Or was it Vincent Price who said that? The photo of Rod was taken by a relative at the time of his first one-man showing of paintings in Fredericton, N.B., back in 1972. The acrylic painting of two crows was his last commission before his visual acuity went west in 2010.
The fall of the year and the witching month are Rod's favourites, since he was born into that very odd Art Deco decade in October. The male members of his family were in the car business and tried to sell that vehicle seen below his faux oil portrait. In those days of Deep Depression, there were no takers for that Chrysler Airflow at St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. Eventually, he did get to read a second hand copy of that issue of Weird Tales. Magazines were passed from hand-to-hand for years back then.
Poster issued by Nazi Germany to promote the coming Olympic Games in their country. The simpler insert ad was published by the United States Jewish War Vets. He noted that "My parents were alive to these issues a fact that influenced my life in what I consider a positive way."
That was also the year in which Canadians heard of this British appointment. This Scottish born novelist, historian and Unionist politician served as Governor General of Canada, until Rod went to school at the outbreak of World War II.
Rod says he remembers little other than the anti-Nazi rhetoric of those five years, but recalls feeling abandoned when forced to go to Marks Street School which at first seemed doctrinaire. That's the Chrysler Airflow in a museum.
He missed this motion picture when it was first released, but became a fan of the two leading actors.
These covers represented the View of United States citizens, rather than Canadians, who were at war in early September, 1939. And yes kids were issued a gas mask during those days!
That's his front yard at 30 Rose Street, and he well remembered feeling unhappy and not just because school had sucked him into the educational vortex.
One unexpected bonus was regular elementary school art classes under an absent-minded principal, Thomas Acheson Junior, whose dad had been a sign and backdrop artist trained in Ireland before emigration to Canada. This fellow was involved, like Rod's dad, in all sorts of public do-good and both were Boy Scout leaders. Rod was an enthusiastic Cub Scout but had no interest in the larger Boy Scout movement. Inserts drawings are of smaller unplanned group activities; taboganning and initial-carving.
At this time there were no such animal as school education outside large population centres. But where there was, teachers had considerable liberty in creating their own curriculums of study. Tom Acheson would have recognized the above instructions as traditional British art school material. Since he was an excellent teacher. who could not draw or paint well, he would probably have liked the present digital art world. He was ahead of his time in filming and screening his own 8 mm motion pictures as teaching aids.
Acheson thought the the Canadian Group of Seven was the at the apex of world art and had a particular liking for the work of A.Y. Jackson. His enthusiasm was catching and several students emerged as workers in the arts of music, theatre or painting and drawing, which were his top interests. World War II created a black and white world and even poster paints and raw paper was in short supply, so those six years of training were largely about delineation. Some of his first efforts in watercolour and oil borrowed from the above colour scheme and rolling organic forms.
Rod's younger brother Art as well as Rod wanted to be Clark Kent. That ended after the fourth hectographed issue on the grounds that news reporting interfered with school work. Note those outfits which were tailored by our mum. Rod's first attempt as a cartoonist is shown.
A little later, Rod's mother created this slightly over sized suit from one of his grandfather's cast-offs. The implicit, unwavering belief in self-righteous political and social dogmas was lost at the battlefronts of World War II, and no one was entirely happy during that war or in the aftermath. Deprived of young men in the community, great expectations centred on male children.
Thomas Acheson conducted Saturday night art classes for adults and invited Rod and Alan Kennedy to join the group without fee. Although younger than Rod, Kennedy had much more experience handling oil paints and came up with a massive painting of the troubles in Europe copied from a photograph in the Star Weekly. Rod could draw in a somewhat adequate manner but was awash for ideas when he attempted this small weekend painting. The first was even worse, but he did sign this one.
The war proved much more damaging than elementary school. Academically things went well, because he had a lot of support from his mother in learning to read and memorize the "Times Tables." This was his first outdoor effort in oils which is in Ruth's collection with one half of a later studio landscape on the reverse.
Thomas Acheson, was one of his dad's best friends. That resulted in field trips with a few others to meet Jack Humphrey and his protege Fred Ross at the former's stdio in the MRA building in Saint John, N.B. Since Jack was not a great delineator but a great idea man, Rod was encouraged. The music and atmosphere absorbed on King Street was influential.
Fred Ross was sometimes a part of the Saint John Art gatherings, but was too young to actively participate in World War II as a war artist.
He went on to teach art at the local Vocational School and was always at the head of the pack as a delineator and designer, but not a splash and dash painter like his mentors. He was a hard edge man like Alexander Colville but less restrained.
Altered to bring out detail in the paintings At the time he said that he did what was required to gain public exposure and sales.
This followed after a Group Of Seven inspired painting of the MacLeod Farm at Oak Bay. Both were big paintings. The second was a mash up of the hills around that embayment and possibly something borrowed from a Maclean's magazine cover.
Miller Brittain's Social Realism at first seemed strange to Rod, who was of a middle-class background. However, he liked the dramatic intensity which had something in common with comic book art of that time .
Miller Brittain had been an active participant in World War II and his work was more graphic and colourful than that of Humphrey. He fared badly as a result of his war experience.
