Anthony Morse Urquhart

  Anthony Morse Urquhart, "Tony," painter, draughtsman and sculptor (b at Niagara Falls, Ont 9 Apr 1934). Recognized in the late 1950s and early 1960s as one of Canada's pioneering abstractionists, Urquhart has been linked with some of the major developments in contemporary Canadian art: with the Toronto-based group of abstract painters centred on the Isaacs Gallery and with the noted London Group which also included Jack CHAMBERS and Gregory CURNOE. With Chambers and Kim Ondaatje in the mid-1960s, Urquhart founded CAR (Canadian Artists Representation). Since the 1960s, Urquhart has followed an independent and autonomous path, centred upon his distinctive "box" format, and developed upon a rich ground of recurrent and frequently archetypal images of resonant symbolic power.

Over the years, Urquhart has evolved a uniquely transcendent multi-media mode of expression, creating a visual poetry that goes beyond merely formalist concerns and embodies imagery of universal meaning and cross-cultural relevance. Beginning in the late 1950s with abstract paintings that made reference to flowering plant forms, Urquhart has passed through various phases of dominant visual metaphors - enigmatic "lump" motifs, germinating figures, closed and opening boxes (the latter often intermeshed with landscape elements), circular and rectangular openings, doorways, thresholds, and graves that beckon the viewer into other spatial dimensions; flowering trees and plants alternating with ersatz and desiccated vegetation; biographical images of loss and memory, of descent into the grave alternating with images of spiritual transcendence.

Tony Urquhart's work has represented consistently the universally human dialogue between life and death, renewal and decay, being and becoming, stasis and transformation. These fundamental and existential oppositions are played out in an incredibly rich and diverse imagery, inspired both by everyday life experience (his grandmother's life-enhancing garden in contrast with her occupation as a mortician in the family's adjoining funeral home) and by the sacred arts of prehistoric societies (Lascaux caves, Stonehenge) and those of Western Christianity (Gothic cathedrals and Catholic liturgical art, Baroque architecture, and French provincial cemeteries).

Between 1954-58 Urquhart was trained at the Albright Art School, a division of the fine art department of the U of Buffalo, NY, and at Yale U in New Haven. In the early 1960s he was the first artist-in-residence at the U of Western Ontario in London, after which he taught in the art department there before moving on to the U of Waterloo, Ont. In 1972 he became professor of fine art teaching drawing and painting as well as serving periodically as department head. His studio and home are in nearby Wellesley where he lives with his wife, writer Jane URQUHART. Urquhart continues to make frequent, at least annual, trips to France, whose landscape, architecture, and pilgrimage sites such as Lourdes and Vimy Ridge continue to inspire his work. In 1995, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

Between 2001 and 2003, three retrospective exhibitions, focusing on Tony Urquhart's drawings, paintings and boxes respectively travelled to public galleries throughout the country, and in 2007 Canadian public institutions participated in Coast to Coast: The Remarkable Worlds of Tony Urquhart -- A Celebration of 40 years of Opening Boxes. Organized by the Canadian Art Database, galleries were invited to display their "Urquhart boxes" to create a cross-country exhibition designed to coincide with a virtual display of all of the boxes on view in public collections.