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 Orville Norman Fisher  (1911 - 1999)

About: Orville Norman Fisher
 

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Lived/Active: British Columbia / Canada      Known for: painting, printmaking, murals, commercial art, graphics, teaching

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
Chinese Alley, 8 5/8" x 8 5/8", linocut on paper, signed, titled, and dated 1933.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Orville Norman Fisher CSGA, BCSA, CSEA (1911 – 1999)

“The coast was a neutral landscape – greys and khaki and dark browns when the khaki uniforms got wet. The only bright colors on the beach were the flags showing where each unit was to land….The water was literally red with blood. It ebbed and flowed with the tide….I had a three-inch square water-color pack and a hand-sized sketch pad – with waterproof paper – that had a strap fitted over my palm. I used glycerine with water colors to make a fast series of sketches – like shorthand notes.” – Captain Orville Norman Fisher, describing his landing with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on “Mike” beach near Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy on D-Day June 6, 1944. According to the Canadian War Museum, Fisher was the only Allied war artist to land in Normandy on D-Day. (1)

A painter, printmaker, muralist, commercial artist, graphic artist, educator and famous Canadian war artist, Orville Fisher was born in Vancouver, Canada and other than for military service, lived in the city’s environs his whole life. His home for several years was Chilliwack, a town about 50 miles east of Vancouver; he died in Langley, a residential suburb of Vancouver. (2)

His mediums included oil, watercolor, gouache*, acrylic, pastel*, charcoal, fresco*, Conte Crayon*, ink, pencil, drypoint*, woodblock prints*, etching*, serigraph*, linocuts* and posters. His subjects included landscapes, coastal views, city views, farms, genre*, social commentary, industry, history, portraits and, during World War II, military training activities like ski school in Ottawa and, from 1943 through to the final surrender (VE- Day), frontline combat in Europe on the land, sea and in the air. His styles were Realism and Social Realism.

Fisher’s art education includes graduation with honors from the Vancouver School of Art (now – Emily Carr University of Art + Design) in 1933, where he studied under Frederick Varley; and post graduate studies at the B.C. College of Arts. After the war, Fisher founded the Vancouver School of Art Graphics Department and headed it from 1946 until 1976. (3)

Before the war he partnered with Edward J. Hughes and Paul Goranson in a commercial art firm. The three were known as the West Coast Brotherhood, their studio was in the dome of the Sun Tower building (which is still surviving, and has been an important Vancouver landmark from the day it was completed in 1912). Among other things they created murals for the First United Church in Vancouver; the Malaspina Hotel in Nanaimo (this mural is now located at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, Nanaimo); the King Edward Hotel in New Westminster, B.C.; and 12 murals (each artist did four) for the B.C. Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco (1939). In 1940, when the three partners enlisted in the armed services (subsequently all became war artists), the partnership dissolved.

In 1951, Fisher assisted Charles Comfort with the mural for the Toronto Dominion Bank in downtown Vancouver (since moved to Robert C. Brown Hall, Simon Fraser University); in 1956 Fisher completed five murals for the foyer of the B.C. Electric Building, Victoria, B.C.; and in 1957 he created a mural for the Main Post Office, Vancouver, which is in situ.

Fisher was a member of the Canadian Society of Graphic Arts* (1936); the British Columbia Society of Artists* (1947, Vice-President 1948); the Vancouver Art Gallery Council (1949); and the Canadian Society for Education through Art (1957). (4)

In addition to exhibiting with the above artist associations, Fisher’s works were included in the Spring Exhibition of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1955; the British Columbia Centennial Exhibition “100 Years of B.C. Art”, Vancouver Art Gallery (1958); “A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War”, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario and touring (1977); the New Vancouver Art Gallery Inaugural Exhibition “Vancouver Art and Artists 1931 – 1983” (1983); “Images of the Land: Canadian Block Prints 1919 – 1945”, Glenbow Museum, Calgary and touring (1984); “Victory Parade”, Royal Netherlands Army Museum, Delft, The Netherlands (1990); “Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945”, Art Gallery of Ontario (2001 – 2002); and “A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia, 1945 – 1960”, Vancouver Art Gallery (2004).

