Dennis Geden, the youngest of four children, was born in 1944 in North Bay, Ontario as Dennis John Geden. He was raised in North Bay.
In 1963 he moved to Montreal, Québec, where he studied at Sir George Williams' School of Art. He graduated in 1966. From 1967 to 1968, he traveled in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. From 1968 to 1970, he lived in Toronto, where he joined La Cimaise Gallery in 1970.
In 1970 he married Sandra Lynn Smith. Also in 1970, Dennis re-established and continues to maintain a studio in North Bay. They have lived primarily in North Bay since 1973, with the exception of 1972 to 1973, when they lived in Paris, France (where Dennis created a portfolio of five lithographs at Atelier Desjobert) and from 1975 to 1976, when they lived in London, United Kingdom (where Dennis created a portfolio of five lithographs at Curwen Studio). Between 1983 and 1985, Dennis traveled in the United Kingdom and Europe, researching contemporary and historical figurative art.
In North Bay, Dennis was an occasional and part-time art instructor at Canadore College between 1973 and 2001. He was director/curator of the W. K. P. Kennedy Gallery from 1998 to 1994 and 1997 to 2003. At Nipissing University in North Bay, he was a part-time Instructor of Fine Art from 2001 to 2003, and Assistant Professor of Fine Art since 2003.
He was a founding member of White Water Gallery in North Bay (1977) and the Redpath Art Gallery in Vancouver (1994-1995), and he has been the curator of the Redpath Collection in North Bay, Toronto, and St. John's, Newfoundland, since 1996. He served on the board of directors for Visual Arts Ontario from 1991 to 1993, and the board of directors of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries from 2000 to 2005. He has served on several advisory committees as well.
Dennis has done artist residencies at Fringe Research, Toronto (1993), Studenica Monastery, Yugoslavia (1987) and at the W.K.P. Kennedy Gallery (1989-1994). He has also been a research assistant at the Slade School of Art, London, England (1988-89), to research figurative British art.
He has received national and international commissions, including commissions from the government of Ontario and the Art Gallery of Ontario. He has received grant support from the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.
In 2001, he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Nipissing University.
Solo exhibitions of his work include:
Dennis' works are in private and corporate collections, as well as the following public collections: Anderson Gallery (Buffalo, New York); Art Bank, Canada Council (Ottawa, Ontario); Art Gallery of Brant (Brantford, Ontario); Art Gallery of Peterborough (Peterborough, Ontario); Art Gallery of Sudbury (Sudbury, Ontario); Bibliotheque nationale (Paris, France), Canadore College (North Bay, Ontario); Corvallis Collection (Oregon State University, USA); Curwen Studio Archive (Cambridge, England); Georgian College (Barrie, Ontario); Humber College (Toronto, Ontario); MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie, Ontario); North Bay Municipal Collection (North Bay, Ontario); Ontario Government Collection (Toronto, Ontario); Ontario Northland Commission (North Bay, Ontario); Remy Toledo Gallery (New York, New York, USA); Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, British Columbia); Slade School of Art Archive (London, England); Tate Gallery (London, England); Tom Thomson Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario); and W. K. P. Kennedy Art Gallery (North Bay, Ontario).
Dennis has been represented by Redfern Gallery in London, United Kingdom since 1984 and Gallery Moos in Toronto, Ontario since 1999.
(The biographical information featured here was written in consultation with the artist in 2006.)
Q: How much did your traveling and researching art in Europe affect how you paint today?
A: My first gallery, La Cimaise Gallery in Toronto, was owned and directed by a couple who were from France. They arranged for Sandie and I to live in Paris in 1972-73 so I could create an edition of ten lithographs at Atelier Desjobert. Besides being a great opportunity for a young artist to produce art, it also was an ideal way to get to know the art world at an international level. It opened a fascinating door for us, and although I have always maintained a studio in North Bay, much of my 'wider view' comes from traveling regularly to Britain and Europe to research art and artists. I would say travel has had, and continues to have, a very positive effect on my work.
Q: How or where do you find inspiration?
A: Although I draw from live models (I teach Life Drawing at Nipissing University), and regularly sketch outdoors and work with still life assemblages, most of my inspiration for what I consider my major works comes from sitting at my desk making thumbnail sketches from my imagination.
Q: Did being the youngest of four affect how you approached your life and/or art?
A: I want, facetiously, to say being the youngest of four boys gives early training in watching your backside. But in retrospect, I think I was in an ideal situation surrounded by supportive parents and siblings. My parents had become pros at raising boys by then so I barely even recognized their controlling influence and felt I was raising myself. I think too that they were in a more secure position by then, and able to be more comfortable about allowing their youngest to attend art school in Montreal than they could have been with, say, the oldest.
Q: What is your artwork about and what influences you?
A: I have always worked with land art in a minor way. It strikes me that working with the environment is a very natural way to be close to everything about northern Ontario where I live. I have created several pieces using rocks, tree lines and earth mounds. Some of these works are laid out over many miles. I found though that one person working with minor tools and equipment can't make much of a mark on the earth. That art form requires a
Q: What is the process you go through from the beginning to the end of a painting?
A: In my studio there always is a pile of sketches and drawings, images clipped from newspapers and magazines, postcards of artworks, slides of most everything I have done to date, excerpts from various articles, and books - lots of books. I am continuously shuffling through these things, picking them up and laying them down. At the same time I will sit at my drawing desk and make tiny drawings from my imagination. Gradually, an idea begins to form. It almost always features one or more figures, large in the composition. I will combine ideas from several of the small drawings and enlarge the format to work with, usually, graphite and watercolour. At this point I will begin to refer to specific images in the studio to assist with shadows, costume, body positions and other details. When I am ready to begin the oil painting I go to a stack in the studio to choose a canvas that fits the size of the idea - and lay a large sheet of paper over it. All my work composing the image takes place on this sheet of paper. It allows me to move it around, to clip and edit until the composition works. This is very important to me. I keep all these drawings from earlier paintings and cannibalize them to reuse body positions, hands, feet, angle of head and so on. As a result, the people in my paintings begin to look like they may all be from the same family. When I am happy with the composition I trace it onto the canvas and begin painting. There are changes as I go through the work of applying oil to canvas--colours have an effect that may call for a change in the composition, and additional ideas form as the painting materializes that I may or may not incorporate. Finally, I often build a frame to suit the work, put corplast on the back of the stretcher, photograph the finished work and register it in my archive.
Q: Did the Group of Seven influence you at all, particularly due to your being born and raised in North Bay?
A: No. In fact, in my formative years, I felt the Group of Seven style was a bad stereotypical idea of what the northern experience was about--and my work with land art may have been a response to northern landscape that would run entirely counter to what the G7 had evolved. When I began to feel less threatened by them, I could see the value of what they did as artists and acknowledge their good work.
Q: Who are some of the artists that have inspired you?
A: From an early point in my development and continuing to today, Alex Colville has always been an artist I admire. His emphasis on content and composition strikes at my soul. Over the years I have developed an interest in many figurative artists as I stumbled upon their imagery. Two that come immediately to mind are Meredith Frampton and James Cowie. I recently made a trip to Liverpool specifically to study Cowie's painting 'Intermission'.
(Interview with Kathryn Copeland in December, 2006).