On Manitoulin Island there are more deer than people and often it feels as if there are more artists than deer. Almost everyone here knows someone who is an artist - many live close to the farm, close to the land and are farmers themselves. Many are drawn to the Island to be around others who are creative. There are quite a few artists on Manitoulin Island who have quietly and consistently created great art and I have no doubt a few of them will find their way into Canadian art history books. Jack Whyte, who has lived in Gore Bay since 1969 and produced a lot of art along the way, is one of them.
Made entirely of paper cut out of fashion magazines Jack Whyteʼs collages are arguably some of the finest examples of original Canadian art. The images are subtle in colour, you might think they were almost monochromatic but that’s only because the elements in the picture were all cut out of similar swatches of colour. In placing his compositions and developing the narrative of the picture, Jack Whyte creates a moody atmosphere, maybe without meaning to. His images appear simple - they depict scenes of rural life, nothing fancy, nothing fussy.
There are no decorative elements, no trickery, no grand action or pop entertainment, nothing extra or flashy or unnecessary. The balance is just right, without adding or taking anything away. He has an eye for what to include in a picture. However, on closer observation you will find there is nothing simple about these compositions. They are complex works that are technically proficient, show perfect perspective, accurate proportion, foreshortening and composition and deserve respect. Jack Whyte creates subtle vignettes of traditional rural scenery and life. These deceivingly simple pictures have vibrancy - they come alive like characters on a stage, lit up like theatrical structures.
The storytelling is magical with a minimalist simplicity to the images that captures the imagination. Characters and figures are solid - the events are special because they tell the story of a moment witnessed with an artists eye and transformed into a work of art.
Observing every day life in a small rural community Jack Whyte creates memory, souvenirs of moments in time that have now become timeless and valuable because he happened to look and see.
Sometimes the image will capture you, sometimes the title will. Some are serious, others humorous. Either way, most folks around here nod in approval.
What is it about art that makes it valuable? Some art is technically perfect, some art will illicit an emotional response from the viewer, some art is unique and unprecedented.
Jack Whyteʼs work is a combination of all of those things. When you look at his images, you will see masterful technical skill combined with something original, something that has never been done before. The technique of collage is not new, but the way Jack Whyte combines medium and composition is unique. He creates meaning for the viewer by creating nostalgia. Many would look at his art and long for a community just like the one in his pictures - the “good old days.” However there is nothing romantic or unrealistic about his images, they are of real life, real situations in a real town full of real people.
The figures and images in his pictures are faceless and just about to step into the past, you see them but they are fading into a world that is no longer the same as it used to be.
He starts close to home and then you realize the images are widening in scope and showing areas further from home, it is like he takes you on a trip around the Island, you see barns, cows, a kid attempting to skateboard over a cow, vistas with boats and lighthouses and kids playing hockey.
Next thing you know, you are looking at a picture of a group of First Nations dancers wearing their finest regalia, posed in solemn stillness at the start of the Grand Entry. You look at the costumes, the feathers the exquisite detail.
How does he do it?
When you see great art, you just assume the artist trained in Europe, especially in the case of modern Canadian artists. But you would be wrong to assume in this case - Jack Whyte is entirely self-taught. His formal education was in agricultural school in the late 50's and early 60's - not in art.
Jack Whyte has a gift for observing what he sees and recording it. He renders line, shape, colour and composition in the same way as a musician puts together harmonies and it comes naturally to him.
Jack Whyte, like Maud Lewis, is an original independent Canadian artist. He developed his work in an independent environment. As a result, these Canadian artists have created valuable work which the world does not yet know about because they are not typical artists who travelled the conventional road (the path from art school to gallery to agent) to become recognized. However, if you picked art from across Canada that would fit right in at a contemporary show of Canadian work, both would be represented. Their work is unique, contemporary, relevant, meaningful and aesthetically valid without needing to fit in any particular historical style or category.
Discovered by ordinary people who saw her work and loved it, Maud Lewis is now considered one of Canadaʼs treasured artists. Her work hangs in prominent galleries and her story is became widely known due to others getting word out from her small town to the national art galleries.
There is a wealth of undiscovered artwork across rural Canada. Many artists in small towns are doing exceptional art work and it often remains unseen. Pictorial stories and images remain hidden from the public. This is not the case for Jack Whyte, who has exhibited extensively in a big city, but now chooses to live in a small town.
