Joseph Plaskett Award/prix de Joseph Plaskett
The Joseph Plaskett Foundation in partnership with the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (RCA)
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Foundation History

Megan Hepburn
Megan Hepburn receives award in Quebec City, May 2010 (photo courtesy Guy Lavigueur, RCA)
The Canadian-born artist Joseph Plaskett (1918–2014), established the Joseph Plaskett Foundation in 2004 to support a mature Canadian student to travel and make art in Europe for one year.

Nominated by Lawren Harris, Joseph Plaskett won the first Emily Carr Scholarship in 1946. The award changed his life, enabling him to study, first at the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco and then with Hans Hofmann in New York and Provincetown. At the end of the year, recommended by both Lawren Harris and A.Y.Jackson, he accepted the post as Director of the Winnipeg School of Art, where he taught for two years, by which time the lure of Europe became irresistible. In 1949, after visiting London, he found in Paris the ideal setting for his artistic development. After twice returning to Canada to teach, it was in 1957 that he was able to make Paris his home for the next half century. Between 2001 and his death in 2014, he lived in Suffolk, England.

Despite living abroad for almost seventy years, he is staunchly Canadian. Almost annually he returned to his homeland and held exhibitions across the country. A legendary host and supporter of Canadian artists working in Europe, he was considered an unofficial Ambassador in Paris. In June 2011, Joseph Plaskett was bestowed the honour of Doctor of Fine Arts (Honoris Causa) by Capilano University, North Vancouver, BC.

When the formation of the foundation was announced in 2004, Mr. Plaskett said, "I created this award in emulation of what Emily Carr did for me in 1946. I would like young Canadian artists to enjoy the privileges I experienced more than a half century ago. Europe and, above all, France, have left me richer in knowledge and experience. Although things have changed a great deal since I first travelled and studied abroad, the lesson of Europe and it's past is always waiting for those ready to learn."

Joseph Plaskett was born in 1918 in New Westminster. His works are in public art gallery collections from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 for his excellence in the field of visual art. His autobiography A Speaking Likeness (Ronsdale Press) was published in 1999. The Plaskett Gallery, at New Westminster's Massey Theatre, is named in his honour.

In 2009, the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) partnered with the Joseph Plaskett Foundation to support and administer the Award process at the national level and to continue to spread the Award's good reputation.

The Board of Trustees of The Joseph Plaskett Foundation has changed only slightly since the beginning of the Foundation. Since 2014 it included John Vogel of Toronto and Vancouver, Landon Mackenzie of Vancouver, Stephen Jarislowsky, Pierre Lapointe and Marie Senecal Tremblay of Montreal and Timothy Urquhart of Zurich. In 2016 Nancy Rowat and Andrew Clark, both of Montreal, joined the board and we thank Pierre Lapointe who steps down, for his service.

In 2016 the Foundation Board is John Vogel (President and Chair), Landon Mackenzie (Vice President and Awards Coordinator), Andrew Clark (Treasurer), Nancy Rowat (Secretary), Stephen Jarislowsky, Marie Senecal Tremblay and Timothy Urquhart. We are grateful to all trustees for their volunteer time, expertise, governance, and consideration in holding this important Canadian prize to a high standard.

A Message from Joe Plaskett

Joseph Plaskett
What led me to give a large part of my fortune away and to live in relatively happy impoverishment? The reasons tumble out.

It is because of love, love of many things and people. First it is love of my country, Canada, which only grows stronger as I continue my life as an expatriate.

Secondly, there is my love of art, in particular the art of painting, and this, too, grows more passionate as I age.

Thirdly there is my love of youth, of the young artists of my country who can carry on the dreams and ideals into the future after I am gone.

A fourth love is my love of Europe, a continent that is a treasury of great art. Every young artist needs to enjoy and learn from its riches.

The art that I make and that I see others make confirms the miracle of being alive. Almost every day I live in a state of exaltation. The art of painting is to me sacred. It is central to all the other visual arts. This art is in a constant state of renewal.

