Carle Hessay
Canadian artist

Artist, Musician, Gymnast, Prospector, and World Citizen

Carle Hessay in his studio, 1960 photo by N.C. Curtis (from the Surrey Archives)

UPDATE   The Carle Hessay Exhibit and Video Premiere of Carle Hessay, As I Knew Him created by Chen Wang was held at the Langley Community Music School in Langley, BC on November 25, 2023. Now available for the first time the following is the link to the entire video series: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuZBdkjlRD-nm_9A2jbc8dQkExgWOEA1S

 

 

 

   After the Exhibit and Video Premiere,

   Forgotten Logging Camp and Magenta Fire

   (donated by the Carle Hessay Estate)

   are now displayed side-by-side,

   flanked by two bronzes by Leonard A. Woods,

   in the lobby of the Langley Community Music School

 

 

 

Carle Hessay helped define the cultural landscape of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia from the 1950s until his death at a New Year’s party in Spuzzum BC on January 1, 1978.

Imagine trying to find, interview, and film people still alive who knew Carle Hessay! That is exactly what Chen Wang did when he began the project before COVID hit. 

So who was Carle Hessay? This video series, Carle Hessay, As I Knew Him, gives a close-up intimate portrait of the man by his many friends who experienced his warm,  mischievous humour, and it also presents an art historical perspective by knowledgeable people who responded to his work.  A Hessay painting, whatever its subject or degree of realism, is immediately recognizable by its power, expressive use of colour, and mastery of technique. His knowledge of the various modernisms, which he was able to incorporate and surpass in the creation of his own identifiable style, is not in doubt.  As observed by Leonard A. Woods, Carle "absorbed the artistic energies that characterized the 1960s."

The video interviews (see link above) reveal the character of the man and his artistic accomplishments and are a step towards establishing Carle Hessay’s singular cultural legacy for a wider public and for posterity.

The first video in the series and the last to be completed is itself an amazing technological accomplishment. To an audio recording of a talk Leonard A. Woods gave about the artist at the launch of his book, Meditations of the Paintings of Carle Hessay in 2005, Chen added visual images to the soundtrack.  

As observed by Leonard Woods, Carle’s previous European art training in Vienna, Paris, and Dresden, interrupted by personal upheavals and the political events of the times, finally came to fruition in the Langley years when he had a relatively settled life. Leonard Woods, who had taught art history and sculpture at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design), was instrumental in supporting Carle’s meteoric rise as an artist. He recognized the influence of German Expressionism in Carle’s dramatic use of colour and form to communicate emotional content. His technical process often involved the use of a majestic background colour that saturates the whole painting to give it great power. 

Other interviewees include Warren Sommer, former Curator of the Langley Centennial Museum and Exhibition Centre, where the first posthumous exhibition of the artist’s work was held in 1979. He talks about how Carle’s paintings, deeper and more accomplished than the standards the community was used to, reflected the movements of the international art world at the time.

Susan Magnusson, principal of the LCMS when Leonard’s book on Carle was launched, speaks of the close connections between music and art. She mentions how she encouraged students to ask questions and to see in a new way, Forgotten Logging Camp, Carle’s painting in the foyer of the School.

Mary Mikelson, proprietor of the Mind and Matter Gallery in White Rock, recalls the expressive quality of Carle’s art and how his paintings reveal his soul. She remembers the lively discussions her husband and Carle used to have, and how Carle often generously brought stones from his prospecting trips for Arnold’s carvings.

Anne Bowen, a Victoria artist who formerly lived in the Lower Mainland, recounts amusing episodes demonstrating Carle’s hilarious sense of humour, his gymnastic skills, and his virtuosity as an artist. She was impressed by his impressionistic work involving his use of light, composition, choice of palette, colour, and subject matter, mostly to create drama.

Pat Parungao, now President of the Pacific Canada Heritage Centre-Museum of Migration Society, and her brother, Mike Yuen, remember how Carle visited their family home when they were still children. Carle stressed the values of education, passed on his knowledge of Chinese and, less successfully in this case, his gymnastic skills!

Jamie and Sheila Van Loon (Lawrence) became like a family for Carle. They recall in great detail his life with them, including their adventures going on prospecting trips in the Fraser Canyon and throughout the interior of BC.  Jamie loves prospecting and makes and plays flutes, attributing this formative influence to Carle. Sheila observes how some of Carle’s fiery landscapes express his feelings toward big entities who exploit the land and people. Both speak of Carle’s compassion and his courage.

Because Father Dunstan Massey, the artist monk of Westminster Abbey in Mission BC he has since passed away, the interview with is especially poignant and historically important. Carle helped him get started on his frescos by sharing the knowledge he gained at the Dresden Kunst Academy on the subject. Father Dunstan saw Carle as a visionary. 

Linda Rogers and bill bissett, both famous Canadian poets, give stunning performances in their engagement with Carle’s art. David D. Hart, an art enthusiast, observes that Carle took all the different modern art movements of the twentieth century and made them his own.

His dynamic paintings include abstracts, urban scenes, landscapes of the deep BC wilderness, ethnic, mythological, and biblical scenes, as well as Future World images (see side bar menu). Learn more about Hessay's Biography by pressing the Menu icon on the left side of this page.

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Carle Hessay's artist's statement, or what effectively serves as such, was included in a letter to a friend who wanted his advice on her work: "I believe it's perfectly natural for a person to have a creative urge which cries out for expression. When I look at a painting or listen to a musical composition, I try to understand the reason why this was created in the first place. I like to look at paintings that are original, of the artist's own imagination, (and) if they're poetic and communicate ideas that are new and exciting, I enjoy them that much more."  (Courtesy of Kelly Garner)

His dynamic paintings include abstracts, urban scenes, landscapes of the deep BC wilderness, ethnic, mythological, and biblical scenes, as well as Future World images. For examples of these and for his biography, press the side bar menu items. 

This site will be updated on an ongoing basis to add more paintings and additional information.

Variations in dimensions between metric and imperial measurements may depend on whether the paintings were measured unframed or inside the frame. The sizes of the thumbnail images do not reflect the relative size of the paintings.

Please contact mhilmo@shaw.ca if you own a Hessay painting, have memories to share, or would like information on the paintings.