A beautifully appointed room would be incomplete without including a cherished work of art. We believe a painting that speaks to someone stands on its own merit and does not need to conform or fit into any interior design style. The work of Canadian painter Christopher Broadhurst is a case in point. We have seen his work grace traditional and contemporary interiors alike with equal power and aplomb. Rogues’ Hollow Antiques sat down with the artist to discuss some of the many influences that have inspired his work.
Christopher Broadhurst was born in London, England in 1953 and moved to Canada with his family in 1954. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Queen’s University in 1973 and has successfully worked as a full time, self-supporting artist and teacher ever since – not an easy task, as most Canadian artists would attest. Today his work is exhibited in solo exhibitions and hangs in numerous corporate, gallery, and private collections across North America.
Lloyd Bregman, private art dealer, explains Broadhurst’s early work:
In the context of the late 1970’s, Christopher Broadhurst’s painterly choices navigate between the severe austerity of Minimalist abstraction and the more traditional landscape/still life evocation of his teachers. His works at graduation were a group of tightly constructed planar reliefs which looked back to the English Modernist aesthetic of the St. Ives school, in particular Ben Nicholson’s abstracts.
In the Fall of 1978, Christopher Broadhurst went to live in the small village of Kato Daratsos on the Greek island of Crete. He worked on small rag boards, approximately 8.25 x 6 inches in size. The boards were remnants left over from a part time framing job he had during his student years and were easily transportable because of their small and durable format. Here, his work experienced a dramatic shift that would inform his future work, as explained by Bregman:
Departing Greece, Broadhurst had found a compositional lock, in the disposition of his forms, that would continue to serve his imaginative design. In addition, he took hold of an expanded palette of heightened colour… A liberation brought about by a change of place, climate and culture. With these Greek sketches we see a sensibility finding it’s own appetite, view and vision.
In 1993 Broadhurst did a series of paintings influenced by the works of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, a set of four poems written over a six year period with the common theme being man’s relationship with time, the universe, and the divine. Mary Jo Hughes, curator of his exhibition at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, described the artist’s approach for these works in the program notes :
Broadhurst dismissed the notion that there is a strict linear evolution of art practice. In the tradition of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, he accepts the fact that throughout time things recur again and again in varying patterns and that each time, through new forms, they bring the possibility of new understanding.
The arrangements in Broadhurst’s still lifes are “not conventional”, as Hughes points out:
Although each panel of each of the Four Quartets could possibly stand alone on aesthetic merits, it is only when all four panels are assembled together that Broadhurst’s intentions become a comprehensible whole. Each panel is like a musical passage or a singular verse of poem. The experience of each painting does not hit the viewer immediately: it develops through the convergence of its parts into a whole.
The paintings are large in scale (84″ x 207″ approx.). There is a sense that the composition “spills over to the physical world” through the continuation and juxtaposition of line, colour, space and perspective. This creates a fresh, intriguing and dynamic effect for the viewer.
Rainer Maria Rilke
Broadhurst was also inspired by the works of the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in particular Steven Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus written in 1922. The sonnets are based on the myth of Orpheus (a legendary musician, poetic prophet, in ancient Greek religion) and Eurydice (the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music).
Broadhurst describes these paintings as being about “an internal inquiry” or as “looking inward”. They are also a complete departure for the artist. The use of a dark palette of blues, blacks and ochre, along with vistas that are subtle and stark creates an almost dreamlike and mysterious quality. These paintings are not landscapes, but rather they are visual meditations on the poems. Another composition from this period is on exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre where it inhabits an entire wall.
Broadhurst’s friends describe him as a “Renaissance man”, a man of many talents and interests ranging from classical music, gardening, culinary cuisine, literature, to Japanese culture. Chris’ passion for Japanese Imari porcelain began when he inherited a plate from a relative. Later, he obtained a print from the 19th century Japanese artist Kunisada. This began a lifelong passion for Japanese prints, porcelain and textiles which eventually found its way into his work in various ways.
Broadhurst uses two Imari plates to explore some of the themes that interest him. In this painting he considers the relationship between “hard patterned objects” like the Imari porcelain pieces and the “soft patterns” of the carpet and textile on the wall. Within this scene sits a vase of lilies off to the side and slightly off-kilter. What interests Broadhurst is “how pattern activates space”.
