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 Jack Richard Chambers  (1931 - 1978)

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Lived/Active: Ontario / Canada/Spain      Known for: figurative symbols and interior painting

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John Richard Chambers is primarily known as Jack Richard Chambers

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401 Towards London No. 1 - Oil on mahogany  72" X 96", dated 1968 - 1969. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Norcen Energy Resources Limited
401 Towards London No. 1 - Oil on mahogany 72" X 96", dated 1968 - 1969. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Norcen Energy Resources Limited
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"As a painter and theorist, he has relentlessly explored the nature of realism as a mirror of human existence.  In his search, he has moved consciously through more realist variations than any other Canadian painter.” – Paul Duval, “High Realism in Canada”. (1)

Jack Chambers (AKA: John Chambers, AKA: John Richard Chambers) was an important Canadian painter, draftsman, printmaker, filmmaker (2), art theorist and national leader in the artist community.

He was born in London, Ontario and, aside from eight years studying and working in Spain (1953 – 1961), lived most of his life there and died there.(3)

His painting and graphic mediums included oil paint, aluminum paint, watercolor, chalk, pencil, ink, collage, silkscreen*, lithography*, photolithography, photography and mixed mediums. His subjects included social commentary, symbolism*, religion, mysticism, dreams, the unconscious, portraits, landscape, interiors, figures, nudes, still life, flowers, genre*, allegory*, his family and London, Ontario. His styles included Surrealism*, Realism*, Photo Realism* and Regionalism*. (4)

Quote - “The more real the painting is, the more mysterious it is.”  – Jack Chambers (5).

His art education includes the H.B. Beal Technical School (1946 – 1949) under Herbert Ariss (6) and John O'Henly (1923); the University of Western Ontario, London (six months in 1952); and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid, Spain (1954 – 1959) where he studied under Julio Moisés, Joaquim Valverde and Gregorio Toledo. (7)

His travels include: Mexico (1950); New York City, Naples, Rome, Gratza (Austria), Southern France, Barcelona, Majorca (1953); and India (1975, 1977). He also travelled frequently in Europe. (8)

Chambers’ greatest legacy as an activist and leader in the artist community, is his part; along with Tony Urquhart, Kim Ondaatje (1928), Greg Curnoe and Ron Martin; in the founding of CARFAC* (Canadian Artists' Representation/le Front des artistes Canadiens) the artist’s advocacy group in 1968 (President,1968 – 1975) (9). He was also a founder of the London Film Makers’ Co-op (1968) and an associate member and council member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts* (1971). (10)

Over the years his works have been included in group shows and landmark exhibitions in many of the most important Canadian public venues including  the “Annual Western Ontario Exhibition”, Museum London, Ontario [formerly London Public Library and Art Museum] (1949, 1951, 1962); “The Winnipeg Show”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1962); the “5th Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Art”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1963); “Surrealism in Canadian Painting”, Museum London (1964); “Canadian Watercolors, Drawings and Prints”, The National Gallery of Canada (1964); “Focus on Drawings”,  Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1965); “New Trends in Canadian Painting”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario (1965); “Images for a Canadian Heritage”, Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. (1966); “Three Hundred Years of Canadian Art”, National Gallery of Canada (1967); “18th Annual Winter Exhibition”, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Ontario (1967); “Director’s Choice”, Confederation Art Gallery, Charlottetown, P.E.I. (1967); “Canadian Art Today”, Canadian Pavilion, Expo ’67, Montreal (1967); “Canadian Artists ’68”, Art Gallery of Ontario (1968); “The Heart of London”, National Gallery of Canada (1968); “Magic Realism in Canada”, University of Guelph, Ontario (1969); “Realism(e)s”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1970); “Realism: Emulsion and Emission”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre (1973); “Through the Looking Glass Toward a New Reality”, Art Gallery of Ontario (1975); “Changing Visions: The Canadian Landscape”, Art Gallery of Alberta [formerly Edmonton Art Gallery] (1976); and “Through Canadian Eyes: Trends and Influences in Canadian Art 1815 – 1965”, Glenbow Museum, Calgary (1976). (11)

He also exhibited in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Spring Shows between 1964 and 1970 (12) and with the Ontario Society of Artists in 1958.

The public venues for his solo exhibitions include Gallery One, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg (1968); Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto [retrospective] (1970); Vancouver Art Gallery, B.C. [retrospective] (1970); Museum London, Ontario [memorial show] (1980); Canada House, London, England (1980); Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France (1980); and a travelling retrospective organized by Museum London (1988).

