By Lenore Crawford
The 40 paintings on view in the Williams’ Memorial Art Museum by Ralph Conner are the finest sort of tribute which could have been paid by the art gallery and the Western Art League to a man whose influence spread far beyond his own community of Kitchener. For they tell graphically of the artist and within themselves hold the reasons for Conner’s influence.
Born in Birkenhead, England, in 1895, he began painting in water color early in life and worked with Barker. When he came to Canada in 1913 he was overwhelmed by the difference in coloring, felt the sort of water color work he did in England was unsuited to Canadian landscape.
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So, he turned to oil finding satisfaction in their richer coloring. Then he became advocate of the palette knife using it skilfully to produce paintings of individuality, with high-key effects of great interest.
It was only a few years before his death in 1951 that Conner returned to water color work and he used to broad, robust washes similar to the technique of contemporary English painters. In the intervening years his pictures had been hung by the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy, the Montreal Museum and the Williams Memorial. His paintings had been shown from Montreal to Vancouver.
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In 1931 he organized the Art Society of Kitchener and Waterloo and was president for many years. His business life was linked with art design for he was president of the De Luxe Upholstering Company Limited. In both places he was known for his genial disposition and wit.
The paintings, loaned by Mrs. Conner, provide a review of the artist’s work from 1931 when he did an old-fashioned type of oil, comparatively dark in color, with a wheat field as subject, to a sparkling still life done 20 years later. The latter is one of the finest works in the exhibit, with its graceful composition skilfully arranged in dark and light tones, the dark ones possessed of a lovely softness.
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This softness is found again in a picture of an old distillery in water color and mauve shadows cast by over hanging trees are soothing in the otherwise brightly lighted painting of an old car on a road, done with a palette knife.
Pattern interested Conner greatly. He liked to portray boat works or a group of bottles and plates, making order in chaos.
Sometimes the pattern remained too cluttered; obviously the artist hated to leave out subjects. He showed this tendency in some paintings of houses also. But his best works have fine strength in pattern with details carefully chosen.
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Perhaps the best example of this is “White Church at Doon” in oils. Its prisms are cleverly manipulated, the coloring striking and telling, the mood firmly established.
“Solitude,” an excursion into portraying emotional or spiritual experience through some concrete objects, succeeds admirably. The man’s humor is evidenced in “Television, Preston Highway.” Finally, his self-portrait shows Conner saw himself as a serious man, but it is not nearly so telling as his other works.
The London Evening Free Press, May 17, 1952