Arnaud Maggs, 1926 to 2012

From the Susan Hobbs Gallery:

Arnaud Maggs, a Montreal-born, Toronto-based artist who produced distinctive portraits of people and objects arranged within intimate and exacting systems of classification and identification, passed away in Toronto on November 17. He was 86.

Arnaud adopted a characteristic style of photographing his subjects, often isolating a single item in each frame and then grouping the images together in grids. For almost four decades, his works presented visual taxonomies in which subtle differences and striking similarities could be observed and appreciated.

Arnaud began his career as an artist in the mid-1970s at the age of 47. After earning success as a graphic designer and as a commercial and fashion photographer in New York and Toronto, his early artistic work explored photographic portraiture as a means to catalogue the unique geometry of the human face. Works in this mode include Joseph Beuys, 100 Profile Views and Joseph Beuys, 100 Frontal Views, both shot in 1980 at Beuys’ studio in Düsseldorf. Other portraits include Yousuf Karsh, Northrup Frye, André Kertész, students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and numerous members of the Toronto arts community.

For the past 19 years, Arnaud created work from found documents, such as records of child labour in textile mills, French mourning stationery, Eugéne Atget’s address book and 19th century invoices documenting purchases of a couple living in Lyon. In addition to capturing traces of everyday life through ephemeral objects, these photographs introduced a shift for the artist from using black-and-white photography to working in colour – a subtle understated use of the medium. As with Arnaud’s earlier work, the gridded presentation and his concern for classification and taxonomy persisted. Even with the absence of a human subject, these works create a poignant portrait of life’s traces.

With the presentation of After Nadar in March 2012, the artist made a radical departure from his object-based work and returned to human portraiture. Wearing full theatrical costume and make-up, Arnaud staged a series of self-portraits that referenced the rich history of French pantomime as captured by the Parisian photographer Nadar in his 1855 Pierrot series.

Arnaud Maggs’s work has been featured in numerous international and national exhibitions and publications. In 2006, he received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. The National Gallery of Canada recently mounted a survey exhibition of the artist’s work titled Identification. Earlier in 2012, he was the recipient of the Scotiabank Photography Award. An exhibition at Ryerson Image Centre and a monograph published by Steidl will launch in May 2013.

Surviving him are his wife, artist Spring Hurlbut; two sons, Lorenzo and Toby and daughter, Caitlan; their mother Margaret Frew; nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren; his sister Heather Cook and brother Derek Maggs and numerous nieces and nephews.


4 Responses to “Arnaud Maggs, 1926 to 2012”

  1. A great talent.

  2. When in Paris Arnaud would send me little ‘treasures’ of lettering and type that he found in the flea market. They are still in their envelopes that bore his delightfully idiosyncratic lettering. I treasure the envelopes as much as the contents.

  3. Come on AA, profile his career as a graphic designer, for goodness sake!
    Here’s a start:

  4. I saw his show at the National Gallery this summer and was blown away! So good, everything he did. He will be missed. :(

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