David Thauberger Road Trips and other diversions


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Regina-based David Thauberger is a nationally recognized artist best known for his iconic paintings of vernacular architecture. Co-curated by Sandra Fraser, associate curator at the Mendel Art Gallery, and Timothy Long, head curator at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, the exhibition provides the first comprehensive overview of this remarkable Canadian artist. Road Trips & Other Diversions brings together some 70 paintings, prints, and ceramic works produced from 1971 to 2009 drawn from more than 30 public and private collections across Canada.

Prayer Home

acrylic, window screen on canvas

Growing up under the soaring spire of the Roman Catholic church in Holdfast, Saskatchewan, Thauberger understood from an early age the importance of places of worship to small towns. Since then he has repeatedly returned to these local landmarks for inspiration. The Veregin Doukhobor Prayer Home, which served as the community’s worship space, as well as residence for its spiritual leaders, is an extraordinary example of the architectural expressions of faith in Saskatchewan.

Private Collection

River City

45.7 x 61.0 cm
acrylic on panel

Collection of MacPherson Leslie Tyerman LLP

Long Haul

acrylic on canvas

It’s a strange fact that before 2000, Thauberger had only made a handful of works featuring the ubiquitous prairie grain elevator. Since then, the rapid loss of these emblematic buildings has prompted him to record them in earnest. Long Haul captures with crisp precision the looming bulk and intricate mechanical appendages of a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator, a structure belonging to a grain company that itself no longer exists.

Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, purchased in gratitude for the significant contributions made by donors, community partners and volunteers in bringing the Impressionist Masterworks from the National Gallery of Canada to the MacKenzie Art Gallery 2001-1.

Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery

Island Christmas

acrylic on canvas

In 1993 Thauberger was invited to be artist-in-residence at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. He spent time exploring the Island where it seemed every vista was already composed as a painting. Nonetheless, he incorporated buildings from different locales to create the image he sought. Paintings such as this one are distinguished by Victorian Carpenter Gothic architecture and a slice of blue in the background to suggest the water’s edge. Although he only went to PEI once he still finds inspiration from the photographs he took there. 

Private Collection

Chappell Picture

109.2 x 142.2 cm
acrylic, window screen on canvas

In the spring of 1993 Thauberger was the artist in residence at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown, P.E.I. The building depicted here, designed by architect Charles Chappell, is located only a block away from the gallery. Intrigued by the Victorian Carpenter-Gothic details, Thauberger chose a bright palette to accentuate the building’s symmetry. He was charmed by the Island’s picturesque terrain and historical small towns, and he continues to make paintings based on images taken at this time. 

Collection of Confederation Centre Art Gallery, Gift of the artist, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1993

Twist Cone

109.2 x 142.2 cm
acrylic on canvas


Collection of Pamela Thauberger and Kyle Folk

Mack’s Garage

109.2 x 142.2 cm
acrylic on canvas

Thauberger paints the domestic and the sublime with the same brush. In doing so he makes the domestic seem monumental and the sublime seem commonplace—at times within the same work. We can see this most clearly in an image like Mack’s Garage, which plays on the dissonance, or discord, between the small-town particularity of “Mack” and the multinational abstraction that is the Shell Oil Company.

National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa

Painter’s Dilemma

acrylic on canvas

The apparent simplicity and directness of Thauberger’s artwork belies his deep understanding of art history and his appetite for diverse forms of popular culture. Painter’s Dilemma captures the real pull Thauberger feels between the figuration and variety of influences of Funk art in California and the formal approaches of both Pop art and abstraction in New York. In and around the letters are architectural motifs from postcard imagery. 

Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Acquired with funds from The Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation Inc. G-90-462 ab

Manhattan II

screenprint, flocking on paper

Home to many art museums, Manhattan is a favourite travel destination for Thauberger. To create this silkscreen print, the artist chose hand-marbled antique papers from New York that he had cleaned, fixed and trimmed. An image of the famous Empire State Building emerges from the flocked surface. Thauberger revisits the kitsch velvet-painting aesthetic that he first explored in 1977 to produce these surprisingly beautiful prints.

From the University of Lethbridge art collection; gift of the Ruskin family, Calgary Alberta, in memory of George Ruskin, 1994

Steel Pavilion

acrylic, glitter on canvas

This futuristic building is based on a postcard of the United States Steel building at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Along with the other pavilions this impressive stainless steel hemisphere represented the promise of innovation, technology and industry. The impractical and over-designed architecture stands in contrast to Thauberger’s imagery of suburban and rural life. Juxtaposed this way, the paintings draw attention to how various cultural values, history and aspirations are embodied in the structures we build.

