Reviews and Essays
|Roosters and Hens:
The Guide - Sep 2019
|Bruce and Bruce - Father-Daughter Show:
GalleriesWest - Oct 2018
|Artist - Painter - Person
Ian Kay - Nov. 2011
|Favourite Local Visual Artist:
Uptown Magazine, June 2010
|Artists in Residence:
Review by Morley Walker Winnipeg Free Press - Nov. 2003
Review, January 2000
|New York, Winnipeg Reconciled:
Review by Scott Barham Winnipeg Free Press - Jan. 8, 2000
Essay by Sibly Blake Hill, former curator Winnipeg Art Gallery - Dec. 1999
Review by Susan Krepart - Cafe Griffin - November 1997
Manitoba artist Katharine Bruce says she never really knew her father, the late artist Robert Bruce, until she took a drawing course from him at the University of Manitoba back in the 1970s.
“I didn’t know him as a human being before then,” Katharine says in an interview from her home in Holmfield, pop. 20, “in the summer,” a stone’s throw from the American border.
Growing up, initially in the United States and later in Winnipeg, Katharine found her father aloof, the kind of man who conversed little with his family, preferring solitude in his studio.
But as an artist-teacher, he was a different, more approachable, person. Father and daughter bonded in a new way and now, 38 years after his death, the two are having their first joint exhibition in Winnipeg. It’s on at the Soul Gallery from Nov. 3 to Nov. 17.
“Katharine has been deeply affected by her father,” says Julie Walsh, the gallery’s owner. Both artists in Bruce and Bruce – Father and Daughter have tackled many genres. During the Second World War, Bruce was a public relations staff artist with the Canadian army in Portage la Prairie. But he’s best known for his public murals, commercial art and expressionist and Cubist figures. Katharine favours energetic abstract art but also does landscapes and collages.
The show will feature about 40 works in total, including some of Robert’s early landscapes and Cubist figures from the 1930s and 1940s that have had little exposure in Canada. Katharine’s half of the show is something of a retrospective.
The artists often take similar approaches, reflecting what Walsh calls “commonality and synergy.” Both echo palettes found in the trademark paintings of the Mexican art colony in San Miguel de Allende, where Robert spent time before his death in 1980. Katharine went there for the first time only 30 years after his death. She now owns a house there, where she spends her winters.
So, what would Robert think about showing with his daughter? “He would have been very excited,” says Katharine.
Bruce and Bruce - Father and Daughter is on view at the Soul Gallery in Winnipeg from Nov. 3 to Nov. 17, 2018.
"Katharine Bruce is an artist, a painter, who imbues her works with creative energy... a life force that is very special, a kineticism flowing through her hands to canvas and to our eyes , and finally direct to our soul. It has been established in the past that her personality has much to do with her art expression and her life style... an understatement which requires deeper explication. In her work over the years she has expressed herself from varying points view - abstracts, landscapes, and architectural/urban interpretive works.
Impelling her is her zest for living life at a heightened level of physical, intellectual and spiritual intensity. This is basic to Katharine’s talent in that it fuels both her media and her types of artistic expression on canvas . She is a healing force unto herself not merely for her self, but also for the well-being of others; friends, students and art afficianados through her powerful sharing of an empathic experience that simultaneously informs her personal and artistic identity while generating an immediacy that serves to inform her work, her choice of media and her chosen subject matter.
Moving between the West Coast, and the prairies of Manitoba Katharine’s art reveals that she has entered a new stage, an arena of fresh self-discovery. It appears that she is engaged in a quest, a search whereby her painting is a creative offshoot of her impassioned desire to comprehend the nature of her existence and reality in the setting of British Columbia’s brave new world of fecundity that burgeons from the Pacific, the rain forests, the irrepressible growth and beauty of flowers and trees- and especially of the people who inhabit this region. It is in the eyes of human beings that her artistic reciprocity is registered. When one looks at her new work there is no sense of stasis; rather there is a almost sub-conscious awareness of experiencing a vision that probes the spirit, evokes curiosity, generates an eager restlessness that is looking for an answer that is almost within reach...
