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Ernest Garthwaite has been documenting the North American landscape in his paintings for fifty years. Braiding ongoing concerns of beauty, social ethics, and environmental responsibility, his work is an invitation to see the land with both eyes and heart. This sensitivity can be traced to his parents early nurturing on Saskatchewan’s wide prairies and his coming of age in Wisconsin’s rolling hill country. His paintings are meditations on a Native American respect for the land and their definitive interconnection with the natural elements. As an environmentalist, he has made it his passion to record and interpret natural spaces, often paying homage to original tribes by name, while depicting his own sense of the sacred in wetlands, waterways and fields.
While still a student, Garthwaite began questioning a formal point of view toward painting’s limited two-dimensional plane. Studying with master sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, then artist-in-residence at Notre Dame University, Garthwaite’s changing attitude toward painting’s expressive potential began developing in the early 1960s. During his first academic position (Loras College, 1962-1965), he had two solo exhibitions of paintings that expressed his outrage at civil rights atrocities exploding across the South. He realized art’s potentials—and limitations—as a medium of ethical awareness. Throughout the decade, he explored the overlap and synthesis of two- and three-dimensional planes, stillness and movement. In 1967, while teaching at the College of New Rochelle (1965-1968), he introduced sculpture installation, experimenting with polyurethane rigid foam and Dacron stretched fiber. In this same period, two of his films, Water-Trees (1968) and The Jogger (1970), were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. These sculptural and cinematic explorations coalesced in the development of his signature parabolic-shaped canvases in 1972. A resultant series of sculptural paintings with a sound environment, Cree Skins, was exhibited in New York at Echo Gallery in 1978. In 1982, his Ojibway Prairie Series traveled to five Ontario museums, sponsored by the London Regional Museum. His work is in more than 75 public and corporate collections and he has had over 50 solo exhibitions.
He takes pride in an academic career spanning five decades. From 1968 to 2004, he taught at York College, City University of New York, where he initiated the fine arts department. Now professor emeritus, he taught studio, film/video, media and art history, and mentored scores of graduating students. During his tenure at York College, he received five Faculty Research Awards for film and shaped paintings from the Research Foundation of City University of New York, allowing him to further develop the idea of implied movement of light within and on his sculpturally shaped surfaces.
From his studio in the shoreline town of Old Greenwich, Connecticut, Garthwaite continues his quest to understand the overlap and synthesis of land and water, truth and beauty, respect and responsibility, and the formal elements of art. That he seeks our active engagement is a confidence of trust and an invitation to joy.