Posthumously, his works were included in “Reflecting a rural consciousness”, Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris, France (1980); “The Heart of London Revisited”, Museum London (1993); and “Speaking about Landscape, Speaking to the Land”, Art Gallery of Ontario (2003). (13)

The venues for his private gallery solo and group shows include Nancy Poole’s Studio, Toronto; 20/20 Gallery, London; The Isaacs Gallery, Toronto; Agnes Lefort Gallery, Montreal; Forum Gallery, New York, NY; Gallery of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Lorca Gallery, Madrid, Spain.

Chambers’ works are in many private and corporate collections. Examples are also in the permanent collections of numerous Canadian museums including Museum London (Ontario), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario), the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery (Concordia University, Montreal), the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), the Vancouver Art Gallery (B.C.), the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Halifax), the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville, N.B.), the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario), the Simon Fraser University Gallery (Burnaby, B.C.), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (B.C.), the Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. There are 11 Chambers works in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Canada and 40 in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. There is also a painting of his in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.). (14)

His awards include the Elizabeth T. Greenshields Foundation Scholarship (Montreal) for study in Spain (1956); and five Canada Council Grants (1965, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1977). (15)

His honors include an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Western Ontario (1969) and the Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee Medal (1977). Posthumously, London, Ontario named a public school after him in 1992. (16)


(1) High Realism in Canada (1974), by Paul Duval (see AskART books).

(2) “Chambers’ reputation as a film artist is based on the five works he completed between 1966 and 1970: Mosaic (1964 – 1966), Hybrid (1967), R34 (1967), Circle (1968 – 1969) and “The Hart of London” (1968 – 1970). A mixture of newsreel footage, home movies and photographs, these films reject the notion of linear time, characteristic of popular cinema, because Chambers thought the narrative illusions that resulted misrepresented the true character of human perception.” Source: Excerpt from Kathryn Elder article – Also, see AskART book references, The Films of Jack Chambers (2002), by Kathryn Elder.

(3) Source: National Gallery of Canada artist’s page and "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

(4.1) Source: Museum illustrations and descriptions of mediums in the Canadian Heritage Information Network* data base, the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* artist’s timeline, the National Gallery of Canada artist’s page, and “High Realism in Canada” (1974), by Paul Duval (see AskART books).

(4.2) Chambers preferred the term “Perceptual Realism” to describe his realist works; suggesting in his writings that “... perception is a selective process based on subjective awareness.” Source: " Art and Architecture in Canada” (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson –  referring to October 1969 article by John Chambers in “artscanada”.

(5) Sources: Arts and Artists magazine, December 1972 quoted on page 61 “High Realism in Canada” (1974), by Paul Duval (see AskART books).

(6) All artists, teachers, and associates mentioned in this biography, except those with bracketed dates after their names, have their own pages in AskART.

(7) Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald; and Contemporary Canadian Art (1983), by David Burnett and Marilyn Schiff (see AskART book references).  Author’s note: While preparing this biography several English translations of the Spanish school’s name were encountered; they included “Royal Academy School in Madrid”, “Madrid Academy School”, “Madrid Academy”, “Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Madrid” and “St. Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts”; we are using the school’s version found on the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando website

(8) Source: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references).

(9) “In 1968, CAR was established in response to artists' perception that their crucial contribution to society was not fairly compensated. As a result, CAR established minimum fee schedules outlining recommended rates for compensating artists, a practice which CARFAC continues. It was because of the early activism of CAR members that in 1976, Canada became the first country in the world to pay exhibition fees to artists, with the Canada Council for the Arts making payment of fees to artists based on the CARFAC fee schedule a requirement for eligibility for funding to public art galleries. After many more years of lobbying, the Copyright Act was amended in 1988, recognizing artists' role as primary producers of culture by giving them legal entitlement to exhibition and other fees.

Today, CARFAC and its provincial affiliates work on many of the same issues, ensuring that artists are fairly compensated for the valuable contributions that they make to society and that artists' rights are respected by those with whom they engage in business.  In addition, CARFAC and its affiliates have developed programming, publications and products to help artists reach their professional goals.” Source: CARFAC  

(10) Source: Passionate Spirits: A History of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, 1880 – 1980 by Rebecca Sisler (see AskART book references) and The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art*

(11) Unless otherwise noted the primary source for exhibition dates and venues is The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art*

(12) The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar.

(13) Source: Art Gallery of Ontario archived catalogues (online).

(14) Sources: Canadian Heritage Information Network*; "Contemporary Artists" (1977), by Colin Naylor and Genesis P-Orrige (see AskART book references); and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. -

(15) Source: The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art*.

(16) Sources: The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* and Jack Chambers Public School

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

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.



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