Hugh Mackenzie | The Figure: Seen and Unseen

Hugh Mackenzie | The Figure: Seen and Unseen
March 3-17, 2022
340 Dundas Street West, Toronto

This March, Bau-Xi Gallery honours distinguished Canadian artist Hugh Mackenzie (1928-2021) in "The Figure: Seen and Unseen", the first exhibition since the artist’s passing which celebrates his illustrious career and impactful contributions to Canadian art.

Upon visiting Hugh's residence after his passing, it was as imagined: paint sketches pinned to the walls, framed works resting thoughtfully along the windowsill, and folios of works on paper at his desk. Hugh was always surrounded by his creations: evidence of how the artist and educator thought deeply about his work in an endlessly pragmatic, yet romantic, way. Examining his folio for the exhibition further highlighted his dedication to revisiting, reflecting, and continuously distilling his chosen subject matter over his decades long career.

When imparting these ideals to his students at the Ontario College of Art (now known as OCAD U) Hugh is remembered for his uncompromising authenticity: “You are searching out your vision which you will discover in the marriage of the figurative and the abstract. So, you need to work with both. That's why the short work is necessary. I am asking you to do the impossible. At the rational level, it is impossible but not if you work from the heart. Only the heart permits you to reconcile the irreconcilable."

The Figure: Seen and Unseen examines Mackenzie’s signature techniques and familiar balance of figurative and abstract compositions. An ode to his legacy, family, and his impact on countless colleagues, students and contemporaries, the show celebrates the brilliance and discipline of the artist’s impeccable craft. We are honoured to celebrate Hugh’s legacy and impression on Canadian art.

Hugh will be greatly missed and remembered fondly by those at Bau-Xi. We will cherish the memories of Hugh stopping in to say “Hello” when he was in the neighbourhood. In 2019, during one of Hugh’s regular check-ins, he asked us about a specific piece, and if we still happened to have it at the gallery. When we brought the piece to him, Hugh gently took it into his hands, looking at it inquisitively, focused eyes examining the surface of the board. After a few pensive minutes, he asked softly, “Would you mind if I took it home with me? I’ve been thinking about this one for a while and I don’t feel that it’s quite done”.


Born in Toronto and raised in London, Ontario, Hugh Mackenzie studied at the Ontario College of Art (now known as OCAD U) from 1947 to 1950. He continued his studies at Mount Allison University under the teaching of Alex Colville and would meet Dorothy (Dot) Johnson who would become his wife and mother of their children: Charles, Mary, and Patrick. Mackenzie was a well-known Canadian painter, draftsperson, printmaker, and educator for many years. He began his career as a technical artist (working on the Avro Arrow) and spent his professional career as an art educator (working at Ontario College of Art from 1968 until 1991). Mackenzie began as a high realist painter before turning more to abstraction. He pivoted between the figure and industrial landscape, from the representational to almost pure abstraction, and from painting to his other great passion, etching.”

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