The Perceptual Enlightenment of Jack Chambers

By Jimena Martinez Gerhard

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Jack Chambers (1931-1978) has been a continuous force in Canadian art. His contributions range from his artistic career to the foundation of the Canadian Artists’ Representation in 1967. Widely known in his hometown of London, Ontario, Chambers experimented with different mediums throughout his career. However, the most unique characteristic of Chambers’ work is his focus on the relationship between art and spirituality. An obsession fueled mainly by his leukemia diagnosis in 1969, Chambers formed a collection of numerous quotations and ideas that helped him face his mortality (compiled in Tom Smart’s Jack Chamber’s Red and Green).

Chambers’ collection was intended to aid him in understanding the complex nature of reality; he came to believe in a reality where opposites exist together. Tom Smart explains Chamber’s thoughts by using the example of the colours red and green. Smart argues that despite their contrast on the colour spectrum, they are still complementary to each other. The understanding of the unity of these contradictions is Chamber’s main goal in understanding art and spirituality. This harmony of opposites can only be perceived through the senses like vision – a complexity that can be conceived by viewers in Nude No.3 (c.1970s). The black and white photolithograph depicts a young naked woman, gazing at herself in the mirror (a symbolic tool for reflection).  Her body is rendered using gradual photorealistic transitions between grey and white. With her mature body and young face, the tension between childhood and adulthood is evident.

By looking at Chambers’ collection of thoughts, phenomena he referred to as “perceptual enlightenment” is visible in Nude No. 3. “Perceptual enlightenment” is when in an instant of time the senses examine the nature of reality in an introspective reflection.

The young woman’s contemplative gaze sparks interest as she enters a deep realization of the tensions she is experiencing through puberty. An intriguing relationship between herself and her reflection is established through this gaze. While the young woman does not pay attention to her surroundings, the room instead acts as a private oasis where self-reflection happens freely.  Chambers believed that it was the artist’s duty to immortalize these moments of profound meaning.

The photolithograph mirrors Chambers’ journey in understanding his imminent death. This representation is a reminder of an unchangeable nature: living and dying as time goes by. Even though childhood and adulthood are complementary conditions of human life, Nude No. 3 accomplished the unity of both through its aesthetic qualities while demonstrating the personal and intellectual journey of the artist himself.

Editor’s Note: If you want to know more about Chambers read Jack Chambers’ Red and Green by Tom Smart, available at the MacOdrum Library.

About the Author: Jimena Martinez Gerhard is Render’s undergraduate blog contributor. This is her second year contributing to Render. Jimena is a third year undergraduate student at Carleton University completing a double major in Communication Studies and Art History. Originally born in Mexico, she also lived many years in Costa Rica before coming to Canada.