In most of the writing which has dealt with the role that reproductions have played in the history of Canadian art, it has been assumed that the Sampson-Matthews Ltd. silkscreen project was largely responsible for shaping our notion of Canadian painting and establishing the Group of Seven and landscape painting as the sine qua non of Canadian art. The silkscreen project was conceived by A.Y. Jackson and undertaken in co-operation with the National Gallery of Canada during the Second World War. Presented at a meeting of the Canadian Group of Painters, it was initially discussed as a project of the Group. However, given the scale and work involved in soliciting artists to contribute .their work and finding corporate sponsors for that work, the administration was essentially left to Sampson-Matthews. The project received both the Department of National Defence's endorsement—the work was intended to raise the morale of Canadian troops—and that of the National Gallery of Canada. The Gallery's role was very carefully defined. It would provide some works in its collection for reproduction and would sponsor the adaptation of the works by living artists. The Gallery established a selection committee which, at least nominally, was responsible for approving submissions.
A decade ago—in the year Alex Colville's retrospective exhibition opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario before travelling to other sites in Canada and Europe—Robert Fulford described the artist's works as "icons of Canadianism, the visual expression of our spirit." A decade before that, one German critic claimed that the Nova Scotia artist might be "the most prominent, indeed the most important realist painter in the Western world."
Times are still very good for Colville. At age 74 he is perhaps the best-known and most popular of living Canadian artists. He is an Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada, a Member of the Privy Council of Canada, a recently retired member of the National Gallery's Board of Trustees, the recipient of several honorary degrees, and the subject of major monographs by Helen Dow (1972) and David Burnett (1983). His paintings and serigraphs seem ubiquitous, adorning everything from a Bruce Cockburn record jacket to the cover of David Burnett and Marilyn Schiff's Contemporary Canadian Art (1983).
Michael Snow and his work have been called many things over the years—not all of them favourable—but there is no denying that he is the most voracious, prolific and restless artist that Canada has produced this century. As a sculptor he is responsible for some of Canada's most influential and widely-known works, including The Audience (1989) which shouts at, applauds and otherwise confronts all those entering Skydome; and Flightstop (1979) which lumbers through the rather stale air of Toronto's Eaton Centre. As a filmmaker, he has produced work that in 1971 provoked British film critics and historians to call him one of the world's ten greatest film directors (along with, among others, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard and Orson Welles). As a musician he has been a part of, at last count, twenty-one commercially produced recordings, many with his legendary band CCMC (Canadian Creative Music Collective). And as a painter and producer of photo-works, he has created among the most memorable and defining images of contemporary Canadian art, including his ubiquitous and endlessly mutable Walking Woman.