Our next Artist You Need To Know is someone who helped shape the Niagara visual arts community, as an artist, educator and arts journalist: David Partridge.
David Partridge (1919 – 2006) was a Canadian painter, etcher, sculptor and educator. He’s best known for creating artworks described as ‘Nailies’; these are made of nails driven into plywood to different heights, producing both representational or abstract sculptures. To quote Lucie Brosseau: “David Partridge’s Naillie’s are imaginative and fascinating works of art. They have been described by art curators as “landscape abstractions without the horizon.” Partridge himself, in 2003, commented that “I’ve never thought of myself as a sculptor. I’m a painter who paints with nails.”
Partridge was born in Akron, Ohio, but from 1928 to 1935 he lived in England, and came to Canada at the age of sixteen. His education included Trinity College (1934 to 1938) and later Hart House, at the University of Toronto (1939 to 1941). In 1941, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a flying instructor until the end of World War II. Post World War II, Partridge obtained a British Council scholarship which took him to the Slade School of Fine Art for a year, in 1950.
Parttridge returned to Canada, where he worked as a teacher at Ridley College from 1947 to 1956 and also taught (1952 to 1956) at St. Catharines Collegiate. He also founded the Studio Club, the predecessor of the St. Catharines Art Association (which, for half a century, was instrumental in supporting and disseminating the work of artists in the city and Niagara).
Partridge also co-founded the St. Catharines Public Library Art Gallery in 1952 where he became its first curator, a post he was to hold until 1956. This would later become Rodman Hall Art Centre, so he stands on similar ground as previously featured Artists You Need To Know that we’ve highlighted, like Dennis Tourbin or Tobey C. Anderson, as someone instrumental in laying a foundation in Niagara and other regions, whether in terms of students or spaces, that others have ‘stood’ or built upon. If that wasn’t enough, he was also an unpaid art critic for the St. Catharines Standard for three years.
Retiring from teaching in 1956, Partridge moved to Paris to study under Stanley William Hayter at the Atelier 17 studio: after a short return to England, Partridge returned to Canada in 1958 and settled in Ottawa. It was at this time he began to work on “naillies.”
Partridge had solo exhibitions at the St. Catharines Public Library Art Gallery, Robertson Galleries (Ottawa, ON) as well as showing in the Third Biennial of Canadian Art, and at the Salon Nouvelle Reautes, and mounting a one-man show at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Toronto (all in 1959). He had also exhibited with the Ontario Society of Artists, the Canadian Group of Painters, Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, and in the annual exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ annual spring exhibition in 1947 featured his work: and in 1962 Partridge was awarded the $500 sculpture prize for his piece titled Standing Configuration No.9. The Jerrold Morris International Gallery in Ontario presented his works in the winter of 1962: that same year, Partridge received an honourable mention from the RCA, in conjunction with an exhibition of his work in the United Kingdom.
In 1963, Partridge showed at the Santiago Bienale: later that same year the Tate Gallery purchased a piece entitled Vertebrate Configuration. Other noteworthy exhibitions include a solo exhibition at the New Vision Centre London in 1964, Expo 67 (alongside Gerald Gladstone) and the Hamilton Galleries, London, in 1967. He had four solo exhibitions at the Covent Garden Gallery in London (U.K.).
Partridge had several solo exhibitions at the Moore Gallery, Hamilton (1987 and 2003 being significant bodies of work), and showed at Nancy Poole’s Studio in Toronto between 1986 and 1988. In 2001, Partridge returned to his St Catharines roots to deliver a talk on his life in the city, marking the opening of an exhibition at Rodman Hall Art Centre curated by Greta Hildebrand entitled David Partridge the St. Catharines Years (1946-1956).
An impressive site specific work is located just inside the front door of Toronto’s city hall: this is the nail mural titled Metropolis. The award winning entry in a 1974 open competition, it is a permanent installation in the building: “The mural, which complements City Hall’s architectural style, is a symbolic interpretation of a great city, or metropolis. Created from 100,000 common nails, the mural is made up of nine panels, each weighing about 180 kilograms. The circle of massed copper nails in the centre symbolizes the heart, or downtown core, of the city.” (from here) There are several images below of this work.
Partridge became a member of the Order of Canada in 2003.
He suffered a stroke in 2003 which severely limited his mobility, and died of a heart attack in 2006: in 2007 Toronto’s Moore Gallery held a retrospective of Partridge watercolours which were painted in the final years of his life.
Partridge’s works have been acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Windsor, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and many other institutions, including Rodman Hall Art Centre: one of his works was featured in the 2022 online exhibition A Place To Stand : The Legacy of Rodman Hall Art Centre Collection, which featured one of his ‘nailies’, but also celebrated his legacy in helping to found and foster significant aspects of the Niagara visual arts community.