Katharine’s creative self... in the act of seeking and finding, of questing self-discovery....is literally sending us all along the path we deeply wish to follow and are, or should be, always seeking, helping us to hear other echoes that inhabit our world, to find round the corner in a place and in a way we never thought of before a profound quickening in the blood. Colours, tones, complex imagery, technical mastery are her tools of trade but the informing quick of the work of art as it hangs in view on the wall, emanates from the nature of the artist , Katharine, who wields them.
Uptown Magazine's annual "Best of Winnipeg" survey is a group effort. Each year, Winnipeggers are given the opportunity to sound off about the people and places that make Winnipeg cool. After the official count is finished, the top finishers are contacted, congratulated and photographed by an Uptown photographer. At last, the job is complete and 2010's list is before you. Uptown says that the results of this year’s Best of Winnipeg readers' choice survey are sure to generate some lively debate - this is as much your baby as it is theirs. Whether you agree or disagree, this survey reflects your opinions about the city we all call home. Here's what Uptown had to say about Katharine: "Local contemporary mixed-media artist Katherine Bruce is best known for her bright, bold abstracts and evocative landscapes. Born in New York City, Bruce spent her formative years in Winnipeg, earning a fine arts degree from the U of M. For the past decade, Bruce has called Winnipeg home, and has shown her work through numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the city. Her collage, Princess Street Reflective, hangs in The Council Building at City Hall."
A piano and a drum kit dominate the living room. Books and magazines lie everywhere. Colourful Buddhist prayer flags hang in the doorways. Shelves boast pottery and other knick-knacks.
And of course, the walls are covered in glorious artwork, most of it Bruce's.
"When I start a painting, I don't know what will come," says Bruce, who has a solo show of recent landscapes opening next Saturday at Site Gallery in the Exchange District.
"It involves listening to myself. It's a very spontaneous process."
Bruce seems to be the kind of woman who goes with the flow.
The daughter of the late Winnipeg art professor and painter Robert Bruce, she graduated from fine arts at the University of Manitoba in 1974 and worked for years as a potter.
She has also been a collage artist, a handmade paper artist and an art teacher, not to mention a serious downhill skier and a long-practising Christian Science nurse.
"I don't want to take anything away from other artists," says her friend John Weier, the Winnipeg writer and luthier. "But Katharine doesn't just follow one line. She works in many styles. It's all vibrant and dynamic."
Bruce returned to Winnipeg in 1996, after having spent 20 years in the U.S., beginning in Seattle but mostly in the northeast.
For the 10 years previous, she lived in Princeton, N.J., where she met her husband, Jeff Presslaff, an avant-garde jazz composer, pianist and trombonist.
She had been travelling regularly back to Winnipeg to visit her mother, Melba Cumberland, who had been ill. Because of this, she convinced Presslaff to move here permanently. On the day they were scheduled to move, her mother died. She was 87.
"We looked at each other and said, 'What do we do now?' " Bruce recalls. "We decided to come anyway. It was time for a change.
" It has proved a salutary move for both of them. Bruce has found new inspiration as a painter. She was selected for the advisory program of Mentoring Artists for Women's Art and studied with one of the city's best-known painters, Eleanor Bond.
"Kathy has such a positive energy," Bond says. "There's a spiritual health to her work which I think is a product of her own philosophy.
" Bruce has already had a solo show at Site, a co-operative of many top city visual artists, and at the Piano Nobile Gallery in the Centennial Concert Hall. She has also taken up the cello, which she practises virtually every day.
"As someone who thought of herself as having no musical ability, I would not have believed I could do this," says Bruce, who takes lessons from Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra cellist Yuri Hooker.
"It has brought me so much pleasure.
" Presslaff, meanwhile, has found himself a busier and happier musician than ever. Besides his continuing collaborations with a variety of U.S. singers and players, he has received CBC commissions, formed an improvisational trio, Ozmium, with bassist Gilles Fournier and drummer Kelly Marques, and has recorded and performed the stage show Girlfriend From Hell with Aliza Amihude, better known these days as the "mouse-poop" artist.
"The calibre of musicianship here is as high as anywhere," says Presslaff, 48, who taught music at Princeton and gigged with dozens of top acts in Manhattan.
"Canadians are way more interested in original music, so there are more opportunities for composing."
Presslaff is teaching himself the drums (thus the kit in the living room) and the couple has been exploring Buddhism. Its philosophy, Bruce says, is highly compatible with the beliefs of Christian Science, the church she began attending as a girl with her mother.
They recently had 10 Tibetan monks living with them for a week (thus the prayer flags in and outside their home).
"The monks were heavenly," Bruce says. "One thing I learned is that they don't rush, but they are extremely efficient."
Speaking of efficiency, Bruce made all the paintings for her forthcoming show, Where Do You Draw the Line?, since the summer, when she heard that Site had the December slot open.
"I painted every day," she says. "It brought a focus to my work that I'd not had." She describes this output as "naturalist abstraction." The images come from an area around Minnedosa, where she and Presslaff once stayed in a bed-and-breakfast.
"I'm a real nature girl," she says. "There's nothing I love more than sitting on the ground and putting my hands in the dirt.
" The last word goes to Presslaff, who has developed a sideline of firing off letters to the editor of the Free Press, disagreeing with the paper's editorial stance on U.S. foreign policy.
"In New York, everyone thinks they're better than they are," he says. "Here, everyone is better than they think they are."
Where Do You Draw the Line?, an art exhibition and sale, runs Dec. 6-31 at Site Gallery, 55 Arthur St. The opening reception is Saturday 1-5 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.
In 1996 artist Katharine Bruce returned home to Winnipeg from New York state, where she'd been living for some time and began working on pieces which reconciled her belonging to these two quite different places. Ringing the guest exhibition space at SITE, this theme is played out in a series of tighly executed charcoal drawings and large acrylic paintings in which the Exchange District and Central Park split cabs and canvas.
Bruce's artistic roots in Winnipeg are deep. She studied at the University of Manitoba, where her father Robert Bruce, a noted draftsman, used to teach. Her line work exhibits a combination of rigour and freedom that almost belong to another era. Her images are well-informed, with touches and references to the history of drawing.
The jazz-infused creative energy of the '50s and '60s produced a lot of great mark-makers -- what was undoubtedly common conversation at the Bruce home has become interesting background voices in Katharine's current work. Fleeting graphic nods early post-war greats such as Ben Shawn, Mark Toby and Al-Fab Jackson Pollack show up in precise treatments of edges and tense compositions, all of which contribute to her personal rebirth of cool.
The show offers large works in drawing and painting but in both, beautifully resolved images exist in smaller doses. Yellow cabs is one such gem. This little oil stick over cardboard painting has the off-hand energy of one of those quick studio studies that more often end up in the dumpster rather than on the wall. The one-foot-by-one-foot work describes a downward view of a street scene, scribed in a vigorous luminous cross with cabs moving like distant yellow warning lights through a vector of the intersection below. The surrounding buildings are defined by an expressionist tangle perfectly in keeping with the verve and velocity of the whole effort.
This consistent overhead view of urban energy is again used in her charcoal drawings in which nervous lines and moody greys spar in the picture space. Once again SITE delivers a balance of brains and beauty.
A prodigal's return to Winnipeg propels the city's first arts event of the millennium. On January 1, 2000 at 2:00 p.m. at Gallery, 55 Arthur Street, visual artist Katharine Bruce opens INTERSECTION, her exhibition of recent paintings and drawings. The opening reception with the artist will be held at the Gallery between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. The work explores urban themes and city scenes from Bruce's two significant residences, New York City and Winnipeg.
Artist Bruce smiles when she recalls making the arguably risky decision to schedule the reception so soon after the "ball drops". Says Bruce, "I thought about January 1st and all the rampant Y2K speculation. But I couldn't pass up having my work lead Winnipeggers into the Year 2000. Besides, it would look great by candlelight."
