Artist CV:DANBY, Ken (Kenneth Edison Danby)
Born: 06 March 1940 Sault Ste. Marie Ontario Canada
Died: 23 September 2007 Algonquin Park Ontario Canada
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the son of Milton G.E. Danby, descendant of early Canadians, who worked as assessment commissioner for the City of Sault Ste. Marie. His mother, Gertrude Lillian (Buckley), English born, had lived in Sault Ste. Marie since the age of nine. She encouraged Ken and his brother Marvin to draw, as both she and her husband considered the arts important. Early signs of Ken's above average talent emerged at the age of ten when he won a prize in a local show for a portrait of his father. At Sault Ste. Marie Collegiate (1952-58) he was active in track and field and ran several miles a day for pleasure. He took drafting and worked on construction jobs in the summer. This training and experience was to prove invaluable to him when he renovated structures on the mill property. As his ability at drawing was recognized he was told about the OCA by the school counsellor. He entered the OCA at the age of 18. There he studied under John Alfsen, Eric Freifeld, Fred Hagan, and Jock MacDonald (1958-60). Jock MacDonald gave him insight into the merits of abstraction. Seeking his own path, Danby left the college in 1960. For a period of three years he did abstract and non-objective art in his free time but deep down he favoured realism and continued to do high-quality drawings of representational subject matter. He worked that summer designing sets for Sault Ste. Marie television station CJIC and subsequently worked, exhibited, or completed projects at the following places: set painter, CFTO TV, Toronto, fall and winter (1960); held a solo show of his art at Pollock Gal., Tor. (1961); package designer, Bradshaw's Packaging Co. Tor., spring (1961); graphic designer, Promotion Dept., Telegram, Tor. (1961-62); freelance designer for TV, Art Dir., Mariposa Folk Festival (1962-63); illustrated Bank of Montreal's history, Canada's first bank, Bank of Montreal history for M&S (1962). On a visit to New York in 1962 he stopped off at Buffalo to see an exhibition by famed realist Andrew Wyeth. He came away from the exhibition inspired by Wyeth's work and convinced that there was room for realism in contemporary art despite the sweeping popularity of abstract and non-objective art in North America. On his return to Canada he dropped abstraction and focused on realism. In the years that followed he worked in egg tempera, water colour, pencil, ink, silkscreen and lithography and soon made his mark in the art world. He won a Four Seasons Purchase Award in 1962. One of his works, an egg tempera of his cat Kimbo, entitled Fur and Brick, won a Jessie Dow Award in the 1964 Spring Exhibition of the MMFA. He spent that summer on St. Joseph's Island near Sault Ste. Marie where he had rented a cottage to work on his painting. It was in this district that Danby painted a series of water colours and a number of other works which he later did successfully in tempera. Also in 1964 he met Judy Harcourt, a registered nurse whom he married in 1965; held his first solo show at Gallery Moos, Toronto, selling every painting; his drawing Winter Window (1964) was purchased by the NGC. The following year the NGC purchased his tempera on masonite, Early Morning (1965), curators for the CIL Art Collection and the VAG each bought from Moos gallery one of his paintings by telegram. He won an award at the Hadassah Exhibition of 1965. In 1968 Paul Grescoe noted Danby's work in The Canadian Magazine, as follows, "What makes Danby more than a photographer with paints is his selection of focus and detail. Everybody has seen a horse pulling a wagon before, but nobody has seen them with Danby's eyes: the horse full on, obscuring the driver, the horse's veins standing out like scars, the red wagon about to run right over the viewer. This calls for a draftsman's eye, a craftsman's hand. It's part of the style called Magic Realism - a hyper-realism that few artists attempt." The Red Wagon (1966) was reproduced in Paul Duval's book, High Realism in Canada (1974). In December of 1966 Danby, his wife and son moved into a nine-room farmhouse built in 1850 at Armstrong's Mill, a historic 11-acre farm just outside of Guelph. Later, after considerable renovation of the mill itself, Danby finished the task and the family moved into the old mill. He then built his two-storey studio in a separate