Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts announced

March 10, 2010

Eight remarkable Canadians win Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts from the Canada Council for the Arts. The winners of the 2010 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts were announced by the Canada Council for the Arts today at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal.

Haida sculptor Robert Davidson, filmmaker André Forcier, painter Rita Letendre, video artist Tom Sherman, photographer Gabor Szilasi and painter Claude Tousignant won the awards for artistic achievement. Glass sculptor Ione Thorkelsson won the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in fine crafts, while Terry Ryan received the Outstanding Contribution Award as long-time general manager of West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset, Nunavut and director of Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto.

“I salute these artists who, through their unique vision and immense talent, open our eyes wide to all those things, in us and around us, that we look at without really seeing,” said her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada.

“These prestigious career awards celebrate creativity and excellence,” said Canada Council Chair Joseph Rotman. “The extraordinary talent, imagination and accomplishments of these eight individuals show us how the arts contribute to the vitality of Canadian society.”

The Governor General of Canada will present the 2010 Awards at a ceremony at Rideau Hall on Wednesday, March 31 at 6 p.m. In addition to a $25,000 prize, the winners will each receive a work created by Tony Urquhart, winner of a 2009 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. Media wishing to attend the ceremony should contact Julie Rocheleau at the Rideau Hall Press Office, 613‑998-7280 or

The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts
The Awards, funded and administered by the Canada Council for the Arts, were created in June 1999 and awarded for the first time in March 2000. The awards recognize distinguished career achievements in the visual and media arts by Canadian artists, as well as outstanding contributions to the visual and media arts through voluntarism, philanthropy, board governance, community outreach or professional activities.

The Saidye Bronfman Award, which recognizes excellence in fine crafts, is part of the Governor General’s Awards. It is funded from the proceeds of a $1.5 million endowment given to the Canada Council by The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation in 2006. The support of the Foundation to the Canadian Museum of Civilization has also helped the Museum acquire works by recipients of the Saidye Bronfman Award.

Biographical notes
Robert Davidson

A key figure in the renaissance of Haida art, Robert Davidson is renowned for his totems, masks, paintings, prints and jewellery. He began carving at 13, taught by his father and uncle. In 1966-1967 he worked for a short time in Bill Reid’s studio, and then studied at the Vancouver School of Art. He carved and raised the first totem in 90 years on Haida Gwaii in 1969. The subject of several major exhibitions and monographs, his work is represented in such collections as the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the National Gallery of Canada. He is a recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1995) and a member of the Order of Canada (1996). Mr. Davidson lives in White Rock, British Columbia.

André Forcier

André Forcier came to filmmaking by accident when he was forced to take film studies in college. In 1967, his student film caught the attention of filmmaker Gilles Carle. In the early 1970s, when he was barely 25, he made his entry onto the Quebec and international scenes with Bar Salon (silver award at the Sorrento Film Festival in Italy and critics’ award from the Association des critiques de cinéma du Québec). His subsequent works confirmed the originality of his world and the poetry and absurdity of his characters. First winner of the André-Guérin Prize from the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (1990), he received the Prix du Québec in 2003 for his entire body of work. André Forcier’s filmography includes such cult masterpieces as L’eau chaude, l’eau frette, Une histoire inventée, and Le vent du Wyoming, and the enfant terrible from 40 years ago continues to present films that bear the mark of a great creator. Mr. Forcier lives in Longueuil, Quebec.

Rita Letendre

One of only a handful of women painters to achieve significant profile in the post-war period, Rita Letendre was associated with the Automatistes in Quebec who transformed painting practice in Canada. In the early sixties she worked in Europe and Israel, winning a gold medal at Italy’s Piccola Europa exhibition. Her work took her to Los Angeles and New York, where she established herself as an outstanding muralist. Sunforce, a mural done in 1965 for California State College at Long Beach, was at that time the largest outdoor mural in the United States; Sunrise, a 60’ x 60’ mural, was produced for Ryerson Polytechnic Institute in Toronto in 1971. Ms. Letendre continued to work on canvas and paper exploring light effects in bursts of colour by using paintbrush, airbrush, and then combining the two mediums throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, she has pursued her explorations through oil on a variety of scales. Ms. Letendre is a recipient of the Order of Quebec (2002) and an
Officer of the Order of Canada (2005). She lives in Toronto.

