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Celebrating the legacy of a local artistic genius, Gerald Trottier

By Sanita Fejzić on April 26, 2014

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On April 24, 2014, The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) hosted a reception for the Gerald Trottier Estate Donation to its Permanent Collection. Trottier (1925-2004) may very well be Ottawa’s most important artist alongside a handful of others.

Perspective, the Trottier exhibition at the OAG is on until June 14 at the gallery’s Art and Sales Rental space situated just inside the front door of the Arts Court building. You can buy all but one of the works currently showcased. That particular painting is but one of the hundred works donated by the artist’s late wife, Irma Trottier.

Catherine Sinclair, Senior Curator at the OAG said she estimates the total value of the donation to be around $400,000. It’s the biggest donation the Gallery has ever received.

“The OAG is so happy about this incredible donation! The mandate of the OAG’s Permanent Collection is to attempt to provide a record of the visual art history and contemporary practice from the Ottawa-Gatineau region,” she said. “We’ve only been collecting since 1992, and so most of our collection is made up of work from the last 20 or so years. There are major gaps in our representation of historical practices such as Trottier’s, and so a donation like this adds a missing link within that story we’re trying to track and preserve.”

Trottier is certainly a big deal. His work was exhibited in five international exhibitions, eighteen solo exhibitions and fifty-three group exhibitions, including at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, on top of representing Canada at the Salzburg, Mexico City and São Paulo international biennials. I can’t think of any other local artist whose resume is so accomplished and with such international reach.

His work is found in a number of important public collections, including The National Art Gallery, and now, the OAG. The donation includes works from all the important phases of the artist’s career.

The breath of the donation by his late wife, Irma, is a testament to the continued productivity and changing creative expressions of the artist. A mark of his genius and creative experimentation, Trottier was also responsible for the decorative works for several churches in Ottawa including the St. Maurice Roman Catholic Church.

“My father was a well-read man,” said Denise Trottier, his daughter who was all smiles as she greeted old friends of the family. “He was tall and had a beard, and sometimes he could be socially awkward and silent. People could interpret that as intimidating. But in reality, my father taught me how to see the world in a completely new way. He was unlike anyone else.”

Left: Resurrection I, 1982, acrylic on canvas, by Gerald Trottier. Right: detailed views. Donation from the Trottier family to the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Left: Resurrection I, 1982, acrylic on canvas, by Gerald Trottier. Top right: detailed view of The Pilgrimage of Old Age, 1982. Bottom right: detailed view of Resurrection I. Donation from the Trottier family to the Ottawa Art Gallery.

 

We enter, through his work, the world as seen through the lens of a devout Catholic man who had a penchant for pilgrimages. A man who was fascinated by human nature without feeling the need to censor its dark aspects. The quest for knowledge and the absurdity and complexity of life are all part and parcel in his work. This is obvious in particular in his Easter Series, where realist acrylic paintings like Pilgrimage I (not on sale but for view in Perspectives) and The Pilgrimage of Old Age. As Sandra Dyck, Director of the Carleton University Art Gallery and author and curator of “A Pilgrim’s Progress: The Life and Art of Gerald Trottier,” said, “The works [in The Easter Series] are at once suffused with pessimism and faith, violence and calm, mortality and transcendence, fear and joy.”

Last Judgement, 1964, oil on canvas, Gerald Trottier. Donation from the Trottier family to the Ottawa Art Gallery.

 

As much as I love the realism of his London days, I am a huge admirer of Trottier’s Medieval Period of the 1960s. Last Judgment, an enormous oil on canvas painting made in 1964 for the São Paulo biennial reminds me of the mosaic that adorns Carleton University’s Tory Building, made by Trottier just two years earlier, in 1962. The mosaic is titled The Pilgrimage of Man and it is the first iconic work of a local artist that caught my eye. I was not yet twenty when I first ran my fingers over the individual pieces of mosaic. Their uneven and cool texture fascinated me and resulted in numerous late arrivals for class. I had no idea who Trottier was or how important he was to Ottawa or the art world at the height of his career, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, or how his legacy continues to inspire and move others. I just knew I loved his work and that was and still remains, enough.

Trottier’s work will be featured in forthcoming Permanent Collection exhibitions, and exhibitions that focus on the history of visual arts in the region.
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For Trottier geeks who want to get an idea of how important the donation is, read on. It includes works from the 1940s Social Realism period in Lowertown, Ottawa; the Arts Student League period when he studied in New York, NY; his 1950s Medieval Period, which includes his Ottawa Citizen Illustrations; the 1960s period with work for the Sao Paolo Biennial, more work from the Medieval Period and Expressionism, plus the Realism and Assemblage work he did in London, ON; his Figurative Studies of the 1970’s Vancouver, BC as well as the Easter Series and Figurative Compositions of the late period of his life, in the 1980s; and last but not least, his Self-Portraits and Public Commission Maquettes of the 1990s.

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