MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

ON GERALD GLADSTONE: Will success (and one big failure) spoil the Cassius Clay of Canadian Art?

ROBERT FULFORD July 4 1964
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

ON GERALD GLADSTONE: Will success (and one big failure) spoil the Cassius Clay of Canadian Art?

ROBERT FULFORD July 4 1964

ON GERALD GLADSTONE: Will success (and one big failure) spoil the Cassius Clay of Canadian Art?

MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

ROBERT FULFORD

GERALD GLADSTONE’S metal sculpture has always looked like some fantastic by-product of an industrial process, and it is therefore no surprise to discover that his studio looks like a machine shop. His art materials are great discs and rods of steel and brass; his tools are acetylene torches and metal saws. They fill a basement beneath a small office building in the south end of downtown Toronto, just behind the King Edward Hotel. When he stops to talk, which is often, Gladstone sits surrounded by paint cans, tanks of oxygen and scale models for major sculptures of the past and the future.

I went to his studio, early in June, to ask him how he was managing to live with success. Gladstone began exhibiting his sculpture in 1957, and for some years he sold only occasionally. But in the last twelve months or so he has become the most successful sculptor in Canada, as well as the noisiest. He had oneman shows, both well reviewed, in London in February (a Gladstone, said Eric Newton in The Guardian, is like “a beautifully constructed machine made in a Rolls-Royce factory of the future for the performance of some function that has not yet been envisaged”) and in New York in April (“infernal machines of beauty and power” — Herald-Tribune), and plans were made for a show in Rome. There were newspaper and magazine pieces about him in both England and Canada, and though most of them emphasized his belief that he’s becoming one of the world’s great sculptors, most were also friendly in tone. In England, BBC television showed his work, and Living Arts, a‘ first-class art magazine, devoted nine pages of pictures to him. In Canada the CBC’s Telescope and CTV’s Pierre Berton Show both exhibited his personality extensively. He finished major commissions for the Toronto Telegram building ($14,000), the new Winnipeg airport ($10,500), and the new Trinity College building in Toronto ($5,000). In these twelve months he was paid about $34,000 for his sculpture, as much as almost any artist in Canada. In the process he managed also to become known as the Cassius Clay of Canadian art. Gladstone was always the first to describe his own virtues and the last to notice his faults, but recently this amiable tendency, turning up in interview after interview, has become something like a national curiosity. If Gladstone weren't an excellent sculptor he would be unbearable.

But when I visited Gladstone I found him worried about this picture he had so carefully drawn. “I’m feeling the strain of being flamboyant,” he said. “I’m trying to change my image. I don’t want to be known as a flamboyant huckster forever.” As with Cassius

Clay, the image was created partly out of a natural egotism and partly out of a desire for publicity. “I know a great deal about publicity,” Gladstone said. He worked in advertising for about ten years. “I know that in this country people don't admire talent, they admire popularity. So I knew how to become known, to become admired. I knew who to call, how to attract attention.”

Perhaps no other Canadian artist in recent years has used such knowledge so effectively. And yet it has not brought him what most people would regard as commercial success. It may be simply an example of the serious artist’s ability to remain poverty-stricken despite all obstacles, but it is a curious fact nevertheless that Gladstone, when I visited him, claimed to be on the verge of bankruptcy. “Look,” he said, “I took in thirty-four thousand, but my expenses are so enormous that I’m now two thousand in debt and right now I’m hustling to get more commissions. If I don’t get some soon I can’t go on being a sculptor.” On at least one job in the past, a suburban library commission in Toronto, Gladstone, in a fit of exuberance, managed to spend several hundred dollars more on materials for his sculpture than he received as his fee. He has managed to restrain this ruinous habit in recent years, but on last year’s Winnipeg job, which involved a month’s work on the site, he managed only to break even. He made some money from Trinity College and The Telegram, but he lost a lot of it in New York. The materials and shipping costs for his oneman exhibition there amounted to $3,400, and most of it, for the present time anyway, was

a loss. The New York show, as things turned out, was a pronounced failure, the first one of its kind in Gladstone's career.

“It will sell, don't worry,” Gladstone said when I asked him about New York. He had done everything possible there to make his name — called architects and asked them to visit his show, called friends of friends, visited all the other art galleries — and he still has faith in the Gladstone method. It worked, after all, in England, twice. In 1961 he went there with his family, a little Canada Council money, and no reputation. A few months later he was given space to work at the Royal College of Art, and a few months after that he had his first London show, a modest success. Last February, when he went back again, the success was less modest:

“I had a terrific opening, the British Council came out en masse — you couldn't move in my gallery. They do like me in L.ondon. We sold eight sculptures and two drawings and two paintings and the prices, you know, were high — a hundred and fifty to five hundred pounds. It was great."

THE SCULPTOR AS EXECUTIVE

With a cautious mixture of success and failure in . his recent past, Gladstone is still endlessly ambitious. In recent years his sculpture has been an attempt to make poetic and eloquent shapes from some of the basic forms of modern technology: radar pans, rockets and aircraft engines are the most obvious sources of his inspiration. “These modern shapes,” he says, “are what we live with now, these are our surroundings, and I want to take them and drag out of them whatever human meaning there is there.”

For the moment, however, his plans are worldly. Lately he has excitedly fantasized about the possibility of opening a Gladstone Studio — “on the style of, say Rubens” — with four or five brilliant young sculptors working for him in Toronto and going out to the four corners of the earth to execute major public commissions according to Gladstone designs. The fact that the art business doesn't work this way anymore is hardly enough to deter Gladstone. He’s read about it, he’s imagined himself into it, and intends to try it.

“I’m going places in my life,” he says, “I’m hell bent, and to hell with everybody who wants to get in my way.” Gladstone has always said things like that, and usually made them come true.

A FEW LAST WORDS FOR JACK REPPEN

WHEN JACK REPPEN DIED, on June 2, at the age of thirty, he was a mature and important artist. He earned his living in Toronto as an art director and a caricaturist (for the Toronto Star, principally, but also for Maclean’s and several other magazines) but he devoted the largest part of his mind and imagination to painting and drawing. In private he was so modest, and in style he was so independent, that it was hard for some of us to grasp just how much he was doing. In the late 1950s his work was interesting but disorganized — his lively mind leapt from style to style, from idea to idea. But in the last two years of his life the greatest asset of his work — his marvelous command

of surfaces — became more and more evident, and the last exhibition of his lifetime, in 1963, was both impressive and consistent. He had by this time created for himself a unique artistic personality; he had made some paintings which could stand permanently as art objects of genuine value; and he had shown that a very great deal more was to be expected of him. That year it was obvious that he had become a painter of national stature. His death was felt most profoundly in the Toronto art community, but it was a loss to the country as well, and to art.