Born in New York City, Katharine Bruce is the daughter of the late Canadian artist, Robert Bruce. At age 8 her family picked up and moved back to Winnipeg. After high school, Katharine became enamored with pottery and enrolled at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba, where she earned her Bachelor's degree. After graduating, she returned to the US, and spent the next 20 years studying, working and exhibiting in the Seattle, Boston, and New York areas. Her work moved from traditional ceramics to clay sculpture, which led to several years of handmade paper and mixed media explorations, all the while painting and drawing.
Bruce met her husband Jeff Presslaff, a sought after jazz musician and composer, while living in New York. In 1996, she returned again to Winnipeg, this time with Presslaff in tow.
Bruce has been working since her return on the "intersection" theme. The work of this exhibition explores the striking contrasts and surprising similarities between New York's urban maelstrom and the calm open spaces of our prairiescape. "I spent many years observing and photographing the intersection of 42nd Street and 9th Avenue in Manhattan from the vantage point of a 31st story balcony, thinking about what was going on down there and absorbing the long southward view stretching all the way to the Statue of Liberty. When I suddenly didn't have it to look at, I began to make drawings to remind me of its perspectives, shadows, colors, and contrasts. But the longer I worked on them in Winnipeg, the more the views from my Market Square studio began to insinuate themselves into my NY pictures."
Her dramatic perspectives and dreamlike architecture reflect such varied subjects as New York's cabs and canyons, Winnipeg's Exchange District architecture, and Manitoba's grain elevators and broad vistas. Bruce's deep love for both environments is revealed in realistic and abstract images, mixed media and convergent energies.
INTERSECTION is Bruce's first major exhibition since her return to Winnipeg. The opening event on January 1st will transform Gallery into an art scene worthy of the day. Presslaff--who has firmly established himself on the local music scene, playing in several prominent jazz ensembles -- has curated an exhibition of homegrown jazz talent, including Special Grind, The Blue Note Jazzjam Band, and Small Girl (in its Winnipeg debut).
Gallery, an artist-run co-operative gallery, is located at 55 Arthur Street, just south of McDermot Avenue. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. INTERSECTION runs from January 1 through 29th. The public is welcome and admission is free.
Katharine Bruce is materializing before our eyes. In a holistic sense, by looking at the whole person we find the artist. Katharine reveals a transparency and integrity in her life and art. Her trust that her own experience and beliefs will be borne out in her work is absolute. This consistency and the resulting sense of fulfillment it can provide, is the product of a conscious internal debate. She is guileless. Her work is always presented without apology or embellishment. By massaging and cajoling her materials to life, they become a necessary expression of her self.
Works of art that celebrate materials and constructions invite a very close look, and a temptation to touch. Katharine has always enjoyed the whole process of fashioning a variety of natural and man-made ingredients to her prerogative. These paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures of the last three decades are more than assemblages and abstractions. They speak clearly of deliberate and unsentimental handling, arranging, and changing, resulting in a pleasing and provocative array.
Growing up in an artist's house, as Katharine did, is a formidable legacy unless you become true to your own vision. Her father was an intense and opinionated man whose oil paintings, illustrations, murals and personality invaded every corner of her life. This dilemma - how to learn from all this, yet see with your own eyes and create with your own hands - resolved itself in experiencing her own life. Early on, Katharine displayed a fierce need of her own spiritual quest. It played out in the languid daydreams and fantasy tableaux of childhood incorporating dress-up parties, endless reading of the classics, and acting out wistful imaginary plots in the relative serenity of Winnipeg in the 1950s.
Synchronizing anima and viscera accounts for the protracted adolescence of many of her generation; perhaps it is longer for the artist who must simultaneously invent herself and convince her audience. But Katharine always returned to the basics: a love of natural materials and those warehoused memories, containing both figment and fact. Her ability to produce courageous and lively pieces: such stuff as whimsical ceramic garden creatures to large multilayered handmade paper constructions, to her recent paintings based on gritty streetscapes that become phantasmagorical gyres, suggests someone who will not be cramped by formulae or carved into predictability. After a good look, one detects her fingerprint, but is reluctant to impose a style, school or overt influence. Since the artist and her art are works in progress, one sees them all.
