Exhibition pays tribute to a ‘secret’ Canadian artist
Levine Flexhaug painted the same image - but different - thousands of times
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From Piapot, Sask. to the Rocky Mountains, Peter White and Nancy Tousley spent four years travelling through the prairies in search of, what they affectionately call, Flexies.
The idyllic landscape paintings by Levine Flexhaug (1918 – 1974) are similar in nature: always framed by trees, with a calm lake resting behind and mountains towering above.
At first glance, they could be mistaken for replicas, but for the thousands of Flexies across the country, no two are the same. They can be found on diner walls, inside Value Villages and – now – on the walls of a Calgary art gallery.
More than 400 Flexhaug originals are hanging inside the Illingworth Kerr Gallery at the Alberta College of Art and Design. The exhibition, titled ‘A Sublime Vernacular: The Landscape Paintings of Levine Flexhaug,’ will run until Dec. 5 before continuing a cross-Canada tour.
“It’s a very intrinsically interesting history and territory that we were investigating,” said White, a co-curator of the project, alongside Tousley. “It’s a very meaningful part of the cultural and social history of western Canada that is much too easily ignored, and that was really important to us.”
Using oil-based house paint on beaver board, Flexhaug sped through multiple paintings at once, sometimes wrapping one up in only five minutes. He travelled through Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, painting and selling his signature mountain scene, but always tweaking the details.
“It’s one thing to say he painted thousands of paintings, but it’s quite another thing to walk into an exhibition that has almost 500 paintings,” said Tousley.
“That’s when you begin to see what that meant. I firmly believe that he was a man who loved to make paintings, and that his love of making them is what speaks to us now.”
It’s the first museum exhibit of Flexhaug’s work – and it’s just one part of a bigger project about his work. Along with the collection comes a website levineflexhaug.ca, a book and two films by Calgary filmmakers Gary Burns and Donna Brunsdale.
“He was a fabulous phenomenon,” said White. “And the very fact that he’s secret in a way makes it interesting to cultivate.”