Collection of Art Gallery of Windsor

Parachute Jump

177.8 x 116.8 cm
acrylic, glitter on canvas

Thauberger incorporates many influences into his work that are drawn from the worlds of popular culture and fine art. This painting is part of series based upon hand-tinted vintage postcards of The World’s Fair. Held in New York in 1939-1940, the Fair was an elaborate scheme to boost the economy in the midst of the Depression. This structure continues to be a famous landmark on Coney Island, to where it was relocated in 1941. 

Collection of the Canada Council Art Bank / Collection de la Banque d'œuvres d'art du Conseil des arts du Canada

At Home

serigraph on paper

Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of Gordon Kushner 1986.

Lake Reflecting Mountains

acrylic, glitter on canvas

Thauberger is fascinated by landscapes that are “famous for being famous,” such as Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountain. Our ideas about wilderness are influenced by calendars, travel brochures and postcards. He painted the top half of this canvas with airbrush and toothbrush, and he poured and dribbled paint on the bottom half. Finally, he added the empty red canoe, which is a recurring image in his mountain paintings.

Private Collection


acrylic, sand on canvas

Majestic Mount Hood reflected in the mirror-like waters of Oregon’s Lost Lake is the subject of this postcard-perfect image. Not content with one natural wonder, Thauberger has added a second: a total solar eclipse which sits atop the mountain like a cherry on a sundae. The artifice, or trick, of the image is in plain view—cut-out silhouettes of trees, airbrushed clouds, stencil-like reflections in the water—yet feelings of awe and wonder are stirred in viewers nonetheless.

MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection 1985-46

White Hall 1981

228.8 x 168.5 cm
acrylic, glitter on canvas

Camera in hand, Thauberger began driving around Saskatchewan, and beyond, in the late 1970s. The photographs he took continue to be the source material for many of his paintings. White Hall depicts a former Masonic lodge in the Saskatchewan town of Craik. This striking, false-front building has strong formal qualities and a monumental white façade. The white hall building appears in a number of works in the exhibition, in various media and sizes.

Art Gallery of Hamilton, Gift of the Volunteer Committee, 1982

Dance Hall

acrylic, glitter on canvas

Thauberger used to go dancing in this community hall, located in Penzance, just north of his hometown of Holdfast, Saskatchewan. He had just started taking photographs of small towns for source material. Thauberger is well known for his depictions of the vernacular architecture of the Prairies. Dance Hall is one of the first paintings in which the artist placed a single building in the centre foreground of the composition, emphasizing the flatness of the building as well as the surface of the canvas. 

Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Purchased 1981.

Dream Home – Ethnic Version

115.0 x 172.7 cm
acrylic, glitter on canvas

Thauberger’s regionalism springs from a collision between the local and the ‘world out there.’ This collision unfolds in an obvious way, for instance, in his paintings of bungalow façades titled with real estate catch-phrases, such as Dream Home (Ethnic Version).

MacKenzie Art Gallery, University of Regina Collection, gift of Mr. Douglas Rawlinson 1981-17

Rainbow Danceland

50" X 70"
acrylic on canvas

This is one of Thauberger’s most recognizable paintings. Located at the edge of a salt water lake in Manitou Beach, SK, Danceland has been an entertainment hub since 1928. The town was the site of the Watrous Art Salons where Thauberger met and got to know local artists, many of whose works he collected. Instead of using a
paintbrush, he applied the paint by flicking a toothbrush (except for the front doors) and embellished the surface and frame with glitter.

Collection of the Glenbow Museum, Calgary. Purchase 1980 with funds provided by the Canada Council and Esso Resources Limited.

Collection of Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Canada. 80.9.2

Crystal Palace

acrylic, glitter on canvas

This painting of England’s Kew Gardens is part of a series of large canvases Thauberger made after his first trip to Europe. Aesthetically, the artist gives a nod to the Impressionists, especially Claude Monet’s water lily paintings, as well as to abstract, colour field painting, which was a popular style in the 1960s and 70s. One important impact this trip had on Thauberger was a growing appreciation of how the Impressionists were relating to their immediate environment, capturing what was outside their windows. 

