David Mayrs /some reflections / by gregg simpson


Reflecting on the great Vancouver artist,

David Mayrs, who just passed away at age 85.  Dave was also one of my teachers at the Vancouver School of Art in the mid-1960’s an environment which at that time exuded the wonderful smell of oil paint. That was what art still meant in those days although in another decade it oil painting would be discouraged in many theory-bound art schools and especially universities.

Dave, who had once worked as a commercial artist and had all kinds of chops in both painting and drawing. But he also became controversial when in 1967 one of his paintings was actually removed from his Douglas Gallery exhibition in a paddy wagon. You can read the whole story from the Vancouver Sun on this show by Dave Mayrs

Dave was very much a subversive artist, despite his quiet manner. In a way he was like Rene Magritte in the way he used everyday imagery to startle us, as in this large canvas based on the expedition of David Livingstone, with his native bearers donning white masks, apparently in deference to Livingstone’s version of the white man’s burden.

This work was shown in the largest surrealist exhibition to be held to date in Vancouver. West Coast Surrealists, a 1980 group show at Gallery Move in Vancouver which was inaugurated by French critic and Surrealist historian, José Pierre. (below: from the exhibition poster: Barbie and Ken, 1978)

Dave never considered himself a surrealist per se. In the 1960’s he had more in common with painters like David Hockney, Alan Jones or locally, Claude Breeze, one of the other few artists that pursued figuration at a time when Vancouver’s modern painters were more in the grip of various schools of abstraction

Mayr’s large scale, free brushwork, and caustic social commentary place him as a pioneer of what became neo-expressionism in the 1980’s.

But the subversive aim of so much of what he produced also eventually brought him into the surrealist orb with his inclusion in the exhibition, Other Realities, The Legacy of Surrealism in Canadian Art, organized by Queens University which toured to the Centre Culturel Canadian, Paris and Canada House, London in 1979.

The exhibition also included historical names in Canadian art such as Paul Emile Borduas, Alfred Pellan and Jock MacDonald. I was honoured to have some works in that ground breaking show, further introducing European audiences to west coast surrealism, which began in 1973 with the exhibition I organized with Alvin Balkind, of the UBC Fine Arts Gallery, entitled Canadian West Coast Hermetics, The Metaphysical Landscape.

Black and white catalogue reproduction of “Kafka’s Funeral” which was included in the exhibition.

So if not a card carrying surrealist, David Mayrs did attract the interests of curators and writers on surrealism for one period of his career and he definitely produced a body of art with equal portions of satire an pathos which qualified him for that recognition.

Gregg Simpson, October, 2020.

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