ALMA: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917–2004)

October 3, 2014 – January 11, 2015

Opening reception: Oct. 2, 2014

Ottawa-based artist Alma Duncan spent her entire life creating, interpreting, observing, and rendering. With pen in hand, she travelled the world recording the beauties of the land and the stories of her models, transcending the lines between modern interpreter and visual activist. Inherently interdisciplinary, from painting and drawing to film, her varied body of work also spans numerous genres, including the machine aesthetic, puppetry, portraiture, and abstraction, and the natural world.

Born in Paris, ON, Duncan moved to Montreal in 1936 at the age of nineteen, where she worked in commercial art and studied under renowned Canadian artists Ernst Neumann and Goodridge Roberts. She quickly began to achieve success, first exhibiting her work in 1937 at the Art Association of Montreal, and in 1942, winning an honourable mention in the Western Hemisphere Poster Competition hosted by the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1943, she received permission to create drawings inside industrial plants, shipyards and arms factories; a subject which became a lifetime interest.

This same year brought her to Ottawa. She accepted a position in the Graphics Department of the National Film Board (NFB), where she met long-time friend and collaborator Audrey (Babs) McLaren. The two quit the NFB in 1953 and formed the film company Dunclaren Productions in an Ottawa attic, through which they made several internationally-noted stop-motion animation short films. They resided together for nearly four decades in the Ottawa area. From the sixties onward, Duncan hung up her filmmaking hat and focused on painting and drawing. She engaged in abstract experimentation and created Dürer-quality renderings of the countryside. In 1970, Duncan produced a set of award-winning stamps on commission for Canada Post. A familiar name in the regional art community, Duncan’s work can now be found in national and international collections such as the National Gallery of Canada, Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian War Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Brooklyn Museum.

This retrospective at the Ottawa Art Gallery celebrates Duncan’s lifework, recognizing her as an inextricable part of the Canadian art historical canon. It brings together curators, collectors, friends, and scholars to celebrate Alma Duncan the woman, the colleague, and of course, the artist.

Jaclyn Meloche and Catherine Sinclair, Co-Curators

This exhibition was made possible by generous funding from Canadian Heritage’s Museum Assistance Program. Thanks to this support, the OAG is proud to announce that Alma will tour to three venues in Ontario: Varley Art Gallery, Markham, ON (2015), Judith & Norman Art Gallery, Sarnia, ON (2015) and Windsor Art Gallery (2016). The exhibition is also accompanied by a hardcover, bilingual catalogue, which features more than 70 colour plates, available for $55.