Moving through darkness into the clearing

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is pleased to present Moving through darkness into the clearing, an exhibition of historical paintings from the gallery’s permanent collection shown alongside contemporary works by Greg Staats.

Moving through darkness into the clearing

January 19, 2019 – April 7, 2019
Reception: Friday, February 8, 2019, 7-10 PM
Curated by Anik Glaude

In F.H. Varley’s Gothic Arches at Doon, c.1948-49, slender tree trunks form a fence-like barrier between the brown earth of the forest floor and the blue of the sky beyond. The light piercing through the tightly wound branches is diffused, creating an effect not unlike that of a stained glass window. A figure, its form delineated only by a few soft pencil lines, appears to stand before us within this forested landscape. The figure’s identity, and the reason why the artist has left it unfinished, are unknown. Yet, its presence – no matter how ghostly – remains the only vestige of its movement across the land. This new acquisition is the inspiration behind Moving through darkness into the clearing, an exhibition exploring the ways in which artists return to the land in search of subject matter and how these repetitive actions are informed by their understanding of place and identity.

Trees are a common subject and motif in works by the Group of Seven. While individual species are often indistinguishable, many deciduous and coniferous varieties populate the temperate and boreal forests the Group painted. Landscape paintings by A. J. Casson, F.H. Johnston, Arthur Lismer, Franklin Carmichael and F.H. Varley, are united here to consider the different ways in which trees are depicted in painted form; from thickets, groves, and copses to representations of solitary trees, handled at times more like portraits than landscapes.

The Group of Seven’s quest to create a decidedly Canadian genre of landscape painting in the early twentieth century is well established within the art historical canon of this country. Equally recognised are contemporary dialogues surrounding what and whom their endeavour left out/obscured. This ongoing and necessary debate does not negate the enduring association of the Group of Seven with the depiction of the Canadian landscape, or the Group’s place within the public’s imagination of the landscape genre. Instead, it provides the opportunity to explore contemporary concerns and propose different entry points into the worlds on view.

Moving from the darkness of the forest
into the clearing where the light illuminates breath
and one’s footing becomes clearer.
—Greg Staats, 2018

The inclusion of photographic works by Greg Staats, Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), both complements and challenges the Group of Seven’s work on display. Staats’s works combine language, mnemonics and the natural world as an ongoing process of conceptualising a Haudenosaunee restorative aesthetic that defines the multiplicity of relationships with trauma and renewal. As Richard W. Hill Sr. explains, “The tree is our [Haudenosaunee] symbol of hope. Trees capture the memory of the land and help define the cultural landscape”.1 The significance of the various natural landscapes found within Staats’s work is complex. As Hill points out, in some of Staats’s works, “Trees served as both sentinels and places of safety”.2 In others, they are symbolic of the artist’s own uprootedness into the urban context.

1. Richard W. Hill, Sr., “The Restorative Aesthetic of Greg Staats,” Greg Staats Liminal Disturbance (Hamilton: McMaster University Museum of Art, 2011), p. 14; 2. Ibid p. 10

About the artist

Born in Ohsweken, Ontario and now living in Toronto, Greg Staats is Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Staats has received the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography and his work has been exhibited throughout North America. He has also served as faculty for two Aboriginal visual arts Thematic Residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The Artist wishes to acknowledge the generous financial support of The Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario and the Canada Council for the Arts/Conseil des arts du Canada.

Associated public programs

Winter 2019 Exhibitions Opening
Feb. 8 | 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. | Free
An evening to celebrate the opening of our winter exhibitions with remarks and light refreshments. RSVP today at

Lunch and Learn: Greg Staats
Feb. 20 | 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. | Free for Members, Non-members $5 at the door
Every third Wednesday of the month, the gallery presents Lunch & Learn. These informal artist talks provide our community members with the opportunity to learn about current and future exhibitions, as well as hear about on-going curatorial research happening at the gallery. Register at

Mon. | Closed,
Tue., Wed., Fri., Sun. | 11 AM – 4 PM
Thurs. | 11 AM – 8 PM
Sat. | 10 AM – 5 PM


About the Varley Art Gallery of Markham
The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is a municipal gallery with a vision to be a cultural hub in the City of Markham. We inspire local and national audiences to engage with art, both historical and contemporary, by presenting high quality and well-researched exhibitions as well as educational and artistic programs that are relevant to the communities we serve. We produce and circulate exhibitions that support the work of contemporary artists. Specifically, we support artists from York Region and seek to broaden access to the arts for diverse artists and communities.

The Varley Art Gallery of Markham is an accessible venue.

Media Contact
Niamh O’Laoghaire | 905-477-7000 ext. 3273 |
@VarleyArtGallery | |
216 Main Street Unionville, Markham L3R 2H1 | 905-477-7000 ext. 3261

Image credits: [1] F.H. Varley, Gothic Arches at Doon, c.1948-49, watercolour and charcoal on paper, 22.5 x 27.4 cm. Collection of the Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Gift of Heather McCallum. 2018.01 [2] Greg Staats, came through once more, 2016, Inkjet print on Canson paper, mounted on dibond, edition 1 of 3, image size: 30.5 x 45 inches, Collection of the Artist