Here's more of Brittain to give a taste of his interest in social realism and robust style and colours. The viewer will have decide whether Rod was influenced!
This painting by Rod Mackay was a commission and painted three decades later. It pictured a worker at Nelson Monuments in Sussex, New Brunswick and reflects influences which intervened. Is it "Social Realism" some asked. Others, "Is it even art." He has expressed an objection to painting for propaganda.
Everyone was into painting massive murals, but scarcity of materials meant that many of them existed only as cartoons until war ended. Humphrey and Brittain lived in a more privileged class than average in spite of their socialism. As for Makay, he went on to work as a biological technician for Fisheries in the 1960s. That sketch actually was made just before government bought out licenses to protect a lucrative sports fisheries on rivers surrounding the bay and bought of licenses. It did not convey an intentional social message.
The St. John and Fredericton painters of that time were decided socialists and their message was unsubtle. While Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotian schools were all involved with romancing the landscape, New Brunswick art teachers legitimized the human figure. Alexander Colville was bit younger that his Saint John colleagues and not as attuned to socialism.
All of this happened before Rod's sixteenth birthday. In 1942 he graduated from Teachers' College Fredericton before his next birthday. This professional photograph shows the family at the time, Top row: Rod, Richard, Arthur. Bottom row: Stewart, Curtis and Lois.
Rod took a full year course in "Child Art" under Sinclair Healey at Teachers' College who was then a new graduate from Mount Allison University's fine art program. Above an example of his work. Inset, he talks about a UNESCO child art show and sports a youthful head.
A hop-skip and jump forward in time, and he looked like this; his work like that. He moved to the west coast and later Ontario and remained true to his calling as a college and university professor. His technical abilities greatly improved as was the case with everyone mentioned above and below, the quick and the dead.
And here is Lucy! Rod never studied under her but was found wandering about the UNB campus farm on a solitary sketching trip at summer school for teachers. A total of four university courses was required to make a First Class Teachers' License permanent. Discovered, he sat in on a few life drawing sessions for free and was hooked. It was after that he met quite a few "legitimate" fine artists on campus. Most came from away and were in good humour as they were essentially enjoying six weeks of paid vacation thanks to Lucy who ruled the art colony Up The Hill.
Lucy's impressionistic painting were not as awe-inspiring as those of the Group of Seven, but Rod recognized them as light-years ahead of anything he had seen produced in St. Stephen. Her ability to develop was limited by the fact that she was a teacher and the leader of the band at the University of New Brunswick's wanabee Art School.
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!" Over the next decade, Jarvis followed the social realism tradition and her technical abilities greatly improved.
Fritz Brandtner was an Albertan artist who was a little more colourful in every respect. Note those cool Rockies in the background! He took good career advice and relocated to Montreal where he probably met Lucy, who conscripted him as a summer school teacher.
Rod saw some of his work, since he was booked, by chance, in the west suite of the Lady Beaverbrook Residence that first summer along with the great one. Fritz was unimpressed with what he saw of Rod's work. As a result. he destroyed his plein air sketch books, which owed a debt to the American painter Lionel Feninger.
Which twin had the Brandtner? He could not quite break with realism! But that photo at right is Rod's photomicrograph of a geology rock sample. Rod was impressed by what he saw of Fritz and his work that summer, and being gormless, produced a lot of imitations.
Yet another photomicrograph which Rod saw later when he took Geology 100 under Dr. MacAllister.
This was Rod's first attempt at producing an abstraction when he was approximately 17 years of age. It was a supposed image of a collapsed barn with vegetation in the foreground and trees in the background. Speedball pen outlines.
A pre-computer "selfie." This period involved a desparate attempt to find subject matter and establish a recognizable individual style.
Clearly Mackay was having more success as a copyist. These two adolescent musings have direct connections with Art Deco fantasy pulp illustrations than with anything seen in the "legitimate" art world. Left, pencil and gouache; right, Speedball pen and India Ink.
However, wherever one looked there was a lot of warm colour in evidence? On a subsequent summer, Rod took another course in entitled "the Psychology of Child Art" from Dr. Carl Stoor. He had a private get-together with Alfred Pinsky, a Montreal artist and teacher arranged by Dr. James Chapman of this history department, an early promoter of his work. This artist was not encouraging. His small body of paintings, only seen by Rod years later, suggests he was a better teacher than painter.
He was important to the development of Fine Art in Montreal. He is remembered for his tumultuous relationship with artist Ghitta Caisermann, who left this underarm version of him. They parted company.
After an abortive attempt to teach 42 pupils in a one-room school, Rod accepted work as a newspaper reporter for the Saint Croix Courier. He was still 17 years of age but appeared set on a new career path, which he very much liked. A pressman had active tuberculosis and passed the disease to several co-workers. That is how Mackay came to spend 14 months incarcerated in the above institution. That odd illustration was completed then. In those days, the disease was very much feared and reestablishing social norms was difficult.
Thus, for Mackay, there commenced the evolution of the completely unintended. What followed was a semi-adult personal history which started when he was 21 years of age. To be continued, periodically