Remarks for the Climenhage Opening, November 26, 2021

by Bruce Whiteman

My remit tonight is to be brief and to the point. I am to introduce John Climenhage. Introducers always like to say that so-and-so needs no introduction, and that is definitely true of John, here, on this occasion, with a room full mostly of friends and well-wishers, at least some of whom already have one of his paintings hanging in their homes. Personally I have two and aspire to more. But let me say just a few words for those who may be new to the Climenhage universe and will welcome a short Wikipedia-like summation of a brilliant career.

John is from some other southern Ontario town and studied mostly in some other Canadian province, but his reputation has been established and has grown primarily from his base in Peterborough, where he and his wife, Claire, and their children, have lived since the end of the last millennium. Of course artists do not live in just one place or one time: they live in Antiquity and in Renaissance Florence and in 19th -century France, in the New York of the 1940s and 1950s, and so on. But they do have to have a house and a studio somewhere, and John’s is in this city that we share. John studied mostly with the Victoria painter Jim Gordoneer, from whom he learned not only technique but also the passion of painting. John also reads. A lot. He reads philosophy, history, poetry, fiction, and much else besides. He is most definitely not among that bunch of artists whom Marcel Duchamp once derided by saying “Dumb as a painter.” His reading gets into his pictures, but not in a way to distract you. Because his pictures are very painterly, and very poetic—two words that I poo-pooed in the essay I wrote to celebrate this retrospective, but that feel irresistible in describing a Climenhage painting.

Pretty well all of the nine muses chatter into John’s ear when he paints: music, history, poetry, even dance, maybe, even astronomy, maybe. But like all good and great artists he listens, but mostly just paints. That’s what he loves to do. Recently that love has been spent on very local subjects—over seventy-five small paintings of Peterborough places, many of which you can see here tonight, executed during the pandemic. He illuminates what he sees and shows us what he knows, at a certain time, and definitely in a certain place, but so as to render Peterborough as important as Florence or Paris or New York. Florence, when Michelangelo moved there in 1499 and where he sculpted David five years later, had a population of 60,000 people. Think about that.

As Justin has already mentioned, there are some 300 paintings in this show. John, as I said, loves to paint. This is a mid-career exhibition. There will be plenty more paintings to come, and we can be grateful to him for that. Please join me in giving him a warm round of applause, wherever he is.