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 David Haigh  (1936 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: Nova Scotia / Canada      Known for: painting, sculpture, prints

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
David Haigh (1936-2003)

David Haigh arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in September 1969.  Convinced that art is a great calling, he prepared enthusiastically to work as a painter, sculptor and print maker.  A month before, he had married Elizabeth Luchka.  Finishing her doctorate in the history of science, she had landed a job at St. Mary’s University.  Neither one of them knew much about the maritime provinces, but it was bound to be an adventure.  They planned to stay for about two years.  

David was born into a working class family in Leeds in Yorkshire in 1936.  Fortunate to receive a fine education at the local grammar school, he got his first taste for art when his class visited Leeds Art Gallery, one of the UK’s finest.  Just a teenager, he took to sneaking off to visit it.

He was one of the last of young British men drafted into military service.  For two gloriously rowdy years he drove tanks around western Germany and became a crack shot (confirmed by a collection of engraved silver cups and spoons).   Back in civilian life, he apprenticed as an instrument maker and worked as a designer of medical instruments. Meanwhile, he attended the Leeds College of Art, initially on a part-time basis.  There he was fortunate to receive instruction and encouragement from Patrick Oliver who advised him always to carry along a sketchbook.  David’s earliest paintings in oil and watercolor owed much to German expressionism.  He never lost his affinity for German work.  

Halifax was a bit of a shock.  In the 1970s, the administrators of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD) were redesigning the school as a vanguard of the conceptual art movement.  David judged the results to be vapid and self-indulgent.  There were a number of private galleries whose owners and clients knew what they liked – mostly pretty land and seascapes.  There was little room for artists concerned with the larger art world who were not connected to NSCAD.    

When it became a national organization in Winnipeg in 1971, David joined Canadian Artists’ Representation (CAR).  Started by Jack Chambers, its goal was to raise the status of Canada’s visual artists.  Its members worked largely to establish the principle of fees for artists showing in public galleries.  Most of the east coast galleries resisted mightily.  The local press, including the CBC, virulently attacked the presumptuous artists, dismissing them as untalented whiners.  Articulate, with an acid wit, David was their natural spokesman.  He made warm friends as well as implacable enemies.  

With many of the same local artists, he helped to found Eye-Level Gallery, an alternative exhibition space.  Its mandate was to show serious contemporary work done by people who knew something of art history and of the larger art world in general.

David’s own work was much influenced by such fellow Yorkshire sculptors as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.  For his first four or so years in Canada, he sculpted and made “constructions”, experimenting with wood, metals, resins and any other materials which came to hand.  He made wood block prints.  In 1975, he spent some two months as a visiting artist at the print workshop in Wolfsburg, Germany.  In 1975-76, he did studies in intaglio printmaking at the Islington Graphic Studios in London, England.   (Members of CAR group worked diligently, but without success, to get a print workshop established in the region).  Gradually, David gravitated to producing vivid and sensuous pastel drawings, many of them in series.  The sketch book was always near to hand.

Well read in art history, David considered the development of art to be integral to the evolution of civilization.  Along with speech, it is the ability to make art and music which defines the human species and separates us from our proto-human ancestors and cousins.  In the 1960s, he had been one of the last people to visit the Lascaux cave before it was closed to the general public.  

David’s avocation was archaeology and pre-history.  He studied the evolution of tool making and of metal working .  His idea of the perfect day was one spent at a paleolithic site scanning the ground for stone tools.  So he wandered over Ilkley Moor, Salisbury Plain and Grimes Graves in England; over Rossignol and Debert in Nova Scotia; and other prehistoric sites wherever he found himself.  He once picked up a stone scraper just off a sidewalk at Heathrow Airport.  In the summer of 1980, he was official artist with a Canadian archaeological team in Apulia, Italy.   

Archaeological and prehistoric themes increasingly found their way into his work  in the 1980s.  In those same years, he taught drawing at the NSCAD.  Alas, he never quite got around to writing a long planned book on the history of bronze age metal working.

