A lifetime’s work on display

Tyler Clarke
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Behind every painting is a unique story, and at the Myles J. MacDonald’s: A Retrospective art exhibit, one painting has a lot of miles on it.


An untitled casein tempera winter scene painting on plywood was created in 1967 -- a copy of a larger piece he’d painted a couple years previous.

“It had an odd track record as to where it was exhibited, but it was always in the family,” MacDonald said.

Its early life jumped between the walls of his mother, uncle and brother’s homes in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.

Then, his Virginian brother decided that he didn’t have enough space for it, so he shipped it up north with MacDonald’s truck-driving son.

His son stuck the plywood piece under his mattress and slept on it for the 3,000-mile trek north to MacDonald.

In recent years, MacDonald has left it facing a wall at his Spruce Home house in order to keep dust off of it.

It held up through all of its 47 years fairly well -- that was, until MacDonald chipped a small piece off of it while transporting it from his home to the Mann Art Gallery, where it’s currently on display.

The missing piece is on top of his fridge at home.

Reflecting on the Mann Art Gallery’s main gallery space filled with 90 pieces of his artwork form 1957 to 2014, MacDonald said that it’s all very personal.

It’s not only the nudes that are personal, with the best representation of who his is exemplified in the largest piece, Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, a piece that he noted “says more about my ideas and my thinking than anything else I’ve done.”

A large painting of a dilapidated castle with various political figures to whom MacDonald doesn’t have a very high opinion, the piece is both political satire and self-reflection.

Several of the faces that appear on pillars within the painting are those of people who have supported him, or who he has looked up to over the years.

Sitting in front, looking dejected over the state of things, is longtime Winnipeg parliamentarian Stanley Knowles -- a left-leaning politician MacDonald can get behind.

“He’s my Jeremiah weeping over the ruins of Jerusalem -- this thing that could have been so grand,” MacDonald described.

Taking him three years to paint, off and on, between 1998 and 2001, the very nature of it is a protest painting, he said.

“The trends in modern art have been against narrative, against illustration, against didacticism or giving messages, against obsession with details,” eh said. “So, if you don’t want any of that? You’re going to get some!”

Originally from New York City, MacDonald has lived in Spruce Home since 1979 and is best known in the area for his involvement in the local arts community, which has included a few stints as an arts teacher.

Included in the Mann Art Gallery’s main gallery area is a miniature exhibit with MacDonald and collaborator George Glenn called The Watchman.

Roadside garbage MacDonald collected with friends and neighbours is on display in front of landscape paintings he created of featuring the areas the garbage was found.

Some of these paintings include his most recent, with a few dated 2014.

Both exhibits will remain up at the Mann Art Gallery until Aug. 29.

Organizations: Mann Art Gallery, Spruce Home house

Geographic location: New York City, New Jersey, Virginia Winnipeg Jerusalem

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