John Topelko


b. 1925

In 2014 John Topelko donated a sizeable number of his block prints to The Banff Centre in order to support their Artist's Fund. We are pleased to represent John's work, on behalf of The Banff Centre, knowing that a portion of sales will realize this generous artist's wish.

John Topelko was an avid outdoorsman, and enjoyed skiing, hiking, canoeing, sailing, and mountain climbing. Thus immersed in Canada's wilderness, he had ample time to absorb its beauty and to reflect on ways of expressing his appreciation. Whether with his block prints or his oil paintings, Topelko depicted wilderness landscapes with its birds, butterflies, and wildlife as well as the ways and means of being a part of the wildness. Therefore we also see pitched tents, camps and scenes of ‘shooting’ the rapids.

“In my works, I do not merely describe the visible world, I select, arrange and rearrange, and emphasize as I attempt to interpret the moods, the character and the spirit of the country.”

After his service in World War II on tribal class destroyer H.M.C.S. Haida, which saw much action and was part of the D-Day attacks on Normandy, John Topelko was offered a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts; unfortunately his finances did not allow him to attend. John was able to attend the Provincial Institute of Art & Technology, Calgary (1945-6) and the Ontario College of Art, Toronto (1949-50). While working at a the White Owl Café in Banff (now the Magpie & Stump), he met many members of the cultural community. It was there, in 1949, he was introduced to Jock MacDonald and A.Y. Jackson, who were teaching at the Banff School of Fine Arts.

His friendship with Jackson was renewed when both artists were back in Toronto and then Ottawa. Topelko and Jackson frequently shared Yonge Streetcar rides where they exchanged stories about the war (Jackson was an official war artist). Their friendship continued in Ottawa’s Capital Region, since Jackson later resided at Manotick, Ontario and John was long time art director at Ottawa’s Canterbury High School. John continues to reside in Ottawa.

John was an instructor in art for a great number of years, part of that activity included demonstrations on how accessible the printmaking world could be to almost anyone. Although he finished these works in his studio with an etching press, he began by cutting the wood panels (1/4 inch poplar plywood) with an X-acto Knife after initially drawing each particular image. Although aware of various specific tools for block printing, he chose to keep to these basic materials and tools. The block was hand inked and then put through his etching press.

He indicates that his formal training related more to painting, he enjoys the fact that his approach to printmaking was less formal, which allowed him to explore the processes rather than follow dictated rules. His printmaking output took place from the early 1970s until 2006; he had to stop working with the materials since his health, affected by contact with asbestos during WWII, could not handle the repeated bouts of pneumonia brought on by exposure to the printmaking inks.

He received a Canada Council Grant in 1974 and 1976 for explorations in printmaking and lectured on block print techniques at the Bytown Museum and the Billings Estate. From 1986 to 1997, John's paintings were featured in many solo exhibits in Toronto and Ottawa.

His paintings are in the collections of the Canada Council; Royal Commonwealth Society Headquarters Building, London, England; Speaker’s Chamber, House of Commons, Ottawa; University of Ottawa; Confederation Building, Parliament Hill, Ottawa; University of Toronto; National Art Gallery of the Ukraine, Kiev; Ford Motor Company of Canada; Valhalla Inn’s Collection; Lake Side Illahee Inn, Vernon, B.C.; and across Canada, England, the United States, Australia, Japan and the Ukraine.

There is a John Topelko Award for Print Media at Concordia University, Montreal.

Solo Exhibitions
Willock & Sax Gallery, Banff, 2015
Green Gables Gallery, Oakville, 1989, 1990
Rothwell Gallery, Ottawa, 1988
University of Toronto, 1987
City Hall, Ottawa, 1986, 1987
Ukranian Canadian Art Foundation, Toronto, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1994
Robertson's Gallery, Ottawa
National Capital Art Gallery, Ottawa
Masonic Temple, Ottawa, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997