The first five winners of my award demonstrate this process of renewal, bringing new ideas and sensations into the world. On seeing their work my instant reaction is "I wish I could paint like that." But, no artist, if he has original talent, can paint like another.

In my long career I have been a recipient of many awards: The Emily Carr Award, The Blocked Funds Award and The Senior Art Council Award. These revolutionised my development. These awards all came from my country. I am paying my dues.

I have made certain conditions that the award winner must meet. He or she must spend a year abroad and must practice the art of painting. When in the mid 80's I began planning the Foundation, I felt that the arts of painting and drawing were facing an uncertain future. It seemed that newer forms of visual expression were getting all the attention. I wanted to correct this. I no longer feel this way. The art of painting is entering a new golden age. It is in no danger of becoming obsolete.

Apart from these two restrictions, the award winner is free to go his own way. He or she can be abstract or figurative. All good figurative art must be abstract, just as all abstract art derives from what we call Nature. What is in vogue now, Conceptual Art, has always been with us. All paintings start with concept, which is another word for image or imagination. The mistake is to isolate the concept as if the idea did not need to be given permanent form. But all that is happening in art is part of a process of exploration and discovery. I hope to live for a few more years so that I can catch glimpses of the oncoming future.

Joseph Plaskett
3 April 2008

Julie Trudel - The Plaskett Award Reception

Dear Members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts,

I am especially happy to receive the Joseph Plaskett Award in painting. First, because it's a painting prize. I am convinced that painting, especially abstract painting, is a very relevant medium to investigate some aspects of the world we live in. The practice of painting requires long lasting patience, attention, and a willingness to stay away from clichéd images. In many aspects this is extremely different from the way things go today.

Standing in front of a painting is a special experience: we are looking at an image, yet we are looking at a handmade object. Another human being has tried to communicate some idea through it. We should walk toward the painting and be open to engage with it, with our senses and our mind. It is something I love.

Winning the Plaskett Award will give me the opportunity to spend a full year in Berlin doing those things I love: to go to the studio every day to paint, discover the work of other artists and meet with very committed artists. This is an amazing gift.

That's why I would like to thank the Joseph Plaskett Foundation and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and especially the members of this year's jury: senior artists Ben Reeves, Renée Van Halm and Robert Youds. I am the 10th emerging artist to receive the award and I am proud to join a list of serious painters. I also warmly thank Landon Mackenzie who coordinates the award with a great generosity, giving time as well as generous advice without counting.

Finally, I would like to say how important taking my MFA at the Université du Québec à Montréal was in the development of my young painting practice. I found there excellent teachers, conceptual rigour and a spirit of collaboration and generosity among the students.

Thanks a lot and have a pleasant evening.

Julie Trudel , 2013 winner
June 2013, Victoria BC

“Plaskett Award is Transformational” –Nam Nguyen

John Vogel (Plaskett Foundation) once asked if the award had the transformational effect Joe had hoped for.

I would have to say...already I am a different person, a different artist, and more confident about my point of view as an artist after being expose to so the point of over stimulation. And it’s not even over yet! My work has changed and I think that a huge part of it has not only been being able to learn from seeing art, but having time to think and just make things without the pressure of “real” life. So yeah! I think the Plaskett formula for transformation is a resounding success!

I found that the award could be more accurately described as a post-graduate independent research residency, similar to any post-graduate or post-doctoral research of other disciplines. In the time I have spent here, I have visited fifteen cities, and I am guessing over 40 Museums and art institutions. I have made strides in my drawing, photography and video art practice that will nourish my painting practice many years into the future. And best of all, I have found a kind of artistic home in Europe being in the city of Berlin. In short, my research was full of discovery and surprise in being exposed to works of art that showed me different ways of seeing as much as it taught me about who I am as an artist. I think “transformational” would definitely be the right adjective for the effect of this award.

Nam Nguyen, 2008 winner
May 2010, Berlin

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