We are lucky to live in the digital age - Canadians are now able to enjoy Jack’s work through his website and through the recent publishing of his ʻScrapbookʼ retrospective, which features his work spanning many decades.
Jack Whyte is a painter, illustrator, collage artist, print maker, silkscreen artist, mixed media sculptor, graphic artist, writer, ceramic artist, photographer, videographer and stained glass artist. From book illustrations to costume design to wall panels, he has created art in countless media. He talks about it candidly in his newly published ʻScrapbook: A Story of Artʼ where he personally takes the reader on a journey and tour of his life, his work, his influences and his artistic experiences over a lifetime of creative artistry and production.
Finally, a chance to sit down with Jack Whyte and view his work, in the privacy of your own home. This book is a personal and direct communication from the artist, written in his own independent voice. It shows a new side of Jack Whyte that I had not experienced before: His generous spirit. He shares his artistic experiences, visual perceptions and creative thoughts with the reader in a most enchanting manner.
ʻScrapbook: A Story of Artʼ is a unique publication written and ʻnarratedʼ by the man who made the art displayed on all those luscious pages.
Gore Bay, November, 2015
Jack Whyte's Scrapbook: A Story of Art is a fascinating compendium with text and imagery of one man's journey from childhood to accomplished artist. Even if you are not familiar with Jack's artistic work, the story and the way in which it is told is still spell-binding, educational and always entertaining. Starting with the photo on the title facing page "Me and My Shadow A", showing Jack's shadow on the stones he is photographing, the presentations in this volume always reflect his delightful sense of humour. He even includes notes taken while assembling the scrapbook showing the kind of weather outside, beginning on September 21, 2014.
The scrapbook begins with short biographies of Jack's grandparents and parents with lots of photos and memorabilia. He speaks of the early influence of his father Herb who encouraged him to try drawing, especially with coloured pencils and graphite. As an infant Jack posed with Mickey Mouse for a shoe company advertisement after which he moved on to other modelling jobs. These were significant for they were the first experiences he had finding out about the importance of light and light meter readings while photographing.
Travelling with his dad who was a salesman, Jack got to know Ontario and other parts of Canada. He describes some of the mores of the time including the fact that "men wore suits and ties, ladies wore a dress, sometimes a hat and gloves - no white after Labour Day." While on the road he usually had a sketchbook with him in which he drew scenes and places off the beaten path that "told a different story with shapes and colours and people not seen out front."
Jack's impish humour is illustrated by the story how, in his high school art class, he cleaned his paint brush on the pony tail of one of his female classmates. This not only earned him a detention, but he was no longer allowed to paint. It almost ended his career as an artist before it even got started. Fortunately, however, Jack went on to study art history and continue his experiments with different modalities.
Descriptions abound of everything from hockey games at Maple Leaf Gardens, as well as circus attractions, to the Canadian National Exhibition, all of them showing Jack's eye for colour and light. There are vivid descriptions of other events including visits to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, all suffused with the influence of colour that would later be evident in his art. And the scrapbook is filled with colourful images that visually support the text.
The Whyte family's first holiday trip to Manitoulin Island is described in captivating detail, the colours and natural beauty making a big impression on teenager Jack who even then knew he would return some day. Later on Jack had a fateful meeting with the artist Frank Halliday, then an octogenarian, who passed on insights that were a real learning experience for him. And so the scrapbook takes us along the journey from Jack's assignments as a commercial artist to his present-day status as a successful professional artist recognized especially for his four-dimensional concepts and paper collages.
The Scrapbook is without doubt a worthwhile investment in time as witness to this unique artist's talent and development.
Spring Bay, July 29, 2015
"I think, having read through your scrapbook a month ago, that the story presented therein is very personal and very deeply felt. I think it would be a fringe best seller."
Chrys Jordan - Quora
"Your father (Jack Whyte) is very talented. I've signed up for an inscribed copy :-)."
David S. Rose - Quora
"Just did the Kickstarter thing. Hope all goes well. It is a great book and of course your father (Jack Whyte) is a great artist well deserving of support. With thanks,"
Chuc Willson - Manitoulin Island