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Guest Curator: Tom Smart

An exhibition of work by social realist painter Robert Pope (1956-1992). Best known for his collection of paintings that explore his experience of healthcare and healing as a cancer patient, this exhibition highlights the generous gift of works made by the Robert Pope Foundation to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 2008. On the 20th anniversary of his death, this deeply moving exhibition celebrates the artist and his belief in the power of art as preventive medicine that generates hope, healing and inspiration.

Robert Pope was a Halifax based artist, who despite his tragically early death in 1992 at the age of thirty-five, left a lasting and deeply affecting artistic legacy, one that continues to resonate in many different ways. Pope graduated from Acadia University with a degree in mathematics and physics and went on to study art at NSCAD University in the fall of 1978.

Attending NSCAD University challenged Pope to define his artistic aims conceptually, rather than solely in technical terms. Pope flourished in a way that took advantage of his innate ability to articulate in words and images what he wished to express through his drawing and painting. Pope preferred naturalism as an expressive mode and paint on canvas as his material. When he looked for appropriate conventions to structure his message he found his sources in literature; in particular, the prose poem and the episodic narrative. The uncanny, atmospheric environments of imagistic Surrealism offered him a model of a pictorial theatre, and, from his earliest paintings, it was also clear that he found a deeply personal resonance in the theme of loss.

Pope’s cancer diagnosis in 1982 caused him to recalibrate his artistic project in order to reflect on the very personal circumstances and anxieties he was facing as a result of his diagnosis and the subsequent treatments he underwent. His cancer series movingly portrays his experiences as a cancer patient and gives a voice and visual form to the experiences of suffering fellow patients. Pope explored the psychology of cancer and challenged perceptions of illness and health. He used the power of art and myth to synthesize the many complements, paradoxes and contrasts that we face day to day. Metamorphosis, the force for creative change, leads us to insights, new meanings and the healing of wounds.

“Art is powerful preventative medicine,” Pope wrote, “Looking at a picture is like walking through an endless series of doors, with each succeeding door leading us deeper and deeper into a richer experience. This journey stimulates our minds, our emotions, our souls. It makes us more fully alive. Ultimately, the aesthetic experience heals us and make us whole.”



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