Beautiful Books: On the Curve, The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews

August 2, 2019

In this visually rich collection, On the Curve (Caitlin Press),  Janet Nicol shares insight into the life of Canadian artist Sybil Andrews and her uplifting artwork. This beautiful book features linocut prints across the span of her career, as well as archival photographs that tell the story behind her work, which took inspiration from everyday life in Canada.

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From the book’s compact size to its layered text, On the Curve is in sync with the small, compressed linocut prints for which Sybil Andrews (1898-1992) is best known. The physical lightness of the book coupled with the cover illustration of the artist’s print Wings (1979)—depicting seagulls circling a blue-grey sky as farmers plough the sloping land—provides the reader with a sensation of flight. More uplifting artwork is anticipated inside the covers. 

Several of Andrews’ prints are indeed re-produced within the 220 pages, accompanying a narrative of the artist’s life journey from her childhood home in Suffolk to interwar London, followed by immigration to Campbell River on Vancouver Island in 1947. Also interspersed within the text are several archival photographs, some displaying the source of inspiration for the artist’s images.

Born in Bury St. Edmunds in 1898, Andrews came to London to study art as a young woman in the 1920s, discovering her favourite art form in Claude Flight’s printmaking class.  In the ensuing years, she created 87 coloured linocut prints, each showcasing her creative power, many now worth thousands of dollars.  Andrews’ joyful linocut Hyde Park (1931) depicts male and female figures wearing stylish black hats, strolling against an emerald green background. Speedway (1934) conveys the thrill of movement in its depiction of a trio of helmeted motorcyclists. In Racing (1934), Andrews captured horses turning into the Tattenham Corner at the Epsom Derby. (Images of these pieces can be viewed below).

Indian Dance (1951) was Andrews’ first Canadian print, showing a circle of Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) First Nation men adorned in red robes and eagle masks performing a ceremonial dance.  More frequently she captured images of working class men residing in Campbell River’s resource-based community, where she lived with her husband Walter Morgan in a cottage by the sea.  “They were so beautifully ‘Canada’  in those plaid shirts,” Andrews said of four male neighbours when she saw them through the window of  the Eske Bar near her home.  From the artist’s chance gaze came Coffee Bar, (1952). She also found inspiration visiting logging camps, portraying truck drivers, graders and other workers in her art.

 “When first I came to Canada, I thought, ‘No—it’s too desolate,’” Sybil later told a British journalist. “Then I got to identify with the foresters, the fishermen and the Indians. They’ve all featured in my linocuts— but so has Suffolk too.”  This book, in form and content, provides a testament to  Andrews’ perseverance as she pursued an artist’s life, transforming “every day” scenes into beautiful works of art.

 

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Hyde Park (1931)

A linocut by Sybil, among her many prints to depict life in London during the “long weekend” between two world wars. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum and Archives 993.121.110, as seen in On the Curve: The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews by Janet Nicol (Caitlin Press, 2019).

 

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Speedway (1934).

Sybil’s linocut of a trio of helmeted motorcyclists, conveys the thrill of movement.  Courtesy of Glenbow Museum and Archives, 993.121.095, as seen in On the Curve: The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews by Janet Nicol (Caitlin Press, 2019)

 

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Coffee Bar (1952)

A linocut by Sybil Andrews. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum and Archives, 993.121.048, as seen in On the Curve: The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews by Janet Nicol (Caitlin Press, 2019).

 

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Logging Team (1952)

Sybil’s linocut was exhibited at Canada House in London, England in 1982, part of a show entitled “Canadian Artists in Britain,” establishing her dual identity as a British-Canadian artist. Courtesy of Glenbow Museum and Archives, 993.121.050, as seen in On the Curve: The Life and Art of Sybil Andrews by Janet Nicol (Caitlin Press, 2019).

 

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A special thank you Monica at Caitlin Press and to Janet Nicol for sharing On the Curve with us, and more about the life and art of Sybil Andrews.


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