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 Jack Richard Reppen  (1933 - 1964)

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Lived/Active: Ontario / Canada      Known for: mixed-media abstract painting, cartoons, murals, sculpture, commercial art

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John Richard (Jack) Reppen OSA (1933 – 1964)

A prominent mid-century Canadian painter, draftsman, cartoonist, muralist, sculptor and commercial artist, Jack Reppen (aka: John Richard Reppen) was born in Toronto and died there. In spite of a short life (death of a natural cause) and a career as an abstract painter that lasted only three or four years, Reppen’s contribution to modern art in Canada is considered important by many. This is evidenced by the museums that collect his work, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Smithsonian (Hirshhorn), and by the books that record his life, including an entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia still recurring two decades after his death. (1)

Excerpt: "There were only three productive years in the life of Jack Reppen. Then he died." – Anthony Ferry (2)

Reppen’s mediums included oils, watercolors, gouache*, graphite, ink, fresco*, monotype*, lithograph*, cement (sculpture), newspaper cartoons, advertising graphics, sand, found objects*, gesso*, collages*, assemblages* and mixed mediums. His subjects included sporting events, humor, landscapes, cityscapes, ancient civilization, social commentary and pure abstraction – line, shape, color and texture. His styles included Modernism*, Abstract Expressionism*, Fauvism*, Cartoon* and Caricature*. 

Reppen is best known for his mixed medium abstract collages* and assemblages* created with layers of gesso, oil paint and things like sand, wire mesh, nails and other found objects*. Their creation was influenced by the colors and textures Reppen saw in Mexican ruins which he visited on trips in 1961 and 1963. AskART images have some excellent illustrations of this important part of his oeuvre.

Excerpt: “Travel – to Mexico (1961, 1963) and northern France (1962) – was an important source of Reppen's imagery. His best works have a strong feeling for surface and texture, with an almost relief quality, being often built on a matrix of gesso, with collage elements and incised surfaces.” – Joyce Zemans (3)

Excerpt: “He was fascinated by Mexico’s pre-Columbian cultures and their architecture and most of his works bear titles relating to them.” – Paul Duval (4)

Reppen was largely self taught and began selling his cartoons to the Globe and Mail newspaper while he was still pursuing an electrical course at Northern Vocational School. Subsequently, he attended night school at the Ontario College of Art*, Toronto (c.1951 – 1952) where he studied under Jack Nichols, George Pepper and Eric Freifeld. While attending school and afterwards he worked as a freelance cartoonist for the Toronto Star (1952 – 1964) and as Art Director for Prudential Insurance Company of America, Toronto (1952 – 1962).

Reppen became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists* in 1962 and exhibited with them in 1962, 1963 and 1964. He also exhibited with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* in 1963 and 1964, and, posthumously, his work was included in an exhibition with the Canadian Group of Painters* in 1966. His paintings were shown at the Spring Exhibitions of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1960 – 1964), at the “1st Biennial Winnipeg Show”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1962); at the “5th Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and Commonwealth Institute, London, England (1963); and at the “14th Annual Winter Exhibition”, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1963).

His works were included in several important themed exhibitions such as “Four Artists” (with York Wilson, Toni Onley and John Bechtel), O’Keefe Centre [now Sony Centre for the Performing Arts], Toronto (1961); “Six Ways with Landscape”, Museum London, Ontario (1962); “26 Canadians”, Albright–Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York (1962); “Contemporary Canadian Painting and Sculpture”, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York (1963); “The Arts of Canada”, Wayne State University, Detroit (1963); “Eight Artists”, York University, Toronto (1964); “Festival of the Arts”, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario (1965); and in “Toronto Painting of the 1960s”, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City (1983 and 1984). (5)

Shortly after his death in 1964 the Art Gallery of Ontario held a memorial solo exhibition of his work.

His works have also been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent commercial galleries such as Gallery Moos, Toronto (first solo – 1959); Mazelow Gallery, Toronto; Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montreal; Robertson Galleries, Ottawa; and Landmann Gallery, Kitchener.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, his works are in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa, Ontario), Confederation Centre Art Gallery & Museum (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.), Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (Quebec), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Museum London (Ontario), Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa, Ontario), University of Lethbridge Art Gallery (Lethbridge, Alberta), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).

The original locations of some of Reppen’s murals are Prudential Insurance, Toronto (1960); Tip Top Taylors, Toronto (1960); Constellation Hotel, Malton, Ontario (1962); and Little Long Lac Gold Mines Ltd., Toronto (1963)

His awards include the W.H. Baxter Award for Tejido Pared, the best painting in Ontario Society of Artists’ 90th annual exhibition (1962).

(1) Please note: Interestingly, there is no mention of Reppen by Reid, Nasgaard or Harper in their seminal surveys of Canadian art. Sources: A Concise History of Canadian Painting 3rd edition (2012), by Dennis Reid (see AskART book references); Abstract Painting in Canada (2008), by Roald Nasgaard (see AskART book references); and Painting in Canada: a history (1977), by J. Russell Harper (see AskART book references).

(2) Source:  Anthony Ferry, “Reppen, the man from Yucatan”, Toronto Star, January 23, 1965.

(3) Source: Joyce Zemans, The Canadian Encyclopedia” Second Edition (1988) (see AskART book references).

(4) Source: Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and their contemporaries – 1930 - 1970 (1972) (see AskART book references).

(5) Please note: The other artists in the 1964 “Eight Artists” exhibition were Denis Burton, Yves Gaucher, Gerald Gladstone, Robert Hedrick, John Meredith, Guido Molinari and Kazuo Nakamura. Source: York University: The Way Must Be Tried (2009), by Michiel Horn; McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal.

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (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)

Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 7, Rakos to Sadowski (1990), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)

The Canadian Encyclopedia Second Edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references)

Contemporary Canadian Art (1983), by David Burnett and Marilyn Schiff (see AskART book references)

Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members, 1880 – 1979 (1981), by Evelyn de R. McMann (see AskART book references)

Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980 (1980), by Rebecca Sisler (see AskART book references)

Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and their contemporaries – 1930 - 1970 (1972), by Paul Duval (see AskART book references)

Creative Canada: A Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth Century Creative and Performing Arts (1972), by Helen M. Rodney (see AskART book references)

Art Gallery of Ontario – The Canadian Collection (1970), by Helen Pepall Bradfield (see AskART book references)

Agnes Etherington Art Centre (1968), by Frances K. Smith (see AskART book references)

Great Canadian Painting: A Century of Art (1966), by Elizabeth Kilbourn (see AskART book references)

Canadian Heritage Information Network*

Torontoist (website)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Written and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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