Terry Ryan (Outstanding Contribution)

Artist Terry Ryan’s leadership has facilitated the success of three generations of Inuit artists over the past half-century. A temporary position as arts advisor at West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in
Cape Dorset in 1960 became a lifetime vocation. As general manager of the Co-op, he sourced suitable stone for carvings, distributed pencils and paper to encourage drawing, and engaged master printmakers. He initiated visiting artists and fine craft programs, developed a network of dealers across North America and Europe, managed the production of Cape Dorset’s annual print catalogue and founded the Dorset Fine Arts marketing and distribution centre in Toronto. Through his administrative and financial management, he has ensured the Co-op’s stability and focus. Today he is director emeritus of West Baffin Eskimo Co‑operative. Mr. Ryan lives in Toronto.

Tom Sherman

Soon after completing his B.F.A. at the University of Eastern Michigan, Tom Sherman moved to Canada (1972) and went on to become one of this country’s leading figures in video art. He co-founded the artist‑run A Space Video (1973) and Fuse Magazine (1978). He worked at the Canada Council for the Arts in the early 1980s and founded its Media Arts section (1983). He represented Canada at the Venice Biennale (1980), and has been the subject of several major exhibitions, including retrospectives at the National Gallery of Canada (1983) and the International Festival of Films on Art in Montreal (2005). In 2003, he received the Bell Award for excellence in video art. He is currently a professor in video art at Syracuse University and when he’s not teaching, he lives near Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

Gabor Szilasi

In 1957, Gabor Szilasi fled the communist regime in Hungary and immigrated to Canada with his father. From 1959 to 1971 he was employed as a photographer by the Office du film du Québec, while continuing with his own photographic explorations. His first major project on the communities of Charlevoix and the Isle-aux-Coudres, produced in the 1970s, already gave evidence of his respect and documentary-like curiosity for his subjects. His subsequent explorations of Quebec communities confirmed his unique ability to interpret and capture a manner of living. Mr. Szilasi has influenced several generations of photographers. He is a major figure in photography in Canada who has exhibited throughout the world, won the 2009 Prix Paul-Émile Borduas, and taught first at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal, then at Concordia University. A virtual reference system on architecture, passing eras, rural life and urban landscapes, Mr. Szilasi’s photographs constitute an eloquent and deeply humanistic body of work. He lives in Westmount, Quebec.

Ione Thorkelsson (Saidye Bronfman Award)

Ione Thorkelsson began her career studying architecture at the University of Manitoba then changed direction to pursue a fascination with glass. In 1973, she learned the blown glass technique, built her own studio and began creating vases, perfume bottles and other vessels. Largely self-taught, her only formal training in glass was a course she took in 1979 at Sheridan College. In 1983, she began exploring the cast glass technique, drawing on the natural world (birds, insects, bones) for subjects. Her works have been exhibited across Canada, the United States, Europe and in Hong Kong, and can be found in the collections of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Rideau Hall. Ms. Thorkelsson lives in Roseisle, Manitoba.

Claude Tousignant

Claude Tousignant painted for the first time at the age of 12, copying the pictures from a calendar of Saint Joseph’s Oratory. This would be one of the rare moments of figurative painting in the career of this leading figure in the world of abstract art. For 60 years he has pursued his research on the non-figurative with exemplary discipline and consistency. Famous for his instantly recognizable, vibrant circles, especially the series Accélérateurs and Gongs, then Dyptiques, the painter and sculptor has explored the qualities of colour, form, space and movement like nobody else. He has had numerous retrospectives, most recently at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Acclaimed the world over and the recipient of many awards (including the Victor Martin Lynch-Staunton Award and the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas), Mr. Tousignant has produced a body of work whose wealth, diversity and resonance is universally acknowledged. He lives in Montreal.

Selection of winners
To be nominated for one of the artistic awards, candidates must have created an outstanding body of work and have made a significant contribution to the development of the visual or media arts over a significant period of time. Nominees for the Saidye Bronfman Award must have made a substantial contribution to the development of crafts in Canada over a significant period of time.

This year’s independent peer jury for the Governor General’s Awards consisted of artists Bruce Elder (Toronto), Garry Kennedy (Halifax), Peter Krausz (Montreal), Shelley Niro (Brantford, Ont.), Michka Saäl (Montreal) and Renée Van Halm (Vancouver). The peer assessment committee members for the Saidye Bronfman Award were Lee Brady (Saskatoon), Steven Heinemann (Richmond Hill, Ont.) and Sylvie Lupien (Montreal).

General information
In addition to its principal role of promoting and fostering the arts, the Canada Council for the Arts administers and awards many prizes and fellowships in the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural and health sciences, engineering, and arts management. These prizes and fellowships recognize the achievements of outstanding Canadian artists, scholars, and administrators. The Canada Council is committed to raising public awareness and celebrating these exceptional people and organizations on both a national and international level.

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