William Featherston

Biography

I was born in Toronto in 1927.

I grew up in the depression. Although we were poor, so were our neighbours. No phone, no car, but we were lucky, my dad had a job.

After public school I was sent to Danforth Tech. Because of my station (and attitude) the academic high school was out of the question. I finally left school in grade 10.

In 1939 all 9 of my uncles went off to war and so, at last, were actually employed.

I joined the reserve army in 1941 along with my dad and others who had not gone to war. I was 13. In my 16th year, I forged a birth certificate and joined the navy. I served in the Atlantic and Pacific and came home in 1946- an uneducated 19 yr. old.

Upon discharge, I went to work in a rubber factory. Fortunately I got fired. I went on to work at various jobs, on ships, in the bush, even enlisting in the American air force, (where I was eventually interned in the Austin city jail for several months for enlisting under false pretenses.)

Veterans’ Affairs offered to send me to school where I got my grade 13 in 6 months. Because I was being paid, I continued, eventually getting my teaching certificate. While teaching at a reform school I attended University of Western Ontario and obtained a B.A. through night and summer courses.  The reform school experience jerked by social conscience and sparked my interest in literature and philosophy. I began to see the futility of my existence. After a stint at the Ontario College of Art, I met a fellow traveler, a remarkable teacher from Liverpool, John Jones. He introduced me to Marx and Keats, Shelley and Trotsky, and started me down the path of social justice. After my five year stint as a high school teacher and a lot of study at the public library and the U. of  T. John convinced me to go to England.

I left Canada in 1958 to teach in Ireland. I followed up with a trip to England which lasted for 12 years. I had shown in Canada (two solo exhibitions with Jack Pollack in Toronto) but England was the real beginning of my art career. I settled in St. Ives, Cornwall and was soon immersed in a fabulous art community. I associated with artists working at that time: Francis Bacon, Patrick Heron, Barbara Hepworth, poets and playwrights: W.S. Graham, John Antrobus…. among many others.

I began a sculpture career showing in St. Ives, Penzance and eventually London, Edinburgh and the continent. My work was fundamentally abstract but contained references to architecture and hints of configuration.

I was part of the ‘peace’ movement and marched with the C.N.D. and other antiwar groups. I was very active in Wales and worked with some Trotskyite groups.

I showed extensively in London and took part in the Edinburgh Festival for 8 consecutive years along with artists like Beuys, Vostel and at the famous Destruction in Art Symposium in Edinburgh and London.

British art schools were very left wing in the 1960’s. It was an exciting time. I taught in several schools in Britain, ending up at Cardiff during my last last five years abroad.  Except for creating a large piece for the plaza at Toronto City Hall in 1967, I had not been back to Canada. I finally returned in 1971.

Upon my return I found the university art departments and art schools void of political dissertation. After a 2 year vacuum at Uvic. I went and taught at California State at Hayward. Many of my English colleagues had secured tenured jobs in the U.S.A. and Canada…populating the rapidly expanding fine arts departments in universities across America.  I visited many of these schools doing gigs here and there. I finally left and returned, disillusioned, to Canada.

I again settled in B.C. where I taught for ten long years at the Vancouver School of Art. I exhibited regularly at Gallery Allen and the Frans Wynan Gallery. I also had a major retrospective at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

I spent the next several years distanced from the local art scene, painting and traveling, doing consulting work and visiting many artists and friends throughout Europe and America.  I worked steadily, developing subjects which consumed my interest. My work already depended a lot on art history (artists I knew and/or respected). It eventually evolved into political satire, resulting in my latest ‘War’ series.  Although I am still romanced by the pure elements of colour and texture, I am more consumed by the ongoing conflict propagated by imperialist and/or corporate forces. Consequently many of my paintings directly address the issues torture and social / political injustice. There are definite good and bad forces at work.