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Miller Brittain

Miller Brittain

Miller Gore Brittain (1912-1968) had an unerring sense of structure and composition. In the early 1930s, at the Art Students' League in New York, he experienced the pivotal moment in American art: the shift from tradition to abstract expressionism. When he returned to Canada, the Group of Seven still defined Canadian art, and he burst upon the scene with emotion-filled drawings and paintings of the human form. Later, combining figuration and abstraction, he explored the limits of the body and the borderlands of sanity to express the depths of despair and the heights of ecstasy.

World War II interrupted Brittain's career and on his bombing missions he carried William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience with him. Blake's poetry, particularly "The Tyger," inspired the pervasive motif of Brittain's later career. At first a description of searchlights and shot-down aircraft, the star and spear motif later developed into iconic flowers and stems, heads and necks, sunbursts and smoke.

In this illuminating and provocative book, Tom Smart examines the sweep of Brittain's work, his progression from social realism to abstraction and surrealism, while Allen Bentley shows the profound influence of Blake's thought in Brittain's painting and drawings.

Tom Smart is the executive director and CEO of the McMichael Canadian Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario, and the president of the McMichael Canadian Art Foundation. For seven years he was director of collections and exhibitions at the Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he developed an ambitious international exhibition program, and at the same time, he was appointed a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. He served as acting director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery from 1997 until 1999 and was curator of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, from 1989 to 1997. Smart is the author of nine books and catalogues. His most recent book is the critically acclaimed Alex Colville: Return, which moved criticism of Colville's works to a new intellectual level. His 1995 book The Art of Mary Pratt: The Substance of Light won the Atlantic Provinces Booksellers Association Booksellers Choice Award, the Studio Magazine Award of Merit, and the Printing Industries of America Award of Merit. It was included in Great Canadian Books of the Century.

Writer, philosopher, and art critic Allen Bentley considers William Blake the pre-eminent mythic poet of all time and Miller Brittain Canada's greatest mythic painter. As a professor of English at St. Thomas University, Bentley specialized in literary myth and symbolism. He has lectured extensively on Brittain's work.

"Visually stunning." — Halifax Daily News

"Elegant... Many excellent colour plates, accompanied by thoroughly researched biographical information." — Globe and Mail

"Skillfully written." — Books in Canada

180 pages
Pub date: April 1, 2007