Matisse, he explains, said that, “Objects behave as actors in a painting.” In other words, “…they perform a role in one painting and a different effect in another.” In his work, Trio in G-k56, a colourful Imari dish appears split between two of the panels in the triptych. The muted colours employed in the patterned zig zag of the background contrast dramatically with the burst of colour in the Imari dish. Pattern and objects occupy the space but have been divided into three separate panels creating a relationship that is at once more complex and yet is decipherable for the viewer.
Christine Hamelin, journalist, identifies this tension between complexity and simplicity in an article about the artist:
His works, done in oils, are beautiful, and most people would love to hang them in their living room walls. They are not, however, merely beautiful: they evoke a certain tension between movement and stasis, between the mutability of nature and permanence of art. Chris quotes a line from the poet Rilke: “Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are able to endure, / and we are so awed because it serenely distains to annihilate us.”
Broadhurst adds that painting is like:
a pendulum swinging between extreme complexity and extreme simplification. It’s a way of getting a grip on chaos.
Broadhurst often returns to his collection of kimonos and reintroduces them into his work in new ways. A beautiful red kimono is shown here in his studio next to a series of paintings in different formats, perspectives and compositions. He describes his work as an “intuitive process”, of trying to “create something he hasn’t seen before”. Something a friend told him once still resonates: “The only thing that is deadly is trying to imitate yourself”.
Broadhurst owns several antique Japanese prints. There is one by the Japanese artist Kunisada that he refers to as a “pillar print”, which is tall and vertical in format. It’s a form that Broadhurst returns to in many of his canvases.
Another format Broadhurst has explored is “tondo”, a small round form that was used during the Renaissance (from the Italian word “rotondo” meaning round, or a circular painting). Here he uses Imari vases in two different compositions exploring the relationship between colour, perspective and space in a more magnified format.
The Garden Going On Without Her …
Flowers from Broadhurst’s own garden appear in most of his recent still lifes which he entitles The Garden Going On Without Her…
Inspiration for these paintings came from three women that influenced and inspired the artist: Lena, Mary Jo and Renate (Tutti):
Thoughts of three close friends, all recently deceased, are often with me as I paint. They each, individually and at different times were an important presence in my otherwise largely solitary life. Gardens and gardening likewise weave in and out of my thoughts. Recently, as I have been painting, thoughts of these three and of gardens have been intermingling. These new paintings are some of the results of that process.
Life is not less without them. Rather it is richer because of them.-Christopher Broadhurst
These paintings are smaller than the majority of past paintings. The vertical size is 36″ x 18″. Others use a rectangular and square format or are painted to form part of a triptych.
Broadhurst mentions a quote from T.S. Eliot that is relevant to this series of paintings :
“…As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated– T.S. Eliot (East Coker)
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before or after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment…”
Ken Forsyth, curator, comments on Broadhurst’s later work:
It is a great pleasure to watch an artist who, in mid-career, continues to track down an elusive beauty, and to explore a complex range of ideas and emotions in such a unique and joyful way.
Shelagh Rogers, a friend and long time collector puts it best when she describes Broadhurst’s paintings:
Every day I wake up to plump daffodils and a bowl of oranges trembling on the edge of a table. For the past 20 years, this has been the first thing I’ve seen each morning. It makes me smile, this mute square dance of fruit and flowers….This was the first Christopher Broadhurst painting I ever owned. It is domestic joy on canvas, a hymn for the dark days. I have known Chris for almost thirty years. We met at Queen’s University and found we both loved bad puns and good food. Chris the artist began his investigation into colour and beauty. His paintings have now moved beyond to examine time, order, plasticity and space. And as I see it, lapidary evidence of the Divine on earth. His paintings are high voltage ravishing acts of faith that the centre will hold, we see colour at night, that our northern flowers are as exotic as those of the tropics, that there is music in silence.
One morning we asked Chris what his greatest hope for his work is:
My greatest hope is that the paintings find places to live where they enhance people’s lives.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning a Christopher Broadhurst painting, is adding to a current collection, or is consider buying one in the future would agree that the artist has succeeded…
Christopher Broadhurst’s work is currently represented by:
Rogues’ Hollow Antiques would like to thank Christopher Broadhurst for generously allowing us to share and profile his work with our readers.