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October 20, 2023 @ 8:00 am - January 7, 2024 @ 5:00 pm
The Art Gallery of Burlington (AGB) is proud to bring the life’s work of iconic Trinidadian artist Sybil Atteck (1911–1975) together for the first time in Canada. Borrowed from the largest collection of her work—amassed by her nephew Keith Atteck in Burlington and drawn from the family’s holdings in Southern Ontario—this exhibition traces the profound impact of Atteck’s legacy across familial, historical, and aesthetic lines. Featuring rarely seen works from the family’s collection, the exhibition includes paintings, drawings, and archival material from the 1930s to 1970s.
The story of Sybil’s life is rich and long, and revolved around art. Her appreciation of art began early in life, when her family moved from Rio Claro to Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where, with the encouragement of her grandmother, she was exposed to music, crochet, embroidery, floral arrangements, and the design of Carnival costumes.
Sybil received formal training in fine arts at the Regent Street Polytechnic Institute, London, in 1935 and later studied at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., where she learned under the German expressionist painter Max Beckmann. In 1941, she furthered her art studies at the Escuela de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts) in Lima, Peru.
Upon returning to Trinidad, Atteck became a founding member of the Trinidad Art Society (now called the Trinidad and Tobago Art Society), which was established in 1943. She served as the organization’s first secretary, and later as the vice president, guiding the organization through the transitional period of independence from Britain.
Throughout her life she pursued a career as a professional artist, using her knowledge of natural history, science, and various art techniques and styles. Although she is well-known for her watercolour paintings, Atteck worked with a variety of media including oil paint, acrylic paint, crayons, and ink, as well as sculpture.
She was an accomplished and decorated artist with a career of teaching and exhibiting internationally, and completed multiple public commissions, including murals at the Trinidad Hilton Hotel and St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church, Malick. She has work in major art collections, such as the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, and is featured on Trinidad and Tobago’s national stamps.
The AGB shares an affinity with Sybil’s lifelong dedication to art education and appreciation. We value learning at every stage of an artists’ development. Through our numerous studios, we sustain intergenerational dialogues that contextualize material traditions and reinforce experimentation, innovation, and the cross-pollination of contemporary art practices across disciplines. Classes, demonstrations, tours, and workshops encourage interdisciplinary production by a diverse range of artists whose pedagogical strategies are based in global practices and Indigenous knowledges.
In the studios and in exhibition-making, we honour artists at all stages of their artistic development. It is a significant privilege to bring the work of Sybil Atteck to the AGB and to be able to witness the great arch of her career. Throughout this exhibition you will see the full breadth of her interests, from florals to landscapes and portraits to cultural celebrations, as well as her various stylistic explorations, from realism to expressionism.
An opus as prolific as Sybil’s took a special drive and tenacity. For a woman making work in the 1930s until her death in 1975, having a thriving international art career was unprecedented. As it turns out, that determination is a family trait. Keith Atteck’s journey to venerate the legacy of his aunt has been nothing less than heroic. Researching, collecting, and organizing her life’s work has been a full-time passion project for Keith. He has become an archivist and detective, unearthing a collection of unknown and undocumented work, along with critical reviews, catalogues, and photographs to piece her artistic trajectory together.
Keith has meticulously penned the story of her life, from her early days as a botanical illustrator at the Ministry of Agriculture to the self-portraits of her later years. He constructed a timeline that visualizes the overlapping influences of the political and artistic movements that shaped Atteck’s works, in form and subject matter, from her everyday life to national independence. He has been actively presenting her work internationally, speaking at universities and conferences, and offering engrossing lectures from his unique perspective.
The AGB has been working in concert with the Keith and the Atteck family to bring their private collection of collected notes, preparatory drawings, exploratory paintings, and sketchbooks into the public sphere—transporting the works from the walls of the family’s homes to the walls of the gallery.
Contemporary artists, curators, and academics Christopher Cozier, Richard Fung, and Andil Gosine are sharing their insights on Sybil’s role as a significant protagonist in Trinidad’s cultural landscape. These observations allow another story to be communicated in expressing her work and influence, not as a historical recounting of her life and work but as personal investigations into the artistic value of her contributions, and the ways in which her career carved pathways for future generations of artists in Trinidad and the Caribbean diaspora.
This exhibition unveils the mythos of an artist and the perseverance of an art sleuth. It is dually devoted to celebrating the life’s work of Sybil Atteck and to acknowledging the generosity of a family sharing their private collection with the public. Join us as we open the doors to the Attecks’ homes to learn more about the breadth of Sybil’s career and revel in the beauty to be found in the heart of Burlington.
The AGB is generously supported by the City of Burlington, Ontario Arts Council, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and Canada Council for the Arts. AGB’s learning programming has been generously supported by The Burlington Foundation and the incite Foundation for the Arts.
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