John Hartman: High Water

October 29 - November 21, 2020

Nicholas Metivier Gallery is pleased to announce High Water, a new series of paintings, watercolours and pastels by John Hartman. The exhibition will open at the gallery as well as in our online on October 29th and run until November 21st.


John Hartman is among Canada’s most celebrated artists and is also the preeminent painter of one of the country’s most unique landscapes, Georgian Bay, Ontario. Hartman’s relationship to this terrain runs deep. Between 1950 and 1974, Hartman spent every summer there, first at Shawanaga, a girls’ camp his parents founded and then as a camper and staff member at Hurontario. Hartman returned often, eventually purchasing his own island in the late 80s and camping on it until 1991 when he built his cottage.


The thesis behind his recent exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, a group of more than thirty portraits of Canadian Authors, is that people – particularly artists - are inextricably tied to the places they inhabit. Hartman’s place has always been Georgian Bay. It was his single motivation for becoming an artist and is the engine that drives most of his work to this day. While Hartman has completed other widely successful series including, CITIES (2004 - 2010) and The Great Divide Traverse (2014 - 2017), he always returns to the subject of Georgian Bay in new and profound ways.


High Water is Hartman’s most celebratory and innovative body of work on Georgian Bay to date. With his innate knowledge of the back bays and small channels, Hartman takes us on a journey, from inside his canoe and on top of his drone, into some of the most remote regions of this iconic landscape. The sudden influx of wildlife in Georgian Bay is due to its highest water levels in the last thirty years, a natural cycle that Hartman has witnessed himself. The High Water paintings extend and defy notions of space with their multitude of layers and vantage points. The landscape beneath is seen from high above whereas regional birds in the sky appear to glide and swoop right in front of us. Somewhere in between, are Hartman, his friends or family members, playfully paddling through the clouds and islands. This combination of perspectives is dream-like and full of energy and movement.


"I have never really stopped painting my home landscape, Georgian Bay, but in the summer of 2019, it became my exclusive focus. I started this new series of paintings, High Water, when I noticed the return of birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish to the back bays of Norgate Inlet, on Georgian Bay’s northeastern shoreline. Only a few years ago these bays and inlets were weed choked or dry. Now they had an additional five feet of water, because we are at the high point of the natural, thirty-year cycle of water level fluctuation. I was delighted to discover how quickly the natural world adapted to these changes. The back bays were suddenly populated with herons, ducks, eagles, ospreys, falcons, Sandhill cranes as the frogs, pickerel, bass, and garpike came back.


The best time to spot these birds is at sunrise and dusk. My working method is to paddle into these bays early each morning and again in the evening to observe the animals and birds I see, making watercolour sketches and taking photographs. At midday I take aerial photos of the landscape. The final paintings bring together my accumulated experiences of each place, and as I return to each bay more often, the amount if life in each finished painting increases.


These paintings place you, the viewer, at an imaginary point about 400 feet above the landscape. You are looking down and then out to the horizon. I paint the birds and animals in the space between you and the landscape and I often place a canoe and paddler floating in this space as well."



Lafontaine, October 2020


To view the exhibition walkthrough, click here.

To watch the John Hartman: High Water short film, click here.