Pictures of Patriotism

Charles Pachter's edgy perspective brings art and Canadian history together.

Written by Christopher Moore

Posted May 10, 2016

Charles Pachter’s home/studio/gallery in central Toronto is a sleek temple of sunlight and glass that he calls Moose Factory. Its walls are covered with his work. Images of redcoat soldiers and loyalist governors’ wives hang alongside portraits of moose and Macdonald and Margaret Atwood.

Pachter portrays hockey players, Newfoundland houses, and the Canadian butter tart. He put the Queen on a moose and called the image Monarchs of the North. In 1981, he depicted the Supreme Court judges in their red-and-white robes and named the result The Supremes.

“Several years later, when women became Supremes, I did a more inclusive version,” Pachter says.

Pachter’s War of 1812 series is displayed at Fort York in Toronto and his First World War series is at the Ontario legislature. His flag images and moose paintings seem to be everywhere. Where did this fusion of dramatic art and the classics themes of Canadian history come from?

When Pachter was a kid in Toronto during the Second World War, his Canadian-born Jewish parents moved to a predominantly Anglican north Toronto neighbourhood.

All around, the loyalist, royalist faith of old Toronto and old Ontario prevailed. He grew up surrounded by traditions that were bred deep into those known as the FOOFs — Fine Old Ontario Families — who still dominated his city and his country. That fascination with roots and loyalties stayed with him, even as he remained slightly outside it.

Following studies at the Sorbonne (French literature)in Paris, the University of Toronto (art history), and the Cranbrook Academy of Art (graphics and design) in Michigan, he launched himself as a popular and prolific artist in Toronto.

Documentary realism has never seemed a driving force in his historical painting. Pachter’s art has been intensely of our time: vivid colours, strong design, irreverent attitudes. But his subjects have come from the deep traditions of Canada, the ones he observed growing up.

For Pachter, making art and engaging with Canadian history have become inseparable.

In August of 2016, Pachter will take the imagery of Canada to the mother country. An exhibition of recent Pachter works and classic images will open in the Great Hall of the historic Charterhouse in London, England, before moving on to Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford University.

He takes pleasure in his success, not just at making a career in art, but in creating images that live in the imagination wherever people take an interest in the idea of Canada. For Pachter, Canadian history has been a route to both artistic inspiration and commercial success.

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