Bruno Bobak (1923 - 2012), CPE, CSPWA, RCA, OC, ONB
Aged 20 and just out of art studies at Central Technical School in Toronto, Bruno Bobak made an impressive debut as a professional artist. Having enlisted in the army, he submitted a watercolour to an army art exhibition, won first prize, and was appointed as an official war artist in 1943. From then on he was included in important exhibitions and galleries in Canada, the United States and abroad with opportunity to travel, explore, and broaden his creative experiences. It was during one such study trip to Europe that news arrived of his appointment as artist-in-residence at the University of New Brunswick in 1960. It was to be only a one-year stay in Fredericton, but it turned out to be a lifetime. From 1962 until his retirement in 1987, Bruno Bobak was director of the UNB Art Centre.
In Fredericton, in the 60s, from his studio on the campus of the university, Bruno Bobak produced some of his most vital figurative work - large canvases of life-size figures aggressively yet tenderly depicted in a dripping mix of paints, jarring colors and great sweeping gestures of expressionism. Within the relative isolation of New Brunswick, Bobak found himself in an environment and setting which afforded him the mental space and physical opportunity to do and say what he needed in his art. It culminated in a major touring exhibition, Bruno Bobak's Humanism, which toured the Atlantic region in 1971.
But Bruno Bobak's art was never limited nor confined to a single subject, medium, technique, style or vision. A consummate craftsman, he was equally adept at drawing, watercolors, printmaking, oil painting, mural-making and sculpture. With ingenuity and imagination he also designed and planted vegetable and flower gardens, reinvented uses for discarded industrial materials, designed and decorated his house, and fashioned his own furniture. Such diversification reflected his strong background in design at Central Tech. In the '50s he would head the design department at the Vancouver School of Art. Subjects for art-making also varied: landscapes, figures, portraits, still-life, flowers, vegetables, street scenes, harbours, and buildings. Interestingly, in terms of style, in the last 25 years of his life, Bobak returned to the stark realist style of his early years. Textures became smooth and flattened, colours patterned, the palette heightened in tone, and the structure of compositions more consciously designed and ordered.
Bobak won numerous awards and prizes, among them a Canada Council Senior Fellowship and the Queen Elizabeth Medal; the 1954 Jessie Dow Prize, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; the 1955 C.W. Jeffreys Award, Canadian Society of Graphic Art; Honorable Mention "First Exhibition of Drawing and Prints", Lugano, Switzerland; the K.B. Baker Memorial Purchase Award "Forty-First Annual Exhibition of North West Artists", Seattle, Washington; the 1957 Prize, Monsanto Art Competition, Montreal; Royal Society Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship. In 1982 his painting "Campus Gates" was chosen for a Canada Post stamp, representing New Brunswick in a block of 12 stamps of all the provinces and territories. In 1998 Canada Post featured a work by Bobak for it's 90-cent stamp in the "Masterpieces of Canadian Art" series. He designed the New Brunswick Bicentennial Medal in 1984, and in 1985 was commissioned by Parks Canada to create an original multiple of a New Brunswick scene (Martello Tower) for presentation to the Governor General Madame Jeanne Sauve. The artist was presented with an honorary degree (LLD) from Saint Thomas University in 1984, and was awarded a DLit from UNB in 1986. In the autumn of 1995 he received the Order of Canada for his unique and lasting contributions to Canadian Art and for fostering artistic and cultural life in New Brunswick and Canada.
Bobak's work is part of major public gallery collections across Canada, among them the National Gallery of Canada, the Candian War Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and in Fredericton, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the University of New Brunswick, and the Provincial Art Bank. His paintings are included in countless prestigious corporate and private collections. His work is very well documented in numerous publications, including Bruno Bobak: The Full Palette, published in 2006 by Goose Lane Editions and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.
Click below to watch Bruno sharing a story about a get-together in his earlier days out West with BC artists and a visit from the then Director of the National Gallery.