In the late 1980s, David fell subject to depression.  He put it down to what he considered to be years of neglect by the official art scene.  The deep and relentless melancholy which descended from time to time strained all of his personal relationships.  Whenever his mood lifted, he returned diligently and energetically to work, only to fall prey again to a sense of despair and hopelessness.

Late in 2002, David was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Remarkably, he stopped taking his anti-depressant medication.  He lived his remaining eight months with grace and good humour, taking care to ensure that no friend or visitor was ever made to feel uncomfortable on account of his illness.  Whenever he could, he revisited favorite local palaeolothic stone tool making sites.   

He loved the energy and cultural richness of New York.  His last substantial trip was a week spent in the metropolis in the spring of 2003.  He and Elizabeth visited MOMA, the Guggenheim and generally took in the rich flavor of the metropolis.  He was particularly pleased with and moved by a visit to an exhibition of classical Egyptian art at the Brooklyn Museum.  Three thousand years after it was made, the work retained its vibrancy and freshness.  It was able to enchant and to speak to that quintessentially human spirit.   

Curriculum  Vitae:
Born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, 26 November 1936
Scientific Instrument Maker/Designer, 1960-‘67
Studies in painting & life drawing, Leeds College of Art, Adult Education, 1963-’65 under supervision of Patrick Oliver
Resident in USA and Canada since 1969; Canadian citizen
Islington Graphic Studios, London, UK.  Studies in Intaglio Printmaking, 1975-‘76
Sessional Drawing Instructor, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD), 1981-‘84
Resident in Munich, Germany,  1991-‘92
Resident in Oxford, England, 1992-‘94

Awards:
1980 – Silver Medal, City of Manfredonia, Apulia, Italy
1980 – Canada Council Visiting Artists Grant
1980 – Government of Nova Scotia Arts Bursary
1975 – Visiting Artist: Print ‘workshop, City of Wolfsburg, West Germany
1975 – Government of Nova Scotia Arts Bursary

Collections:
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick
Bronfman Collection (Claridge Investments Ltd.), Montreal
Canada Council Art Bank, Ottawa
C-I-L Inc., Toronto
Dept. of Foreign Affairs & International Trade, Canada
Nova Scotia Art Bank
Petro-Canada, Calgary
Stadtische Galerie, City of Wolfsburg, Germany
Swan Hill Regional Gallery of Contemporary Art, Victoria, Australia

Solo Exhibitions:
2005 – “An Exhibition of Paintings,”  Zwicker’s Gallery, Halifax, October 28 – November 18
1990 – Zwicker’s Gallery, Halifax, April 6-28
1984 – “Slow Painting” (with Kristen Schofield-Sweet),  Mount St. Vincent University, Halifax, N.S., October 19 – November 11
1982 – “Suntan Lotion and the Products of the Bronze Age”, Anna Leonowens Art Gallery, NSCAD, Halifax, N.S., October
1980 – Nancy Poole’s Studio, Toronto, October 4-16
1980 – Archaeological Exhibition – “Il culto delle Aqua”, Palazzo dei Celestini, Manfredonia, Apulia, Italy,  August – December.
1977 – Eye-Level Gallery, Halifax, N.S.,  June-July
1975 – Eye-Level Gallery, Halifax, N.S., July-August
1972 – Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, Halifax, N.S.,  