Katharine Bruce lives with her husband, Jeff Presslaff, and her brother Bob, in the south Winnipeg house that her dad renovated when the family moved there in her youth. His work is packed under the rafters alongside hers. The basement serves as a workshop and extension to her brother's car business. In the livingroom, Jeff's Steinway gets a lot of play from this jazz innovator whose band regularly crowds out the dulcet tones of Katharine's 'cello. Add to this her collection of reincarnated clothing and there is no room left to work in the house. She has established a studio in the ARTSPACE Building (Cinematique Theatre) downtown in the Exchange District. She often walks there passing the historic First Church of Christ, Scientist, on River Avenue where she went to Sunday School. The streets of Winnipeg have a prominent place in the memories of all of us who have lived here. Katharine draws on the panorama of the Manitoba landscape, the hustle of Manhattan, the academic ambience of Princeton and Boston and richness of Europe and the Caribbean. In lieu of photo albums, her travels and experiences appear in oils, acrylics, charcoal, crayon, pencil, fibre and clay.
Wordsworth described perfectly the subconscious store of youthful memory that becomes manifest in the creative output of adulthood: "By chance collisions and quaint accidents...if haply they impressed collateral objects and appearances, albeit lifeless then, and doomed to sleep until maturer seasons called them forth to impregnate and elevate the mind...all their forms and changeful colours by invisible links were fastened to the affections." (The Prelude, Book 1).
Bruce's art has been described as abstract mixed media - which after meeting with her and discussing what her art means- seems a rather sterile classification that doesn't accurately portray her works' uniqueness and aesthetic. The art itself is indicative of her spontaneous and experimental approach to the creative process. It centers around her perception and interpretations of nature, which she feels is critical.
This predominant theme of nature, consistent through the use of earthy color schemes as well as a variety of materials gives her work a notable textured look. Bruce began as a potter and uses different textures in her art to reflect and echo those found in nature.
She possesses the versatility to reuse old materials. This artistic recycling is a habit that she picked u from her father, painter/ professor, Robert Bruce. I asked Ms Bruce about the "big shoes to fill" syndrome and the influence of her father on her work. She explained that she left Winnipeg, where she studied with her father at the U of M, soon after graduation which enabled her to develop as an artist on her own while still embracing the fact there's "a lot of her father in her".
Bruce feels that her art has evolved to the point it's at today as she became aware of the importance and beauty of nature. For this reason, she feels spending time in nature is critical for her artistic process. She then transfers her experiences and feelings to the canvas or sculpture. Bruce says she has no idea what a work will evolve into but anticipates each blank canvas. She maintains the only constant that will endure is the consistent, pre-dominant element of nature as it continues to manifest through the use of mixed media.
The art of Katharine Bruce is presently on display at a trendy book café. Owner of Griffin Books Café, Sean Cheop, says he'd like to display art as an ongoing showcase in the café. He feels it compliments both the venue and the artist. Bruce, herself, has spent a lot of time in the café and approached Sean about the idea. She prefers such "funky venues" and said she feels such intimate venues are more special than galleries or museums.
The art and the café do compliment each other will in displaying some of Bruce's paintings and sculptures. The only detraction is that the café seemed a little small for the artist's reception, which is testimony to Bruce's popularity. I strongly urge anyone - art enthusiast or not - to go for coffee at The Griffin one evening and take a look at Bruce's work.
In a series with my favorite piece entitled "New Jersey Dreams…Manitoba" Bruce used a wax oil stick. I asked her if the title has anything to do with the coming together of her past and present - which involves leaving Winnipeg, then returning after many years. To this she replied, "I never left the landscape of the prairies." This is something that anyone who grew up on the prairies can relate to and indicates the personal nature of Bruce's art in general.