In honour of fathers

Two daughters delight in duo show of dads’ visual art


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The work of two late Manitoba visual artists, Robert Bruce (1911-1980) and Keith Wood (1944-2018), is being honoured in a duo exhibition currently on view at Soul Gallery, curated by gallery owner Julie Walsh.

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The work of two late Manitoba visual artists, Robert Bruce (1911-1980) and Keith Wood (1944-2018), is being honoured in a duo exhibition currently on view at Soul Gallery, curated by gallery owner Julie Walsh.

Bruce and Wood were also fathers who are remembered by their daughters.

The work of Bruce featured in this exhibition includes monoprints, coloured inks and oil paintings from the 1950s to the 1970s. Scenes from the Canadian Shield figure prominently in this era.


Gallerist Julie Walsh with work from Keith Wood and Robert Bruce

“He just had a huge love for nature,” says his daughter, the visual artist Katharine Bruce, 75. “He was a canoeist, a skier, a hiker, and he was always out with a sketchbook in hand.”

In addition to being a painter, Robert Bruce was also a professor at the University of Manitoba’s school of art. Katharine was just in her early 30s when her father died in 1980 — “I never really had that huge of an opportunity to know him as a person,” she says — but she did get to know him as a teacher. Katharine was one of his art students at U of M.

“He treated me like any other student,” she says. “It was really great for me to see him in that role and to see him interacting with other students.”

In 2018, Katharine’s work was shown alongside her father’s in a Soul Gallery exhibition called Bruce and Bruce.

“He wasn’t as well known as he could or should have been, and so to still have the opportunity to show some of the work that still exists… I mean, it’s dwindling,” Katharine says. “My brother and I have donated quite a number of pieces in the last year or so to the university’s school of art so that they would have a substantial collection.”

As it happens, Katharine’s studio was next to Keith Wood’s. “They were very similar human beings,” Katharine says of her dad and her friend: intensely focused on their art, to the exclusion of most other things.

Wood’s art on view includes acrylic and oil abstract works created prior to 2006, as well as a compilation of encaustic paintings — which are done with hot pigmented wax — from 2006 to his death in 2018.

“I have to say that this particular show has moved me more than any show I have attended over the course of my lifetime with him being an artist,” says his daughter, Shira Wood, 49. She feels it beautifully captures the spirit of a varied career.

What’s missing at her dad’s shows is, of course, her dad. Wood remembers him as a fantastic storyteller who loved to talk about art — never in a condescending way, but in a way that invited curiosity. He encouraged people to really view his art through their own eyes, to bring their own interpretations to the experience.

“He never named pieces,” Wood says. “And he always said that it was a visual experience. He felt that if he gave a piece of title, people would spend their time looking for these obscure little parts of it that created the name of the painting, and that’s not how he wanted them to experience it.”

Her father lived a creative life, working as a graphic artist and founding an advertising agency before eschewing the 9-to-5 life to pursue his art fully. He was working in his studio right up until he suffered a stroke.

“Even sitting with him in the hospital, he sort of had his hand up in the air and it was moving back and forth,” Wood recalls. “And, at the time, because of the stroke, I thought that it was just a tremor or something. But when one of the nurses came in he said, ‘I’m working on a new painting.’

“That was just who he was.”

A Duo Exhibition: Robert Bruce and Keith Wood is on view at Soul Gallery until May 27.

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Keith Wood’s work on display in Soul Gallery. The artist died in 2018.


Shira Wood, daughter of the late Keith Wood, with his work on exhibit at Soul Gallery

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

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