Our latest Artist You Need To Know is someone who passed two years ago, but their legacy as an artist and teacher is still very vital. Blair Sharpe (1954 – 2019) stated this his “principal concern as an artist is in painting, which I continue to find a fertile and exciting form of expression. I am concerned specifically with its intrinsic and essential formal qualities and with the interior emotional logic of paint — the interaction and integration of surface, plane, line, edge, shape and colour. I am also concerned with weight and resonance, and the dialogue between object and image.”
Sharpe was born in Montréal: prior to settling in Ottawa in 1973, he lived in numerous places across Canada and overseas. Sharpe completed his ‘A’ Level in Fine Art (University of London Board), followed by an innovative Post ‘A’ Level fine art programme at Kent School, Germany. As a young artist, living in Germany, specifically Düsseldorf, with the many galleries and museums, Sharpe’s education expanded outside the classroom. He credited “the public galleries of Westphalia as the most formative period in his education as an artist” (from his site). Later, he studied at the Ottawa School of Art (then the Ottawa Municipal Art Centre), where he encountered James Boyd and Richard Gorman, whose ideas would help define Sharpe’s aesthetic.
From Gorman, Sharpe said “I learned that paintings-in-progress had almost infinite mutability. You could spontaneously transform things. You could freely improvise. There could be more balance to expressive and formal approaches; they were not mutually exclusive. With oils you could pile the paint on, scrape it off, and begin again. With acrylic you could build in layers. This led to my long term consideration of the edges, boundaries and connections between the planes and zones of the painterly surface. The paintings could be simultaneously geometric and free. This has been a constant in my work since 1974. It continues to be fertile ground and avoids the end-game problems to which late modernism is prone.”
Sharpe would teach at the Ottawa School of Art for over four decades, beginning in 1974. He was a mainstay of that institution, and an integral part of the Ottawa art community. Like many artists who see their teaching as integral to the wider conversation about art, Sharpe also worked with the city of Ottawa, Gloucester High School, the Carleton Board of Education and the Glebe Community Centre to facilitate art classes for many different groups of various ages.
Along with his work being in public, private and corporate collections, Sharpe also produced public art works, which include the mural Ouananiche at the Jack Purcell Community Centre and River’s Invitation at the Smyth Transitway Station in Ottawa.
A testament to Blair Sharpe’s impact as a teacher and artist is The Blair Sharpe Scholarship Endowment Fund at the Ottawa School of Art, which was initiated by a number of his students. Donations “are invested by the Ottawa Community Foundation in order to generate a substantial annual scholarship for diploma students at the Ottawa School of Art, keeping the memory of a respected and much loved instructor alive” (from the Ottawa Community Foundation). In 2021, this was awarded for the first time to Rawan Ahmed.