Colin Graham, who passed away earlier this year, was a central figure in the art history of Greater Victoria. Born in 1915 in Vancouver, Colin’s youthful interest in astronomy was followed by two years of pre-med studies at UBC. In 1935 an extended trip to Europe familiarized him with museums and galleries providing him with an opportunity to view original artwork there. Shortly after, Graham decided to read Medieval History at Cambridge and in 1939 obtained his BA. He continued his education at the University of California, Berkeley and obtained his MA in Art in 1949. Influential artists at this time included Margaret O’Hagen, Elmer Bischoff, Karl Knaths and Arshile Gorky. Following graduation he took a position as a lecturer at the California School of Fine Arts. His next position was as Educational Director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. He had kept in touch with Ina Uhthoff in Victoria and through correspondence with her he learned of the search for a Director for a proposed gallery in the recently donated Spencer mansion.
Graham’s subsequent career, commencing in 1951, as the founding director of what would become the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), gave him the opportunity to make connections with artists, collectors and visitors directly. Responsible for determining the direction and content of the gallery collections and exhibitions, Graham adroitly guided the fortunes of the gallery, becoming known as a “collector of collectors”, and a man with a discerning eye for the best in modernist art. He wanted the gallery to display for Victorians the vast variety of artwork available from both Eastern and Western traditions in art. Through generous donations and innovative exhibitions this was achieved. The Asian collection is considered especially outstanding, donors here including Isabel Pollard, a prominent donor of much in the Japanese collection.
Victoria as well as the entire country is fortunate to have had Colin Graham, with his knowledge, commitment, vision, and leadership.
A friend of many artists and a leader in the community, Graham’s dedication to his own artwork was sidelined while at the gallery – his duties there necessarily consuming much of his free time. His exposure to BC and Canadian artists was however, very influential in his later development as a painter. Forced by ill health to take early retirement in 1973, he was able to pick up the brush again, and produced hundreds of paintings. His chosen subject matter was to be the agrarian landscape, particularly the Saanich peninsula where he lived and for which he so clearly had great affection. From his home in Deep Cove, his deceptively simple paintings went to galleries in Vancouver and Victoria which eagerly took everything he could produce.
Graham believed in the value of local art and always supported those who challenged the status quo, especially, but not limited to, the youth. The Sidney Fine Art Show is proud to announce the ‘Colin Graham Award’ for Innovative Work in any medium, so named as a tribute to him. We are also grateful to Mark Dickinson – Van Isle Marina for sponsoring this award.