Meet 5 Artists from Grey Matter: Your Brain on Art

Art Windsor-Essex
5 min readJan 13, 2023

By Nicole Moore

Grey Matter: Your Brain on Art is an exhibition of a selection of recently acquired artworks from Art Windsor-Essex’s Collection. The artworks share the same monochromatic colour scheme from trail-blazing Canadian artists including Lawren Harris, Colleen Heslin, John Heward, Manasie Akpaliapik, and Robert Houle. Discover their works below!

Lawren Stewart Harris (b. 1885 — d. 1970)

Harris studied at University College, University of Toronto and was a founding member of the Group Of Seven, the Canadian Group of Painters, the Transcendental Painting Group, and the Federation Of Canadian Artists. He was awarded two honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto and the University of Manitoba. Harris was posthumously named a companion of the Order of Canada. He is also a landscape painter who used spiritual dimensions.

How Stewart’s work is related to the Grey Matter exhibition:

· Harris created abstract-realist paintings with his use of simple, stark and often analogous colour palettes.

· He painted smooth landscapes with little detail, relying on the organic and abstract shapes of nature. Therefore, his work resembles nature iconography, which is easily identifiable to viewers.

· Harris’ work is easy to interpret as he painted realistic renderings of landscapes featuring trees, rocks, mountains, lakes and skies.

Colleen Heslin (b. 1976)

Colleen Heslin, Ice Point, 2016, dye on linen, 152.8 cm x 203.5 cm, Gift of Leon Liffmann, 2020

Heslin is represented by Monte Clark Gallery, Vancouver BC and has a B.A in Fine Arts from Emily Carr University, Vancouver BC. She has a Master of Fine Arts from Concordia University, Montreal, QC. She is a professor in the Painting department at Concordia University. Heslin is well known for using textile-based techniques and for incorporating social facets such as gender and labour in her work.

How Heslin’s work is related to the Grey Matter exhibition:

· Heslin employs bright and expressive colours, which can evoke certain emotions or memories. She paints abstract, geometric compositions allowing for infinite interpretations.

· Heslin uses mixed media (tapestries, paint, inks, textures, fabrics, threads, collages) to create a blend of two- and three-dimensional textures in her art.

· She is known for large fabric constructions that challenge the male-dominated tradition of hard-edge abstract painting.

John Heward (b. 1934–2018)

John Heward, Untitled (abstraction), Rayon, Canvas, acrylic, oil, metal clamps, 114.3 cm x 1800.0cm. Photo by Frank Piccolo.

Heward is a Canadian post-war and contemporary artist who was born in Montreal, QC, and has been featured in articles for Whitehot Magazine and Canadian Art. He is recognized for his paintings, sculpture, photography, drawing, prints, and bookworks. He is also a drummer, a free jazz percussionist, and a visual artist. Heward’s creative process was drawn from the exploration of freedom. His art is recognized nationally in Canada and he was awarded the Prix Paul-Emile Borduas annual prize.

How Heward’s work is related to the Grey Matter exhibition:

· Heward uses materials in his abstracts that can be manipulated by the viewer, such as canvases, rayon, vinyl, paper, bronze, steel, and aluminum to create a pendulum in between abstraction and geometry.

· The placement of his work — hung on walls, suspended from ceilings — emphasizes movement and space and can be altered, which can change the interpretation.

· Heward takes his inspiration from creative views from both abstract expressionism and minimal art.

Manasie (aka Manasiah) Akpaliapik (b. 1955 -)

Manasie Akpaliapik, Face (also known as Sedna and Child), not dated, bone, ivory, antler, 40.5 cm x 35.5 cm, Gift of Carolyne Rourke in memory of Byron Rourke, 2019

Manasiah (Inuit) was born in a hunting camp in Northern Baffin Island and learned how to carve at the age of 10. His grandparents were carvers and he learned their techniques by observing and he is now considered one of the most gifted artists of his generation.

How Manasiah’s work is related to the Grey Matter exhibition:

· Manasiah’s main focus is to preserve Inuit cultural traditions through his work.

· He uses traditional stories, such as Narratives of Sedna, to ensure generational cultural connections.

· Manasiah uses visual expressions representing scenes of hunting and visible manifestations of powerful beings placing emphasis on the intricate balance between living beings.

Robert Houle (b. 1947 -)

Robert Houle, Flèche, 2011, oil on canvas, 60.9 cm x 91.4 cm, Gift of Christopher Varley, Toronto, in recognition of AGW Executive Director, Catharine Mastin, 2019 for her service to the AGW.

Houle is a Saulteaux Anishinaabe First Nations Canadian artist, curator, critic, and educator. He is also a residential school survivor and a long-standing member of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective. His works are represented in the National Gallery of Canada.

How Houle’s work is related to the Grey Matter exhibition:

· For forty years, Houle has been fighting for the recognition of Indigenous arts and artists in North America, tackling issues such as land claims and water protection.

· He has an important role in bridging the gap between contemporary Indigenous art and the Canadian art scene.

· Houle has made changes within museums by opening up critical conversations about the history and representation of Indigenous peoples.

· He is the co-curator of the acclaimed exhibit Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada.

In summer-fall 2022, AWE collaborated with students and faculty from the School of Disability Studies at Toronto Metropolitan University on a work-integrated partnership. This program was supported by Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning (CEWIL) Canada, the School of Disability Studies, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Art Windsor-Essex.



Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.