Where the Universe Sings documents one of Canada’s most prolific painters
In May 1913, an article penned by Dewar Montague titled, “The Classic Commonplace” appeared in the fledgling MacLean’s magazine. The rather poignant piece urged Canadians to luxuriate in the natural beauty surrounding us.
“Beauty … lies in the eye of the beholder,” Montague opens. “But if the beholder is too busy to see it—this is the modern, Canadian completion of the proverb.”
Now, some 105 years after the article was published, Dewart Montague is suspected to be the pseudonym for the venerable Canadian artist Lawren Harris, a revelation uncovered by Nancy Lang during her rigorous research for the documentary Where the Universe Sings.
“He was a young guy just starting out as a painter,” Lang says. “It signaled what was to become lifelong passions for Harris—the championing of Canadian artists and his love for our landscape.”
The concept of Harris as an ambassador for Canadian art and culture is one that Lang and fellow producer Peter Raymont explore heavily in the aforementioned documentary.
“I think what drew us to Harris … was his arc is so brilliant,” Raymont says. “Throughout his life, throughout his career, he was constantly changing.”
Both Lang and Raymont are well acquainted with Harris’ ilk; Lang studied and practiced art for over a decade, while both she and Raymont have previously explored The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson in the 2015 documentary, Painted Land.
The veteran producers also admit that the timing couldn’t have been more perfect—Steve Martin (yes, King Tut himself) undoubtedly played a role in building public interest for the noted artist. In the summer of 2016, Martin co-curated The Idea of North, an exhibit dedicated to Harris’ work at the Ontario Art Gallery.
“After we premiered Painted Land, about 90 percent of the audience were asking us to do one about Harris. Everyone loves him,” Lang explains.
And, really, why shouldn’t they? The man was a national icon who helped define the way Canadians observe Canada.
But what about Harris makes him so quintessentially Canadian? What about his art speaks so clearly of the Canadian identity? According to Lang, it all comes down to his eagerness (and ability) to explore.
“Harris was unique in the sense that he had the means to travel to the different corners of Canada and show off the natural beauty, something European painters of the time couldn’t and wouldn’t do,” she says.
Raymont adds that Harris’ desire to bolster Canada’s art community made him somewhat of a political activist, making him an indelible Canadian figure.
“He really believed in the Canadian vision. He lobbied for the National Gallery to be a national gallery. He didn’t want it to be sequestered to Ottawa,” Raymont says.
As an added bonus to their already thorough research, Harris’ own grandchildren (the executors of his estate) donated boxfuls of candid family photos from Harris’ childhood and early career, items that have never before been made available to the public.
“We really are very fortunate,” Lang says. “[His grandchildren] have been so helpful in this whole process, we really can’t thank them enough.”
Thu., Nov. 30 (7 pm)
Where the Universe Sings: The Spiritual Journey of Lawren Harris
Metro Cinema, $13