“Being an artist in Hamilton is like being 5’1” and 100 lbs, playing line for the Ti-Cats.”
Alan Oddy saw artists as fundamentally empathetic and sensitive social beings, and thus outcasts in the industrial landscape of Hamilton in the 1950s. Dedicating his life to supporting the arts in Hamilton, Oddy was an unlikely advocate in a time when there was slim to no encouragement. Growing up with no artistic community or particular inclinations, Oddy pursued the arts after assessing old school report cards and deciding on a subject he did well in. His unconventional method of choosing a career path brought him across provinces, from Manitoba to Ontario, to enroll at the Ontario College of Art in 1946. Here, he fell for fine art and soon moved to Hamilton to open the Alan Gallery, the first and only commercial gallery in the city for most of the 1950s which became a centre for a growing and eager arts community.
Oddy joined the Contemporary Artists of Hamilton, a dedicated group that encouraged members to make contributions to the arts in the community. Oddy spoke of this time with the group, “We regarded ourselves as the artists of Hamilton, but we were not elitist” (MacCuaig, 181). The Contemporary Artists provided a sense of meaningful connection and support to Oddy after feelings of isolation in his new home. In 1960, Oddy became president of the group, where he made a point to raise larger social consciousness, hosting an exhibition with proceeds aiding World Refugee Year. Uniting the Contemporary Artists and his gallery, Oddy trail-blazed a valuable sense of social responsibility and camaraderie among the arts scene.
The Alan Gallery held weekly “Monday night discussions”, a salon-style gathering where big ideas were dissected and questioned between artists and friends. These educational experiences connected Oddy and his peers, laying the groundwork for artistic and philosophical thoughts to blossom. Early exhibitions at the Alan Gallery included a showing of the Painters Eleven, featuring Hortense Gordon, as well as works by Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow.
Oddy not only created a space for the artists to thrive, but also created his own work. As he fulfilled intellectual and theoretical impulses through the gallerys weekly discussions, his art practice became a personal outlet for expression. Oddy was cautious about ego and absolutes in art, stating “I don’t want to confuse people about art or prove who’s right and who’s wrong; I just say let’s exchange experiences.”
This focus on exchanges between people as well as personal exploration and reflection brought Oddy to mental health advocacy and the Hamilton Human Growth Centre in the 1970s, “Through encounter groups and interaction, things are getting better and better. Sensitivity is increasing and enriching human contact; stripping away false attitudes and values… For a painter or anybody that can only be good.”
Becoming an anchor for an increasingly expanding interest in the arts, Oddy provided space to grow, “Until the mid 1960s, if one wanted to be in the centre of things artistic in Hamilton, the Alan Gallery was unquestionably the place to be” (MacCuaig, 183).
Credits and further reading
Art-i-fact, Hamilton Arts Council, March 1973.
Climbing the Cold White Peaks by Stuart MacCuaig, 1986.
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