ANTONY JOHN: Return
April 11 to May 17, 2015
A GORA GALLERY is delighted to celebrate the return of spring with a retrospective of paintings and drawings by Antony John. Well-known as an organic farmer and singer, Antony John is also an accomplished painter who has been painting for three decades. A significant mentor in the development of his work was Alex Colville, who corresponded with the artist early in his career, providing crucial advice and encouragement, saying that “If you were a horse, I would bet on you…”. This pivotal letter, dated 10 April 1989 – exactly 26 years from the opening date of Antony John’s first retrospective – is included in the current exhibition, as well as 17 exquisite, life-like and often mysterious paintings and 12 beautiful preparatory drawings which are artworks in their own right. All the artist’s work is inspired by his life as an organic farmer and explores relationships between humans and other creatures – often birds – and their environments.
Antony John was born in 1960 in Gifach Goch, Wales. The rural fields and woods around his home were a favourite haunt for him to explore on his own, armed with “An Observer’s Guide to British Birds”. In 1970 Antony emigrated with his family to Canada where, in 1983, he obtained a degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Guelph and began to paint and draw seriously. After graduation, Antony and his wife Tina returned to her home in Sebringville, Ontario where Antony began a career as a dairy farmer with his father-in-law and eventually started Soiled Reputation with Tina in 1995. The fields he worked and his growing connection with the land first provided Antony with strong subject matter for his paintings. A seminal letter from Alex Colville in 1989 convinced Antony to pursue painting while still maintaining his ties to the farm life that inspired him: for years, he painted in the off-season, while still living on the farm and keeping livestock. In 2006, after a 12-year hiatus, with a fully established business and now grown family, Antony returned to painting. He continues to live, farm and paint on their farm, with Tina, in Sebringville, Ontario.
In my education as a wildlife biologist, we were taught about the structure and order of ecosystems, as well as the various relationships among animals: trophic, behavioural and ecological. Thirty years as a farmer has served to develop further a personal philosophy towards life and its representation through painting that I hope is unique. My vocation as a farmer has allowed me the rare opportunity to witness cycles of life on many levels, from the individual and microscopic, to the generational and massive, and all from the vantage point of a fixed frame of reference: our 80 acre farm in Sebringville, Ontario. The development of geometry came about by farmers measuring land flooded annually in the Nile Delta. This practice is still a fundamental part of my vocation, as I physically measure and order my environment through the annual seeding of crops. It feels intrinsically right then, to follow through with this practice for the formal division of space, as a proportioning device in my art.