Gissing travelled the reach of Alberta to paint the province’s magnificent landscape, from the southern border with Montana, with its striking vistas of the Sweetgrass Hills, to the Peace River Country and along the eastern prairies. Although he is best known for his paintings of the foothills and mountains, which speak to majesty, awe and connectedness, his images of the other, no less dramatic locations, remind us of our roots in the land. Depending on the need, he would go by car, packhorse, or by foot to reach the locations that offered him the best vantage points.
The two paintings by Roland Gissing that have arrived in the gallery are from separate private collections and offer images of the disappearing short-grass prairie as well as early harvesting practices, all with the backdrop of the volcanic Sweetgrass Hills that dominate the southeastern border of Alberta and Montana, east of the Town of Milk River.
Roland Gissing’s distinctive colourful style speaks of Western Canada.
The clarity and colourful form in his paintings conveyed a direct and simple view of the land, sufficient to broaden and enrich the Canadian concept of heritage (Grant MacEwan, 1988).
Gissing was born in England, coming to Canada in 1913, working initially as a ranch hand after an unsuccessful try at homesteading near Innisfail, Alberta. He indicated that watching Westerns “kindled” his desire to come to Canada. He was hired as a cowhand at Calgary and rode the range for ten years in Alberta, Montana, Nebraska, and Arizona. He made sketches of ranch scenes, stampedes and life on the range, there are a number housed in the Glenbow Museum Permanent Collection, but did not work on larger paintings at this time. He returned to Alberta to try his luck at the Calgary Stampede and settled at the junction of the Ghost and Bow Rivers near Cochrane (west of Calgary) in 1923.
Gissing was largely self-taught, although he received art instruction in England. Throughout his travels he met and received encouragement for his drawings from a wide range of individuals, such as Charlie Russell (Montana) - the famous Western artist, Will James (Nevada), the cowboy writer of western stories, and C.W. Jefferys (a prominent early Canadian artist who was visiting the Mortimer Ranch in Alberta). In addition Gissing took art instruction from A.C. Leighton (early Director and Instructor at the Provincial Institute of Art & Technology, Calgary).
In 1929 Gissing held his first one man show at Booth’s Art Shop in Calgary; it was successful and encouraged Gissing to open a studio in Calgary. He continued to work as an artist in Calgary until 1931. It was a busy time and included the decoration of the Hudson’s Bay Cafeteria and the Club Café. The Depression necessitated him moving the studio back to Ghost River, but it did not daunt his painting activity.
In 1930 he was an Associate Member of the Alberta Society of Artists and a Full Member by 1947. He was also a member of the Calgary Sketch Club.
Collections: Windsor Castle; Art Gallery of Alberta; University of Alberta; Vancouver Art Gallery; Glenbow Museum to name a few.
Ainslie, Patricia & Mary-Beth Laviolette. Alberta Art and Artists. Calgary: Fifth House Ltd., 2007, p.124.
Armstrong, Christopher and H.V. Nelles. The Painted Valley, Artists Along Alberta’s Bow River, 1845-2000, p. 58-9.
Foran, Max. Roland Gissing: The People’s Painter. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1988.
MacDonald, Colin B. Dictionary of Canadian Artists Volume 2. Ottawa: Canadian Paperbacks, 1977, p. 278-9.