Group Exhibitions:
1995 – “Collective Viewing:  Selections from the Art Bank of Nova Scotia 1975-1995”, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, Halifax, N.S., May10-June 18.
1992 – “Subject/Matter – Contemporary Painting and Sculpture in Nova Scotia”,  AGNS,  Halifax, May 2-July 12.  It traveled in 1993.
1990 – “10th Annual Faculty & Staff Art Exhibition”, Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery, Halifax, January 11-31.
1989-1990 – “Long Live Death: Concepts of Non-existence”,  Midway Forum Gallery, Toronto,  November 25 – January 25.
1989 – 2nd Annual Art Auction,  Eye-Level Gallery, Halifax,  February 13-17
1988 – Sixth Triennial of Realistic Art, Sofia, Bulgaria.  May 9 – July 9.
1987 – Opening Ceremonies Exhibition, Pratt & Whitney Canada Inc.,  Enfield, Nova Scotia.  November 1-10.
1987 – “14 Contemporary Nova Scotia Painters: Acquisitions 1977-87”,  AGNS, Halifax,  April 30 - September 20
1986 – Foreign Ministers/ NATO Conference, World Trade & Convention Centre, Halifax.  May 25 – 31.
1984 – “21 Works from the Canada Council Art Bank Collection”, The National Arts Centre, Ottawa.  June 25 -  December 25.
1984 – “10 Nova Scotia Artists”,  Albert White Gallery, Toronto,  March 31 -April 25.
1982 – Caines-Floyd Studio Gallery, Toronto, August 12 – September 12
1980 – “Drawings – John Clark, David Haigh, Ron Shuebrook, Carol Wainio”,  Eye-Level Gallery, Halifax,  April 22 – May 8
1978 – Hobson Gallery, Cambridge, England
1976-1977 – “Doors Exhibition”,  Camden Arts Centre, longon, England,  December 14 – January 30.
1976 – “Private Eye” Auction,  Bonhams, London, England,  November 19.
1975 – “Exhibition Schlosstrasse 8”, Wolfsburg, Germany.  November 23 – December 23.
1975 – “Craft into Art”, Sculpture Exhibition, mount St. Vincent University, Halifax.
1975 – “9 out of 10:  a Survey of Contemporary Canadian Art’, Art Gallery of Hamilton, November-December, 1974;  Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, January-February, 1976;  Stratford Art Gallery, February-March, 1976.
1974 – “The Peggy’s Cove Syndrome”,  Eye-Level Gallery, December.
1974 – “Contrasts”,  Acadia University Art Gallery, Wolfville, N.S.
1974 – “Nova Scotia X 15”, Dalhousie University Arts Centre
1973 – “Morbus, a Ritual”,  Dalhousie University Arts Centre
1971-1972 – Second Atlantic Biennia (APAC)
1967, 1968, 1969 – Yorkshire Artists’ Exhibition, Leeds Art Gallery, England

Charity (a selection):
1988 – Izaak Walton Killam Children’s Hospital (Kermesse), Halifax, June 2-4
1989 - (April 7-9) and 1987 (May8-10) – Hospice of St. John: Delta Brunswick Inn, St. John, N.B.
1982 and 1981 – Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation: Lord Nelson Hotel, Halifax,

Book Illustrations:
1980 – Maria Antonietta Cocco, Camminare,  ET Edizioni, Milan, Italy

Written Material:
John Murchie, “Subject/Matter”,  Arts Atlantic, Fall, 1992
Ray Conlogue,  The Globe and Mail,  20 July, 1992
Sylvie-Anne Delalune,  “Subject/Matter”  Visual Arts News,  1992, Vol. 14, No. 1
Robin Metcalfe,  “Subject/Matter – Contemporary Painting and Sculpture in Nova Scotia,”  Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, 1992.
Dawn Rae Downton,  “David Haigh: New Drawings and Paintings”,  Arts Atlantic,  June 1990, Vol. 61, No. 6.  
Lesley Barsky,  “Great Canadian Art under $2500”  Chatelaine, June 1988, Vol. 61, No. 6.
Patrick Condon Laurette,  “A Revival of Icons”,  Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Journal,  1987, Vol. 4, No. 1.
Kit Lort,  “Ten Nova Scotia Artists”,  Arts Atlantic, 1984, Vol. 5, No. 4.
Susan Gibson,  “Slow Painting – Works by David Haigh”,  Mount St. Vincent University, 1984.
Ron Shuebrook,  “The Persistence of Representation: some Issues, Some Identities”,  Arts Atlantic, 1982, Vol. 4, No. 3.
Don Kane,  “Sense and Sensibility, Halifax Magazine,  October 1981, Vol. 3,  No. 10.  (This article contains references to material written before 1975).
Felicity Redgrave,  “David Haigh”,  Visual Arts News, 1977, Vol.1, No. 3.
“Schloss-Kunst als weites Feld”,  Wolfsburger Nachrichten,  Wolfsburg, West Germany, December 1975.

Information provided by David Smith with consent of the artist's family.

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