March 5,1998






THE HUMAN FACE OF WAR

By: Barbara Black

The sombre war drawings of Jack Nichols, now on view at the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, have the cold, deep tug of the North Atlantic, where they were made.
Nichols was a Montrealer, largely self-taught as an artist. At the age of 21, he served as a deckhand on a Great Lakes freighter. That soon led to a commission from the National Gallery of Canada to depict the wartime activities of the Canadian Merchant Navy.
Though the war started in 1939, Canada's war art program wasn't launched until 1943.
Thirty-two artists served in the three services. They were given specific ranks, and attached to a naval, military or air force unit, with the task of recording what they observed. They left more than 5,000 drawings and paintings, which are in the National Gallery.
The 29 drawings that make up this travelling exhibit are a testament to human extremity. They emphasize the figure and face, whose gestures and expressions are often exaggerated and lined in black. Nichols was acutely sensitive to his subjects' feelings, and conscious of the spectre of death that stalked them daily.
He was present at the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, and was on board HMCS Iroquois during the attempted evacuation of Brest by the Germans in August 1944. Early in his career, he worked with artists Fred Varley and Louis Muhlstock; after the war, he established a solid reputation as a printmaker, graphic artist and artist in oils.
Laura Brandon, chief of War Art at the Canadian War Museum and curator of the exhibition, will give a talk at the gallery, titled "Emotion as Document: Death and Dying in the Second World War Art of Jack Nichols" on Tuesday, March 10 at 2 p.m.
The Leonard and Bina Ellen Gallery is on the main floor of the J.W. McConnell Building, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. It is open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m., and admission is free. -BB

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