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Young dreamer to celebrated artist: Hartman gets Order of Canada

'We live in a country full of really deserving recipients, so to be chosen felt like a real honour,' says local artist who becomes member during ceremony today at Rideau Hall

Local artist John Hartman receives the Order of Canada today during a ceremony overseen by Governor General Mary Simon at Rideau Hall.

Hartman was named a member of the prestigious Order in 2021 for his work in the artistic community.

A release from Simon’s office notes that Hartman is renowned for his colour drypoints and large oils as he has brought landscapes and cityscapes to life for more than 45 years.

“Through extensive research and travels, this visual storyteller masterfully intertwines places, people and narrative, encapsulating a unique glimpse of the Canadian experience in each tableau,” the release states.

“He has promoted the arts as a mentor and as a board member of several organizations, including the MacLaren Art Centre and Canadian Artists’ Representation Ontario, and has fostered artistic as well as scientific creativity by funding regional scholarships.”

In an interview with MidlandToday, Hartman says he was originally taken aback by the honour.

“We live in a country full of really deserving recipients, so to be chosen from among all of those, it felt like a real honour,' says Hartman, who was born and raised in Midland and now lives in Tiny Township.

Hartman says, for him, it's difficult thing to say what his influence has been on Canadian art.

"It takes a bit longer to see the true nature of the influence," he explains. "I do get feedback from the next couple of generations of painters after me that say they look to my work as an example of how somebody could still paint the Canadian landscape in an expressionist way and have it seem fresh."

In an earlier feature interview, Hartman recounts how when he was young, he had dreams of flying over a landscape he knew really well and “it would unfold in front of me like a movie.

"It felt quite wonderful. I had these dreams over and over again and then they stopped."

An older Hartman, who quit law school to return to study fine arts, would make the dreams come true.

His artwork deviated from the fine-arts trend most dominant when he graduated school: post-painterly abstractions (a trend that required abstract paintings to be created on a more pure abstract basis than before).

"It was a very very narrowly defined way of working," Hartman says. "And if you weren’t doing something that related to that, you weren’t taken seriously."

So he journeyed back into art history to find the painters he could use as a starting point.

"In Canadian paintings, it was the Group of Seven and in Europe it was the German expressionist painters," he explains.

"I just looked at how they painted the world and figured out how I saw the world slightly differently and started the lifelong process of figuring out how to paint the world as I saw it."

And he saw it from above, hovering several hundred feet in the air, looking at the landscape below.

"I started off by just imagining it," says Hartman, who was born in Midland in 1950. "I know the whole Midland, Penetanguishene and Port Severn area so well from growing up here that I can construct what it looks like from the air very easily."

Later on, he says, for unfamiliar places, he started renting airplanes with a pilot to fly over the area for the view and has produced artwork based on landscapes all over North America.

"Some cities like New York are endlessly interesting to paint," he adds, "others like Toronto are more difficult because it’s essentially a shoreline."

But the two places close to his heart are Georgian Bay and Newfoundland.

"I really love the eastern shore of Georgian Bay and Newfoundland," Hartman says, adding that the latter has very few trees along the coast.

“No matter where you walk, you have a view. And no matter where you look, you have some kind of human activity happening."

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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