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Who Were Ken Phillips and Marie Cecilia Guard?


It has been easy to be a classical artist. Today it is immensely difficult. And immensely necessary. John Berger, Permanent Red

By 1936, my parents, Ken Phillips and Marie Cecilia Guard, had every reason to look forward to a brilliant future. Although they were only twenty-eight, they were exhibiting regularly in the prestigious O.S.A. (Ontario Society of Artists) and R.C.A. (Royal Canadian Academy) shows. Indeed, Marie’s powerful, full-length female nudes had been given pride-of-place in these shows. One of her paintings had traveled across Canada, and one of Ken’s wood engravings had been acquired by the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario)]. Very much in love with each other and with art, they were at the beginning of a lifelong adventure together, a quest to convey in pictures the spirit which lay deep within all things.

Guard and Phillips were fortunate to have studied with distinguished teachers Arthur Lismer, J.E.H. MacDonald, Emanuel Hahn and J.W. Beatty and to have lived their youth in the atmosphere of a flourishing, glamorous Toronto. The young artists’ pictures reflect the radiant sense of possibility and promise which was typical of the best of those times.

Unfortunately, many factors forced my parents to a painful choice. As they were for most Canadian artists, the thirties and forties were a challenging period, fraught with financial disappointment and rapid change in public taste. The war isolated them from mentors and associates; a disinclination and inability to play political games increasingly distanced them from success. Poor health and the lack of money eroded the time they could devote to their lifework. By the fifties, Guard and Phillips felt forced to choose to give up marketing their art in order to have the time to go on creating it. Over six decades their works evolved, but in later years, with a few significant exceptions, their art was largely unseen.

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