Joan Balzar (1928-2016) is recognized as a key figure in the development of abstract painting on the West Coast in the 1960s, a time when Vancouver emerged as a city of increased energy and experimentation in visual art. A graduate of the Vancouver School of Art, Balzar adopted a vocabulary of large-scale, optical, Hard-edge paintings, often including a neon element. These Op Art paintings were meant to create excitement in the retina. There is a connection to the 1960s interest in new electronic communications media as exemplified by the ideas of Marshall McLuhan.
Donated by the artist to the Belkin Art Gallery in 2013, Hook (1968) perfectly captures the ambition of Canadian art in the mid-sixties. Its large scale and bold incorporation of vibrant optical colours embody the optimism of a nation ready to show itself to the world with Expo ’67. Hook belongs to the more exuberant Op Art branch of Hard-edge Vancouver School (Gordon Smith, Takao Tanabe, Bodo Pfeifer, Michael Morris, Roy Kiyooka, Brian Fisher et al.) that dominated Vancouver painting in the mid-1960s. In 1968, the jury for the 54th Annual Northwest Painting exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum recommended Hook for purchase; in the end, the Museum did not purchase the work as it was too large and they already had a work by Balzar in their collection (Perimeter, 1967).
More works by the artist can be seen at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in the exhibition Joan Balzar (June 24-August 14, 2016), held in conjunction with Becoming Animal/Becoming Landscape: Works from the Collection.
This exhibition is a collaboration of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery and the Walter C. Koerner Library at the University of British Columbia, and is made possible by the generous support of the Audain Foundation. Art in the Library offers new perspectives on contemporary art by presenting art that challenges our perceptions about the world around us.
Joan Balzar, Hook, 1968, acrylic on canvas. 142.9 x 319.4 cm
Gift of the artist, 2013
Photo: Michael R. Barrick