location over the foundation of an old barn on the property. Finally in his own studio he settled down to produce in the following years many important works including: The Mill Cat (1968), a cat on top of bags of grain, with fine detail and exceptional light and shadow; portrait of Prime Minister Trudeau for a Time magazine cover (1968); Pulling Out (1968), a motorcyclist starting out from the shoulder of a country road; Pancho, a portrait of a Spanish farmworker and neighbour who died in 1975; The Goalie (1972), a hockey goalie painted as the result of seeing a neighbour's son wearing a mask as he played goal (Danby had not played hockey for a decade during which time the goalie mask had been introduced. It was for the artist a haunting image.); At The Crease (1972), a further development of the hockey goalie theme, selected by the Smithsonian Institute's Portrait Gallery for the exhibition on Champions of American Sport and reported to have flabbergasted even Andrew Wyeth for its stunning detail; Snooker (1972), a player crouched ready to make a shot. Danby's experience as an athlete in high school and his participation in hockey games twice a week for a number of years, helped him understand the effort that athletes put into their chosen sport. In 1975 he created six images in water colours of Olympic athletes: The Gymnast, The Sprinter, The High Jumper, The Diver, The Sculler, The Cyclist. He has produced many series of lithographs and serigraphs of sports events and sports personalities as well as many other subjects. Some of his graphics have involved up to 29 colours. Other of his paintings include: Lacing Up (1972); The Skates (1972), a serigraph which was presented to each member of the 1972 Canada hockey team; The Grey Cup (1987) commissioned by the CFL to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Canadian Football League playoff. In 1981 his water colour of the late Terry Fox was presented to Governor General Ed Schreyer, at the opening of the final game of the Canada Cup series. In 1989 he was commissioned to paint portraits of 25 inductees to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. He has donated many other works for benefits. Prominent Canadian art critic Paul Duval wrote three books on the artist: Ken Danby (1974) deluxe edition by Gallery Moos; Ken Danby (1976) by Clarke Irwin; Ken Danby, the new decade (1984) by Stoddart. Writer Hubert de Santana produced Danby: images of Sport in 1978 published by Amberley House, and distr. by MacMillan (Can.). Danby was appointed to the boards of the CC and the NGC. His marriage to Judith Harcourt ended in 1985. From their union they had three sons: Sean, Ryan and Noah. Danby remarried. In 1992 he was commissioned to do an oil painting of the great NHL defenceman Tim Horton. From the painting a limited edition of 900 prints was made for sale to support the Tim Horton's Children's Foundation. The following year he painted the portrait of former Boston Bruins defenceman Bobby Orr. Bobby Orr: Garden of Dreams was produced in limited edition prints. Danby has done hundreds of other works and commissions for which there is insufficient space here to list. His work has also been produced on collector's plates including his 1983 work, The Swimmers, a portrait of a boy and his dog. He has held a score or more solo shows at the Gallery Moos, Toronto and New York; MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph (1987); and many important group shows with other outstanding Canadian artists including D.P. Brown, Tom Forrestall, Christopher Pratt, Bruce St. Clair, Gerald Zeldin. He continues to work from his studio at Armstrong's Mill producing work that is admired and collected by art lovers the world over. He is represented in the following collections: NGC, Ott.; CC Art Bank, Ott.; Sports & Rec., Ott.; MMFA, Mtl.; C.I.L. Coll., Mtl.; Power Corp., Mtl.; T.D. Centre, Tor.; AGH, Hamilton; Rothmans AG, Stratford; K-W AG, Kitchener; U. of Guelph; WAG, Wpg.; N. Mackenzie AG, Regina, Sask.; Saskatoon Art Centre, Sask.; Mendel AG, Saskatoon, Sask.; VAG, Van.; Mus. Modern Art, NYC; U.S. Steel, N.Y.; White-Weld & Co., N.Y.; Art Inst. Chicago; Indianapolis Mus. of F. A.; Pittsburgh Nat. Bank; A.G. Univ. Calif., Berkeley; Achenback Fdn., Palo Alto, Calif.; Amer. Nat. Insurance Co., Galveston, Texas; Bradford City AG & Mus., Brad., Eng.; Oklahoma Art Centre, Oklahoma City.
Colin S. MacDonald
A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada