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News / September 24, 2014

Painter & Award Founder Joseph Plaskett Dies at 96

Respected BC-born artist known for intimate still-lifes founded $25,000 annual award for emerging Canadian painters.

Canadian painter Joseph Plaskett died in his sleep on September 21 in England at the age of 96.

Born in New Westminster, BC, on July 12, 1918, Plaskett became known for painting intimate, everyday scenes such as interiors, still lifes, and portraits of friends and models.

Though Plaskett’s painting style was far from revolutionary, it was well respected, with his works being collected by public art galleries across the country, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

“He painted who he was and he didn’t apologize for it,” says Tien Huang, Toronto director of Bau-Xi Galleries, which represents Plaskett’s work. “He painted what was in front of him. He had a wonderful sense of tradition but I would not isolate him as a traditionalist. He was working away from that, always exploring new things. He was still incredibly inventive even in his later years.”

In 2004, the artist established the Joseph Plaskett Foundation Award, which annually provides a young Canadian painter with $25,000 to travel and study art in Europe for one year. Recent recipients include Collin Johanson (2014), Julie Trudel (2013) and Phil Delisle (2012).

“I created this award in emulation of what Emily Carr did for me in 1946,” Plaskett explained at the time of the prize’s launch. (In 1946, nominated by Group of Seven alum Lawren Harris, Plaskett won the first Emily Carr Scholarship, which enabled him to travel beyond BC to California and New York.)

Plaskett was also greatly inspired by Europe; he lived in Paris for more than 30 years, and later Suffolk, England. In 2008, he said that he wanted his award to give emerging artists funds to visit Europe because it is “a continent that is a treasury of great art. Every young artist needs to enjoy and learn from its riches.”

Plaskett continued painting well into his 90s. Alissa Sexton, Toronto co-director of Bau-Xi Galleries, recalls that in 2008, Plaskett “was in Toronto for his 90th birthday celebrations. Despite being on a busy tour across Canada, with failing health, Joe still asked us to go out and fetch him some paints and brushes so he could do a little painting.”

In his own statement for his last exhibition at Bau-Xi in 2012, Plaskett wrote, “The word I choose to describe the quality of a still life is intimacy. I am closer and closer to the small world surrounding me and its surroundings. I make constant discoveries. Of course I repeat myself—every artist does, in a sense, but I constantly make new discoveries.”

Though Plaskett’s style rarely kept up with contemporary trends, he has also said he felt heartened by the direction painting was going.

“When in the mid 80s I began planning the foundation, I felt that the arts of painting and drawing were facing an uncertain future,” Plaskett said in 2008. “It seemed that newer forms of visual expression were getting all the attention. I wanted to correct this. I no longer feel this way. The art of painting is entering a new golden age. It is in no danger of becoming obsolete.”

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via