A six-month exhibition by Cultus Lake artist, Maxwell Newhouse, celebrates Canada and its 150th anniversary.
His show, Birth of a Nation, was installed in January and features about 20 pieces at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre, all of which incorporate the Canadian flag. His work spans from 1975 to the present day.
The show is named after the largest piece in the exhibition.
Birth of a Nation, the artwork, is on display for the second time in Chilliwack. It’s made up of four large paintings of the flag, each featuring the maple leaf in one of the four seasons.
Newhouse first painted the piece in 1975 for the 10th anniversary of the nation’s flag.
In 2015, Birth of a Nation — formerly called Four Seasons — was at Cultus Lake’s Main Beach for a one-day art show in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Canadian flag. Displayed in a two-by-two grid, it started in the upper left with a tiny maple leaf representing spring. It blossomed into summer with a full-sized leaf, then a curled-up maple leaf for fall, and finally a plain white space resembling winter.
This time, the four are on display in a different order: Summer, fall, winter, and lastly spring.
“The birth of Canada was the first of July. Now it’s a perfect painting because it has a title that works,” says Newhouse. “All those years I was confused.”
Shortly after Birth of a Nation was painted, he created Portraits of Two Countries in 1977.
It was inspired by a coffee table book published in 1976 called Between Friends. It was Canada’s gift to the United States on its bicentennial.
Portraits of Two Countries is made up of two pieces. Each painting has a Canadian flag above an American flag — they are identical, except that one is colour and the other black-and-white.
“We have such lovely neighbours. We’re so lucky, yet there’s still rivalry and unity,” says Newhouse.
This is the first time the two paintings have been on display. They were stored for 40 years, and in that time they were moved about eight or nine times from one storage unit to the next. Along the way, one of the pieces got damaged.
A small two-inch tear remains in the American flag of the coloured painting (pictured).
“I never remember tearing it. I would never tear one of my paintings, that’s probably the worst thing that can happen to a painting,” say Newhouse. “But probably within a minute, I realized that it made the painting perfect because of how the times are for them now. I feel really badly for America.”
“I’m leaving it (torn) because it’s just the way it is. It seems to have a purpose,” he adds.
The small exhibition has a handful of other pieces. One is called Colour Correction where he has painted the Canadian flag green and brown. The other is a series of 10 action paintings inspired by the American art movement of abstract expressionism.
Newhouse says the paintings are not original, and it’s just something he had to do.
“It’s an impulse to paint,” he says. “I’m just in a little world by myself celebrating.”
Ironically, the exhibition will be taken down just before July 1, right when Chilliwack and Canada will be celebrating the nation’s sesquicentennial anniversary.
You can catch Birth of a Nation up until then in the main lobby of the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.