Tony Urquhart (born 1934) is a Canadian pioneer of abstract painting, known for his “box” sculptures and his meticulous drawings and paintings influenced by religious art and architecture.
Born in Niagara Falls, Urquhart trained at the Albright Art School and the State University of New York at Buffalo between 1954-1958. The New York Abstract Expressionists heavily influenced his painting at the time. His annual trips to Europe (beginning in 1958) also influenced his visual experiences. Attracted to the “otherness” that he encountered in Europe, Urquhart was drawn to the landscape, architecture and pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes and Vimy Ridge. He often references images from small country graveyards and humble French villages in his paintings and drawings.
In 1956, at the age of 22, Urquhart joined the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto and quickly became associated with the Isaacs stable of artists including Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland and Graham Coughtry. 1965 was also the time when Urquhart began to make paintings on boxes, three-dimensional paintings typically made out of wood, which ranged in size from 6 inches to 7 feet high. Invited to participate in the artwork, the viewer moves around the artwork to see all sides and can carefully open hinged doors to view the intricately painted interiors.
In 1960 Urquhart was invited by the University of Western Ontario to be the first artist-in-residence. Through his work at the UWO and the McIntosh Gallery, Urquhart was one of the handful of artists who brought national attention to the London art scene in the 1960s. Urquhart stayed at UWO in a teaching capacity until 1972 when he joined the faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo, where he remained for three decades, retiring in 1999.
Along with Jack Chambers, Kim Ondaatje and Ron Martin, Urquhart helped found CARFAC in 1967, the artists’ ‘union’ that first established a fee schedule for public museum and gallery exhibitions of contemporary artists.
Urquhart’s first retrospective “Reunion” was organized by the London Regional Art Gallery in 1970. Two other retrospectives were organized by the Art Gallery of Kitchener in 1978 and the Art Gallery of Windsor in 1988.
Tony Urquhart was named to the Order of Canada in 1995 and won the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2009.
His artwork is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, Hirschhorn Collection and the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.