Bertram Charles (B.C.) Binning, 1909-1976
Born: Medicine Hat, Alberta, February 10, 1909
Died: Vancouver, British Columbia, March 16, 1976
Artist and educator, Bertram Charles (B.C.) Binning was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta on February 10, 1909. He was one of Canada’s foremost modern artists, architectural innovators, and educators, and a seminal figure in the flourishing of art and culture in mid-twentieth century British Columbia. Binning grew up in Vancouver where he attended the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) before pursuing his studies in Oregon, New York, and London. Following a period of teaching at the Vancouver School of Art in the early 1930s, Binning joined the University of British Columbia School of Architecture in 1949. In 1955, he became head of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of British Columbia, resigning in 1968 in order to devote more time to teaching and painting. Binning became a pivotal figure at the University during this period, with his accomplishments including the establishment of the Department of Fine Arts, the development of the University of British Columbia Fine Arts Gallery, the initiation of the Brock Hall Collection of Canadian Art, the conception and direction of the Festival of Contemporary Arts, and the negotiations for the planning of the Nitobe Memorial Garden.
Binning’s artistic career was equally remarkable. His early work from the 1940s was characterized by elegant, expressive yet controlled line drawings, often with nautical themes, using brilliant colour to express the painting’s flatness as a structural element and emphasizing a strong sense of order and composition. In 1941, Binning designed and built his flat-roofed, post-and-beam home in West Vancouver, which became the key example of West Coast modernist design, shaping the area’s architectural landscape for the next decade. His interest in architecture led to the design of large mosaic murals for public buildings, including the British Columbia Electric Building (1955). This interest also informed his paintings from the 1960s and 1970s, which gradually evolved to purely abstract forms and explorations of clear colour and form. He passed away in 1976.