nevertheless, this book will be a treasured resource for teachers and parents who wish to give kids a taste of our nation’s artistic traditions. Every library should have a copy.