J. Franklin Wright Gallery to host new exhibit by Bruce MacKinnon

HALIFAX: The work of a famed Halifax-based artist and editorial cartoonist will travel to Port Hawkesbury later this month.

The Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s J. Franklin Wright Art Gallery will host “Prime Suspects: Canada’s Prime Ministers in Caricature” by Bruce MacKinnon from November 26 until February 17.

The solo exhibit features depictions of all 23 Canadian Prime Ministers from John A. Macdonald, to Justin Trudeau. It was curated by David Diviney of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) and debuted in Halifax in 2017.

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“I had been thinking about doing caricatures of a full range of Prime Ministers as sort of a goal over my career,” said MacKinnon, who was born in Antigonish.

MacKinnon has been an editorial cartoonist since 1986. He has become known throughout Canada for his thought-provoking political cartoons and has received a number of accolades for his work, including an appointment to the Order of Canada in 2016.

He has depicted many of Canada’s most recent Prime Ministers in caricature, beginning with Brian Mulroney. When he was approached by the AGNS with a request to display some of his work as part of the museum’s Canada 150 celebrations, he decided to build on that work to create a complete set of caricatures for the exhibit.

“I did them on the weekends in my spare time and it was a fun project,” said MacKinnon. “There was a lot of research involved because I wanted to have some sort of concept for each one that spoke to the legacy of each Prime Minister.”

MacKinnon’s caricature of Canada’s first Prime Minister depicts John A. Macdonald stirring a drink with a railroad spike. The image reflects the role Macdonald played in establishing a transcontinental railway, but also hints at another aspect of the Prime Minister’s history.

“He had fairly substantial issues with alcoholism which almost derailed his career, and with it the birth of the nation at numerous times because he would simply disappear. Things would go off the rails, so to speak, fairly easily,” said MacKinnon. “It’s the good and the bad, I suppose, he was remembered for.”

In addition to learning more about Canadian history, MacKinnon said the project allowed him to explore his favourite parts of his craft.

“I’ve always enjoyed drawing faces. To me, a true caricature can look more like the subject you’re drawing than a photograph or a portrait,” MacKinnon said. “I really want the person to be recognizable first, but then I want to take that and stretch it so that… you have some fun looking at the exaggeration of the features that really make that person who they are.”

The caricatures are mostly pen and ink, and watercolour. It also includes some acrylic work. MacKinnon has written a series of brief notes to help explain the idea behind each image.

Following a well-received first showing in Halifax, the curator was approached by the Town of Port Hawkesbury to bring a second showing to the Strait area. The J. Franklin Wright Gallery will host an opening reception on November 25 at 2 p.m. and MacKinnon will be available to answer questions and discuss his work. More information can be found by contacting the Civic Centre box office.

“It’s fun. I think most people will come away with, if not something that they didn’t know before about the prime ministers, then at least a smile on their faces,” MacKinnon added.