Reviewed by Patricia Sandberg
The Group of Seven’s first public exhibition took place in 1920. Canadians know the Group’s art intimately: their portrayals of landscapes and townscapes have helped shape our identity for one hundred years. Their art also represents our past.
How fitting then that, after a century of viewing these iconic painters and associated artists such as Emily Carr, editor Karen Schauber takes a new approach in The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings. She pairs twenty-one beautifully reproduced paintings with the artful flash fiction prose of award-winning, accomplished writers. These stories free us from the traditional perspective.
Flash fiction, as a form of storytelling, has experienced a revival in recent years. Flash fiction layers its meanings and employs imagery that captures attention. It invites reflection. As with great works of art, this form prompts the reader to invest time in understanding the work, fill in the spaces and emotionally connect.
While some of the stories in this book are grounded in the painted image, they all launch from the artwork into broader metaphysical or even spiritual questions. Words, the writer’s paint, are artfully chosen and applied, not one wasted. The stories all compel the reader to dive beneath their surface and linger long after the reading is complete. Writer Isabella Mori, inspired by Franz Johnston’s “Sunset in the Bush,” finds unexpected connections in the forest in “On the Way to Sechelt.” A forest canopy shelters deception in Yael Maree’s story “In Search of You” based on Alfred J. Casson’s “Shore Pattern.” Using Frederick H. Varley’s “Stormy Weather” as the inspiration, Waubgeshig Rice’s story “The Stranger in the Cove” deals with belonging. A man revisits his past in “Nine Acres,” JJ Lee drawing from L.L. FitzGerald’s “Late Fall, Manitoba” as muse.
The Group’s paintings generally exclude people, and today, people are less connected with the land. The twenty-one writers, most not yet born when the artists were painting their perceptions of the country, are either Canadian or closely connected to Canada. Their stories reflect a nation much changed in terms of landscape, population and experience.
In 1920 The Group of Seven introduced a new vision for the Canadian landscape. One hundred years later, twenty-one writers in The Group of Seven Reimagined offer a new lens for appreciating their art.
The Group of Seven Reimagined is published by Heritage House.