Joseph Plaskett

Biography

Joseph Plaskett was born in 1918 in New Westminster. His works are in public art gallery collections from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 for his excellence in the field of visual art. His autobiography A Speaking Likeness (Ronsdale Press) was published in 1999. The Plaskett Gallery, at New Westminster’s Massey Theatre, is named in his honour.

Nominated by Lawren Harris, Joseph Plaskett won the first Emily Carr Scholarship in 1946. The award changed his life, enabling him to study, first at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco and then with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown. At the end of the year, recommended by both Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson, he accepted the post as Director of the Winnipeg School of Art, where he taught for two years, by which time the lure of Europe became irresistible.

In 1957 Joseph moved to Paris. Soon after, he and his colleague, American artist David Hill, purchased and restored an abandoned house in the Marais district, uncovering its’ 15th century beauty and filling it with treasures they found in Paris flea markets. Parties at their home were legendary. Guests included artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and dignitaries from around the world. Young Canadian artists visiting Paris were always welcomed into their world.

Paris provided the ideal setting for his artistic development. Mr. Plaskett produced some of his greatest paintings and pastels while living at 2 rue Pecquay in the Marais. A commemorative plaque outside his home was erected by the Prefet de Paris in 2016. The plaque honours Mr. Plaskett’s contribution to the art and culture of Canada and beyond.

Honorary Plaque outside Joseph’s Paris home
Honorary Plaque outside Joseph’s Paris home
Joseph Plaskett with Mario Ducet
Joseph Plaskett with Mario Ducet

After David’s death in 1977, Joseph began to spend more time in the UK, where he had inherited a farm bungalow in the centre of Suffolk, aptly named The Cedars. He slowly transformed two acres of rough meadow into an enchanting garden that included an orchard, a pond, an arched bridge, paths and a tea pavilion. He did all this with the help of Canadian artist, Mario Doucet, who would become his assistant and companion for the remainder of his life.

The Cedars
The Cedars

In 2000, Joseph and Mario left their Paris home and moved to The Cedars. Mr. Plaskett continued to paint well into his nineties while being cared for by Mr. Doucet. Joseph died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, September 21, 2014 at his beloved home. He was 96.


A Message from Joseph Plaskett

Joseph in Paris 1950’s
Joseph in Paris 1950’s

What led me to give a large part of my fortune away and to live in relatively happy impoverishment? The reasons tumble out.

It is because of love, love of many things and people. First it is love of my country, Canada, which only grows stronger as I continue my life as an expatriate.

Secondly, there is my love of art, in particular the art of painting, and this, too, grows more passionate as I age.

Thirdly there is my love of youth, of the young artists of my country who can carry on the dreams and ideals into the future after I am gone.

A fourth love is my love of Europe, a continent that is a treasury of great art. Every young artist needs to enjoy and learn from its riches.

The art that I make and that I see others make confirms the miracle of being alive. Almost every day I live in a state of exaltation. The art of painting is to me sacred. It is central to all the other visual arts. This art is in a constant state of renewal.

The first five winners of my award demonstrate this process of renewal, bringing new ideas and sensations into the world. On seeing their work my instant reaction is “I wish I could paint like that.” But, no artist, if he has original talent, can paint like another.

In my long career I have been a recipient of many awards: The Emily Carr Award, The Blocked Funds Award and The Senior Art Council Award. These revolutionised my development. These awards all came from my country. I am paying my dues.

I have made certain conditions that the award winner must meet. He or she must use the funds to live abroad and he or she must practice the art of painting. When in the mid 80’s I began planning the Foundation, I felt that the arts of painting and drawing were facing an uncertain future. It seemed that newer forms of visual expression were getting all the attention. I wanted to correct this. I no longer feel this way.

The art of painting is entering a new golden age.
It is in no danger of becoming obsolete.

Lyle Stafford/Photo
Lyle Stafford/Photo

Apart from these two restrictions, the award winner is free to go his own way. He or she can be abstract or figurative. All good figurative art must be abstract, just as all abstract art derives from what we call Nature. What is in vogue now, Conceptual Art, has always been with us. All paintings start with concept, which is another word for image or imagination. The mistake is to isolate the concept as if the idea did not need to be given permanent form. But all that is happening in art is part of a process of exploration and discovery. I hope to live for a few more years so that I can catch glimpses of the oncoming future.

Joseph Plaskett
3 April 2008