Julie Druker | Oct 14, 2015

Widely known for his aviation art, 84-year-old Canadian artist Don Connolly demonstrates that he is an artist who has covered a wide range of styles and subject matter during his close to four-decade-long career as a professional painter.

Connolly, who has been drawing and painting since he can remember, served as a navigator in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s during the Korean Air Lift and later became a squadron leader in the Defense Research Board before resigning from the RCAF in 1966.

Following a second career as a partner in a bookstore/picture framing chain in Ottawa, Don then chose the life of a freelance artist and quickly began to focus on aviation art, a subject close to his heart and mind. These works, totaling over 2000 in his long and illustrious career, have made up 50% of his output; one hundred of them are currently included in museum collections throughout Canada and the United States. Many are also front and center at the Grace Centre show in Sydenham.

One such work titled “Flight: Dream, Myth and Realization” demonstrates Don's fascination with the history of aviation. It is a collage of images highlighting numerous early attempts at aviation through the ages, beginning with the myth of Icarus and his waxed and feathered wings and including a depiction of the Montgolfier brothers' hot air balloon as well as Sir George Cayley's and Clement Ader's early flying machines.

Other works focus on more modern aircraft, which Don paints in highly realistic detail. One work depicts two Sea Furies of the Royal Canadian Navy, and a second a Norseman flying over the Hood River in Canada's Northwest Territories. Another large work, more autobiographical in nature, shows Connolly as a young man visiting what was then the earliest version of the National Canadian Aviation Museum in Rockcliffe, Ontario. He is shown with his in-laws and Don painted himself looking out at the viewer, camera in hand as the family inspects a Junkers bush plane on display.

Not surprisingly, Connolly has always had a fascination with space travel and the most recent work in the show titled “International Space Station - Approaching Toronto” is a precise depiction of the space station while in orbit on a south-easterly course approaching Toronto.

While aviation art is what Connolly is most celebrated for, his curious mind and hands have led him to explore other styles, many of which are included in this show. As an experienced wood worker who has tackled both home and boat building, plywood became the chosen material for some of his more abstract works. These works, often created from carved and painted plywood, demonstrate Don's interest in abstract ideas, but also show his practical need to make work that would appeal to a wider range of art buyers, especially those less interested in the art of aviation. The results are works like “Abstract in Blue and White”, a work that deals more with formal design concerns and ideas. These works show an artist who has a knack for creating eye-pleasing abstractions where colour and shape taken together create stimulating forms and relationships that allow the mind to wander and the eye to delight, unconsumed by any particular subject.

“Planetary Gothic”, another wooden piece painted in shiny gold, merely suggests planetary forms, and its earthiness makes a nice contrast to his more realistic pieces.

Don has no fear of breaking long-standing traditional molds, specifically the typical rectangular canvas format and he made a number of circular works like “Rock” OCO. This work uses curvilinear pieces of particle board laid out in a pleasing decorative pattern and is painted in iridescent colour.

Connolly possesses a wide-ranging knowledge of his subject matter and loves to share that information with his viewers. The show, at the Grace Centre until December 4, is open every Sunday and Don himself will be present on those days from 2 - 4pm. It is a fascinating show and well worth the trip to Sydenham. The Grace Centre is located at 4295 Stage Coach Road in Sydenham.

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