Blazing Figures: A Life of Robert Markle by J.A. Wainwright

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8vo. pp. xii, 298. colour & b/w illustrations. bibliography. index. cloth. dw. Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, [2010].

 

Robert Markle (1936–1990) was an infamous figure on the Canadian cultural scene for almost three decades. His paintings and drawings celebrating the female nude were deemed obscene by Ontario courts in 1965, and Markle defended them on national television, emphasizing what he considered a crucial distinction between eroticism and pornography. Although Markle was a Mohawk who employed Native symbolism in his later work, he refused to identify himself as a Native painter.

Blazing Figures chronicles Markle’s boyhood in Hamilton, Ontario, his early exposure to the worlds of burlesque and jazz, and, following his expulsion from the Ontario College of Art, his immersion in the Toronto world of painting and music. It recounts his emergence as a controversial expressionist painter of the figure and a beloved teacher of his craft. After his abandonment of urban life for small-town Ontario, Markle, in the last twenty years of his life, produced his greatest works and formed close friendships with his fellow painters and with public figures Patrick Watson and Gordon Lightfoot, both of whom were interviewed at length for this book. The book also takes a frank look at Markle’s complex relationship with his wife and muse that survived his affairs with other women.

The only full-length work written about Robert Markle’s life and career, Blazing Figures is based on Markle’s copious personal notes and numerous interviews with his family, friends, colleagues, and former students. This snapshot of Canadian cultural history will be of interest to scholars of art history, Aboriginal studies, and Canadian studies as well as the general reader.