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318 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 considerablyenriched. When, however,Wood dismisses the original Stefan Zweig novella as 'cynical and sentimental,' he circumvents substantial issues. He disregards how Zweig's unflinching scepticism accentuates the pathos of the human need to be witnessed, how the story is also a 'probe,' though one reporting that we remain alone. Contemporary criticism's emphasis on the social often too easily elides modernism's radical epistemology. But a review is no place for debate. Wood plans to write novels next; I certainly look forward to reading them. (MICHAEL TRUSSLER) Lela M. Wilson. York Wilson, His Life and Work, 1907-1984. Edited by Sandra Dyck Carleton University Press and Carleton University Art Gallery 1997. ii, 294· $19.95 Lela Wilson's York Wilson, His Life and Work, 1907-1984 is a touching memoir of the life Lela shared with her late husband, the artist York Wilson, over a remarkable sixty-year period. The book is organized chronologically. Lela outlines their adventure as York advanced as a commercial artist in Toronto during the 19205, through his active participation in the Toronto art scene of the 19305 and 19405, to their international travels and York Wilson's development as an abstract painter from the 1950S through the 19705 and early 19805. For all the evidence Lela provides of York's critical and commercial success abroad - in Mexico (San Miguel de Allende), Paris, New York, and Florence - the book is ultimately a disenchanted account of the lack of support extended by the Toronto art community for one of their own. Lela urges the reader to correct the error of York Wilsonfs omission from histories of painting in Toronto and, in so doing, to establish a place for the artist within our national artistic heritage. Her book prompts our surprise at York Wilson's absence from Canadian art-historical literature. In 1949 Wilson made the difficult transition from a commercial artist by profession to a full-time painter, leaving the city for extended periods of travel. His painting was rooted in an ideal of balance between refined compositional design and an empathetic observation of everyday life that distinguishes his generation ofpainters in Toronto. In the satirical paintings of urbanToronto he produced during the late 19305 and early 1940s, Wilson achieved a degree of painter1 y skill and socialacumen which endeared him to his colleagues and to the Toronto art critics. Like many of his contemporaries in the Toronto-based Canadian Group ofPainters, including the muchbetter knownJack Bush, Wilson responded to the postwar years of relative affluence and a burgeoning global village by pushing the materials of painterly expression - colour, line, form, and texture - to the fore as the primary carriers of aesthetic meaning. Wilson sought out those correspondences betweenvisual experience and emotional HUMANITIES }19 memory which could, he felt, transcend their specific origins in time and place and establish a new universal language of abstract art. iHe is/ so the French critic Michel Seuphor wrote in 19641 'man and painter before being Canadian and his painting is a direct expression of the pre-eminence of both man and painter, over etlmic or national allegiance.' Lela and York's neighbour and friend, the celebrated Marshall McLuhan, revelled in the artist's shift from representation to abstraction, 'a notable manifestation of the new awareness of nuclear man, the shift from sight to insighL' Wilson's abstracts evoked those grand notions of the universal progress of J man' that inspired so many writers on culture and society following the Second World War. The popular turn of this idealism, and the catch-phrase of world development repeated for corporate and political causes, are precisely what tarnished Wilson's artistic practice, his diplomatic allegiances, and especially his business acumen for younger iantiestablishment ' Toronto artists. Moreover, as Lela records, York felt the rough hand ofQuebec separatistsentimentduring the 19605 which rejected universalist tenets in favour of an independent francophone culture. York's poetic abstracts were ignored or denounced as 'all surface and no depth.' Why York Wilson, as a mature artist, led a split career as the popular international abstractionist and the estranged Toronto aesthete is a question that begs for a broad cultural awareness of Canada in the...


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