In 1919 Macdonald entered the Edinburgh College of Art and decided to major in design.
Photograph of Jock Macdonald: Peter Croydon, 1957.
Jock and Barbara Macdonald, date and photographer unknown.
Graduation ceremony at the British Columbia College of Arts, circa 1934-1935, photograph by John Vanderpant. Jock Macdonald stands at the far left; F.H. Varley sits second from the right.
Lawren Harris, Jock Macdonald, and A.Y. Jackson at Nan Cheney’s house, North Shore, Vancouver, 1944, photographer unknown.
22 Redington Road, London, United Kingdom
Jock Macdonald and Dr. Grace W. Pailthorpe, August 1949.
Hans Hofmann and Jock Macdonald, Provincetown, circa 1949, photograph by Barbara Macdonald.
Painters Eleven in 1957, photograph by Peter Croydon. From left: Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Harold Town, Kazuo Nakamura, Jock Macdonald, Walter Yarwood, Hortense Gordon, Jack Bush, and Ray Mead. Missing from the photo are Oscar Cahén, who died in 1956 but is represented by the two front-facing paintings, and William Ronald, whose absence is marked by the three paintings that face the wall.
Portrait of Jock Macdonald, date and photographer unknown.
After graduating from high school, Jock Macdonald decided to follow his father’s career path as an architect and began apprenticing as a draftsman in Edinburgh. The First World War intervened and Macdonald enlisted, serving as a Lewis gunner in the Fourteenth Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He was wounded in France and spent a year convalescing in hospital before he was posted to Ireland.
In 1919 Macdonald entered the Edinburgh College of Art and decided to major in design. There he followed the traditional art-school curriculum of drawing from plaster casts, life drawing, painting, sculpture, design, and architecture. He particularly enjoyed field trips to London, where he drew objects in the Victoria and Albert Museum with the other students and visited art galleries on his own. Macdonald also registered in the national teacher-training program. In 1922, he graduated with a diploma in design from the Edinburgh College of Art and an art specialist’s teaching certificate from the Scottish Education Authority.
Jock Macdonald did freelance design work for the Edinburgh office of Morton Sundour Fabrics during his education. On graduation, he was appointed staff designer at Morton Sundour’s head office in Carlisle, England, where he created designs for every type of fabric - textiles, tapestries, and carpets. Macdonald remained at the firm for more than three years and became director of the handloom rug-weaving department.
In 1925 Macdonald left Morton Sundour to become head of design at the Lincoln School of Art in England. A year later, he successfully applied for the position of head of design at the recently established Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design). He arrived in Vancouver in September 1926 to join the faculty at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (VSDAA). There, he met Frederick Varley, who inspired him to start painting in oils on weekend trips to the nearby mountains. Thus, for the rest of his life Macdonald taught as well as painted.
Although Macdonald was very busy with his teaching and administrative duties at the school, he also found time to do some design work. He created one of his first West Coast landscapes, the Art Deco "Burnaby Lake", circa 1929, for a poster competition sponsored by the B.C. Electric Company.
In 1933, Varley and Macdonald left the VSDAA and founded the British Columbia College of Arts. When the school went bankrupt after only two years, Macdonald moved to isolated Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, where he found great inspiration in the natural landscape and native culture. By the mid-1930s, he was already painting his first semi-abstract works, which he later called modalities, and sought a spiritual and symbolic interpretation of nature. Ill health forced him back to Vancouver in 1936, and he took up teaching again.
In 1940, Lawren Harris moved to Vancouver and soon introduced Macdonald to the writings of Kandinsky; the two painted together in the Rockies the following summer.
Besides, Macdonald exhibited his work widely both nationally and internationally, and held his first solo show in 1941 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Jock Macdonald moved briefly to Calgary in 1946, to take a position at the Provincial Institute of Technology, but went on the following year to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, where he spent the remainder of his career. He studied with Hans Hofmann during the summers of 1948 and 1949, and in 1953 helped form Painters Eleven. The following year, he went to France on a fellowship and spent several months painting in Vence. There, he met the French painter Jean Dubuffet, who encouraged him to focus his experiments on technique.
Macdonald died on December 3, 1960 in Toronto, Canada. He was then at the height of his expressive powers.
Quotations: "Art now reaches the place where it becomes the expression of ideals and spiritual aspirations. The artist no longer strives to imitate the exact appearance of nature but, rather, to express the spirit therein."
Jock Macdonald was a founding member of both the Canadian Group of Painters and Painters Eleven (from 1954 to 1960), Toronto's first abstract art society whose goal was to promote abstract art in Canada. He was also a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists and was instrumental in founding The Calgary Group.
Quotes from others about the person
“Joyce Zemans: "Jock Macdonald’s career as an artist took him from design and illustration to landscape painting and, from the early 1930s onward, to a lifelong search for expression through abstraction. At the base of that search was his belief that design and art - even abstract art - must be rooted in the natural world."
Robert Fulford: " Macdonald was the best young abstract or non-objective painter in Canada, even though 61 years old.””
In 1922, Macdonald married Barbara Niece, a fellow student who had majored in painting. Although she never pursued a professional career, she became his best critic and strongest supporter.