The Vancouver Art Gallery held a solo exhibition of Fisher’s works in 1947. (5)

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, there are Orville Fisher works in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian War Museum (Ottawa), Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

The Canadian War Museum has 243 of Fisher’s paintings, drawings and sketches in their collection. Only three World War II artists have more works in the collection – Alex Colville with 336, Will Ogilvie with 443, and E.J. Hughes (Fisher’s former partner) with 531. The War Museum has documented Fisher’s works in considerable detail with exact locations and dates of creation, and they are all illustrated on the CWM website available to view online at http://collections.civilization.ca/public/pages/cmccpublic/emupublic/ResultsList.php .

On June 6, 2004, Canada Post issued a stamp to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The illustration chosen for the stamp was of a painting in the Canadian War Museum; the inscription on the painting’s back reads "D-DAY: THE ASSUALT, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division COURSEULLES, NORMANDY, 6th JUNE 1944 BY Capt. O.N. FISHER”. When Canada Post was asked why a photograph of the event was not used for the stamp the design manager replied “Neither the British nor the Canadian governments would allow combat photographers to accompany the troops for the very first stages of the landings...”
 
Footnotes:
1. Sources: 1964 interview with Orville Fisher, quoted on page 123, in “Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945” (2000), by Dean Frederick Oliver and Laura Brandon (see AskART book references); and the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
2. Fisher joined the Royal Canadian Engineers (Army) in August 1940, but was not accepted as an official War Artist until February of 1943. He served in that capacity until 1946 in England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium. Source: Canadian War Museum
3. Please note: All artists mentioned in this biography have their own pages in AskART.
4. Founded in 1955, the Canadian Society for Education through Art is a national society that provides a forum for visual art teachers from kindergarten to post-secondary. The CSEA publishes two journals, numerous books, maintains a web site and hosts a yearly conference. Source: Canadian Heritage Information Network*
5. Source: “A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia, 1945 – 1960” (2004), by Ian Thom and Alan C. Elder (see AskART book references).
 
Sources:
“Public Art in Vancouver: Angels Among Lions”  (2009), by John Steil, Aileen Stalker (see AskART book references)
“Art and War” (2007), Laura Brandon (see AskART book references)
“The Social and the Real: Political Art of the 1930s in the Western Hemisphere” (2006), edited by Alejandro Anreus, Diana L. Linden, Jonathan Weinberg (see AskART book references)
“A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia, 1945 – 1960” (2004), by Ian Thom and Alan C. Elder (see AskART book references)
“Biographical Index of Artists in Canada” (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)
“A National Soul: Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s – 1930s” (2002), by Marylin Jean McKay (see AskART book references)
"The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)
“Canvas of War: Painting the Canadian Experience, 1914 to 1945” (2000), by Dean Frederick Oliver, Laura Brandon (see AskART book references)
“The Encyclopedia of British Columbia” (2000), edited by Daniel Francis (see AskART book references)
"Art BC: Masterworks from British Columbia" (2000), by Ian M. Thom (see AskART book references)
“Images of War, The Artist's Vision of World War II” (1990), edited by Ken McCormick and Hamilton Darby Perry (see AskART book references)
“Victory Parade” (1990), Royal Netherlands Army Museum (see AskART book references)
“Images of the Land: Canadian Block Prints 1919 – 1945” (1984), Patricia Ainslie (see AskART book references)
“Vancouver: Art and Artists 1931 – 1983" (1983), by Luke Rombout (see AskART book references)
“A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War” (1977), by Heather Robertson (see AskART book references)
"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)
“The National Gallery of Canada: Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture, Volume III” (1960), by R.H. Hubbard (see AskART book references)
“100 Years of B.C. Art” (1958), by R.M. Hume (see AskART book references)
“A Witness to History” by Laura Anderson, North Shore News, August 28, 2011
Victoria Times Colonist, B.C., June 30, 1956 (mural for the foyer of the new B.C. Electric Building)
Canadian Heritage Information Network*
Canadian Encyclopedia (online)
National Gallery of Canada (Website)
Canadian War Museum (Website)
Vancouver Art Gallery (Website)
Canada Post (website)
The Art Gallery of Ontario (catalogue summaries online)
Cheryl Siegel, Librarian, Vancouver Art Gallery

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.
 

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.
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