There are many important and long-standing figures who have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the Canadian art industry, but few who have had such a prolific and varied repertoire as Gathie Falk. Over a span of approximately five decades, Gathie has expressed her work in performance art, mixed media, sculpture, ceramics, photography, painting, and drawing and continues to do so today in Kitsilano, Vancouver.

Though the medium during the span of her career is diverse, her conceptual approach to treating ordinary and everyday objects in an extraordinary manner is consistent. A reoccurring vocabulary of objects and motifs including eggs, shoes, cakes, fruit, fish, shirts, clouds, and shadows is persistent through her body of work. A surrealist approach, which has consistently won the approval of critics, juxtaposes these domestic objects with a fantastical and whimsical experience of reality.

“This very ordinary thing will be made very special.” (Gathie Falk, Douglas & McIntyre, p. 48)


Eight Red Boots 1973, Gathie Falk
Red-glazed ceramic in painted plywood and glass cabinet
101.2 x 105.7 x 15.5 cm (cabinet); boots: 17 x 28 x 10 cm each (approx.)
Purchased 1974, National Gallery of Canada (no. 18157)

Her exploration of these everyday objects does not have the intention of creating new archetypes, but is rather a method of taking her personal experience and making meaningful personal symbols. The experiences that she draws from stem back to her Manitoba roots. Born in 1928 to Mennonite parents, she faced a poverty stricken childhood and moved frequently between the Canadian Prairie Provinces.

In 1946, Gathie moved to Vancouver and was forced to find work at an early age to support herself and her mother. While working full-time in a factory, Gathie was able to finish her high school diploma and began the process to become a school teacher which became her career between the years of 1953 and 1965.

Though her first formal training in the arts began during her early stages in Winnipeg, she continued to upgrade her skills at the University of British Columbia in painting and ceramics in 1965 when she chose to dedicate her career to art. Her first launch into the scene in 1968 was involvement in the performance art but reentered the painting and sculpture realm in the seventies. The surrealist themes began to express clearly through her work during this stage showing the central themes of vanitas – the passing of time, mortality and death.

In 2002, Falk demonstrates this central theme in cast bronze through a piece titled “Lizzie,” where a woman’s sweater and skirt create a portrait of Elizabeth Nichol, the founder of Vancouver’s Equinox Gallery, who passed away in December 2000. “By tracing the form of a female body, the clothing acts as a monument to a specific individual, while its emptiness highlights universal dichotomies of fragility and permanence, absence and presence, life and death.” (National Gallery of Canada)

Gathie was recognized in 1990 and received the Gershon Iskowitz prize and was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1997.

“My idea was to do the things in my head. They were all experiments, but it was just to make the things in my mind that were visually and emotionally strong.” – Gathie Falk, 1999


Title: Gathie Falk performing at Chromatic Steps
Pictured: Evelyn Roth
Artist: Gathie Falk, Michael de Courcy
Date: September 30, 1968


Title: Gathie Falk performing “Egger than I”
Artist: Gathie Falk, Michael de Courcy
Date: December 31, 1969


Herd Two 1975, Gathie Falk
Installation space: 5 x 2.5 m; horses: 79 x 135 x 1.9 cm each (approx.)
Plywood with pencil and eraser over white enamel paint


26 Oranges, 1970. Gathie Falk.
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery.


Picnic with Fish and Ribbon 1977, Gathie Falk
Glazed ceramic with acrylic and varnish
20 x 33.7 x 27.8 cm
Purchased 1977, National Gallery of Canada (no. 18845)


Dress wtih Candles 1997, Gathie Falk
91.5 x 61 x 61 cm (approx.)
paper maché with acrylic and varnish


Lizzie 2002, Gathie Falk
32.5 x 102.5 x 55 cm
Bronze on steel base

Sources:

National Gallery of Canada – Gathie Falk

Burnaby Art Gallery – Artists and Artwork: Gathie Falk

Canada Council for the Arts – Gathie Falk

Library and Archives Canada – Celebrating Women’s Achievements – Gathie Falk