Private Collection

Farm Painting

121.3 x 168.0 cm
acrylic, glitter on canvas

Works like Green and White Painting and Farm Painting mark a transition in Thauberger’s career. Influenced by his research into folk art and artists, Thauberger turned to the subject of his prairie roots and lived experience. Ghostly chickens painted with a stencil animate the sky and grass, signalling his reluctance to leave his pattern paintings behind. Both paintings also mark the introduction of glitter as a material, selected for its ability to literally reflect light.

Collection of the Mendel Art Gallery. Gift of Dr. Bela Szabados, 1982

Grandfather’s Painting

140.3 x 156.8 cm
acrylic, glitter on canvas

Created nearly 40 years ago, this painting remains a powerful and evocative image. Here the artist paints his grandfather’s farm at Holdfast, where he spent his childhood summers. The unnatural scale of the horse reminds us that Thauberger is not simply documenting what he sees, but also draws attention to the act of composing a picture. The imagery and application of paint are reminiscent of commercial graphic art, particularly posters for rural agricultural fairs. 

Collection of Ann Mandel

Black Velvet Bunnies

screenprint on black velvet, edition 24/35

After an attempt to print on white velvet left him frustrated, Thauberger produced a second, more successful print on black velvet. The idea for a screenprint on velvet grew out of the artist’s fascination with black velvet paintings, a kitsch art form that was widely popular in the 1970s. In place of portraits of Elvis and sad clowns, Thauberger depicts a domestic rabbit, a subject chosen for its bold black and white markings.

Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery 1992-9.


earthenware, glaze, acrylic, mixed media

The year 1975 marked the end of Thauberger’s work in ceramics. Clay sculptures like Bijou show his growing interest in small town architecture, especially the false-front façades of cinemas and other commercial buildings. In these sculptural works, Thauberger was frustrated by the need to render the backs of buildings, a task which would not be required in his paintings. 

Archives and Special Collections, University of Regina

A Volkswagen Piece

ceramic and mixed media on fibreboard glass

Like Thauberger’s earlier sculptures, A Volkswagen Piece uses ceramics vessels—here, large-handled beer steins—as a starting point for a sculptural diorama. New, however, is the relative importance of the base for the vessels, which in this case steals the show. Modelled on a former Regina Volkswagen dealership, the sculpture launches Thauberger on a path to recreating local vernacular architecture, first in ceramic sculpture and later in painting.

Collection of the MacKenzie Art Gallery, gift of Veronica and David Thauberger 2002-65.

Shirt Study II

29.8 x 55.2 cm
watercolour on paper

Watercolours, such as the two self-portraits Shirt Study and Shirt Study II, demonstrate Thauberger’s brief foray with a photorealistic style, as well as how he was thinking about different ways to use pattern as a compositional element. The artist depicted himself in one of his signature Hawaiian shirts, in front of his painting of salmon, a kitsch collectible Tobey mug and a row of tiny hamburgers and fish platters.

Archives and Special Collections, University of Regina

12 Rabbits

oil on canvas

Once Thauberger gained confidence painting with watercolours, he started on medium-size oil and acrylic paintings. Among his favorite motifs were animals that carry their own patterned markings, such as birds, fish, and rabbits. He painted animal shapes using a stencil with hand-painted details. These pattern paintings explore formalist concerns: the relationship between the figure and the background (figure-ground), shifts in sizes between objects, and the nature of repetition. 12 Rabbits is a rare example of the artist’s choice to cover the painting’s frame with fun fur.

Collection of the Saskatchewan Arts Board Permanent Collection. 1976-003

Gilhooly Saint George

ceramic, glaze, china paint

In his “Frog World” ceramic sculptures, American artist David Gilhooly recreates history and legend through an amphibian lens. The imposing six-foot-five artist descended on the university art department in Regina in 1969, where for two years he inspired fellow professors and students to adopt an irreverent, non-exclusionary approach to art. For much of that time, Thauberger shared Gilhooly’s studio, where as a student he enthusiastically developed his own ceramic menagerie.

Image: courtesy of the artist.

David Gilhooly

Midnite Express

circa 1962
oil and crayon on masonite

Retired railway worker W.C. McCargar brings a keen for eye for detail to his mysterious nocturnal drama, Midnite Express. Thauberger struck up a friendship with the reclusive folk artist in the 1970s after visiting his Regina home and viewing his artwork, all of it stored in the artist’s bedroom. The sharp-edged treatment of buildings and use of unusual media like glitter inspired Thauberger’s early paintings of prairie architecture.

W.C. McCargar