Canadian identity, on canvas 

Charles Pachter explores concepts of Canada through canvas, steel and sketch


With a myriad of nations coming to Canada for the Olympics one Canadian artist is very interested in exploring our own notions of national identity.

Charles Pachter is a respected artist known for his pieces featuring subjects that are distinctly and stereotypically Canadian - members of the monarchy, our red and white flag, and the moose.

"It all started in Calgary in the late '60s," he recalled. "I was teaching there, and I grew up in the era of pop art and in all of the Canadian art magazines at the time there was another example of Canada's affliction, if you like - it was this postcolonial mentality that if things came from elsewhere they were consequential; if they came from here, they weren't, and it used to drive me nuts!"

The grandson of immigrants, Pachter became fascinated by the sheer size of our country, Canada's loyalist history and our subsequent relationship with Britain through the Commonwealth.

"For me, it was a grassroots exploration of the Canadian psyche - here's this fabulous land mass that's as big as Russia or China and there's only 34 million people here."

An art history buff, all of Pachter's pieces contain an element of our heritage, exploring the Canadian notion of national identity - or lack thereof. A large part of his work is about discovering what it means to be Canadian and playing with these notions of identity using key pop art icons like the moose, butter tarts, Queen Elizabeth and the maple leaf emblazoned on the flag.

"Most cultures don't like to admit this, but all countries came into being because someone killed and someone conquered and overruled and in our case it was the British - hello!" he said.

"We forget, we tend to think it's all so benign. Why did Charles and Camilla go out to Comox? Because the British captured this place 275 years ago!"

While Pachter is passionate about his home country, this self-described "Canadian with a New York state of mind" still struggles with the lack of appreciation and promotion that is bestowed upon incredibly talented Canadian artists.

"The fact is, compared to other countries, our institutions and our wealthy collectors don't know how to honour living artists," Pachter stated.

"It's one thing when you're dead and you're Group of Seven and you're doing decorative landscape - that's where the mindset of the wealthy collectors is."

After finishing graduate school, his friends encouraged him to go straight to New York to start his career.

"I said, 'I've got a problem - I love my country and I'd rather raise the bar here.'"


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