Today we are honouring Professor Emeritus Ivan Eyre, a distinguished alumnus, a Professor of painting and drawing at the University of Manitoba for thirty-three years until his retirement in 1993 and a man remembered by generations of students as an inspiring artist and teacher.
Born in Tullymet, Saskatchewan, Professor Eyre came at age eighteen, the same age many of you were when you entered the University of Manitoba, to study at the School of Art. That was nearly fifty-five years ago. He brought with him from Saskatchewan vivid memories of the sounds, the smells, the colour and form of the prairie landscape. Listen to Ivan's boyhood recollection of a walk into town with his father.
That powdery black dirt road, so hot on the feet, was often full of cracks or covered with small, flat mud-cakes. Along the road, the air was full of the sweet smell of tall clover growing in the ditch. It was the road that my father took to town to get groceries or supplies of milk from a nearby farm. When I accompanied him I ran to keep up with his brisk walk.
Indeed when one looks at the work of Ivan Eyre one must be prepared for just such a brisk, richly detailed walk. Every painting or drawing takes the viewer on a kind of journey. Yet the fields, forests, mountains and skies, there are always skies, are not landscape we have seen but mindscapes he has created. Perhaps it is the universality of these images that allows us to take the journey of our choosing and to see in his imagery what we need to see.
I first encountered Ivan, or more accurately his work, while traveling in Germany in 1973. I had stopped in Frankfurt for two days to check out the gallery scene. I remember walking into the Hanna Bekker Vom Rath art gallery, and being mesmerized by a painting called Equinox by a young painter named Ivan Eyre. I assumed he was German. I hadn't seen much Canadian art and I was shocked to find he was a fellow Canadian. Three years later I was surprised and delighted to find that he was one of my new colleagues here at the University of Manitoba.
Professor Eyre has been an artist in this community for over fifty years. For most of that time he has lived and worked less than three miles from this very spot. Husband of Brenda and father of Kevin and Tyrone, Ivan Eyre is recognized as one of the most important and prolific Canadian artists of the twentieth century. His work has been exhibited internationally in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, Spain, London, Edinburgh, Frankfurt and New York and in many private as well as all of the major and most of the small public galleries across Canada. In addition to sixty-seven solo and one hundred and twenty-eight group exhibitions his works reside permanently in many public, corporate and private collections here and abroad. His1988 exhibition, Ivan Eyre Personal Mythologies: Images of the Milieu, was the first exhibition of work by a living Canadian painter and an inaugural exhibition, for the new National Gallery of Canada. His work has been the subject of films, books, critical articles and scholarly study. The entire second floor of the Pavilion Gallery in Assiniboine Park is dedicated to the permanent exhibition of his art. Among his many honours are both the Silver and Gold Queen’s Jubilee medals, membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, the University of Manitoba Alumni Jubilee Award, the Order of Manitoba and his 1994 appointment as Professor Emeritus at this university.
Ivan Eyre continues to produce important, critically acclaimed work in his studio in St. Norbert. It is for the uniqueness and clarity of his artistic vision and his long and distinguished service to the University of Manitoba School of Art, that he is deserving of this University's highest honour. Mr. Chancellor it is my honour and my privilege to ask in the name of the Senate of the University of Manitoba that you confer upon Professor Emeritus Ivan Eyre the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, not only for his remarkable lifetime achievement but also for sharing with all Canadians the boundless landscape of his imagination.
-citation delivered by mentor, Professor Gordon Reeve, School of Art