Gertrude Kearns of Toronto has worked both officially and unofficially as a war/military artist for over two decades. Between 2006-2018 she completed a sixty piece body of large format works, ‘The ART of COMMAND: portraits + posters from Canada’s Afghan Mission’, most recently shown at Canadian Forces College, Toronto 2017-2018; Founders’ Gallery, U of Calgary, The Military Museums, 2016; Fort York Visitor Centre, 2015. In 2017, she lectured to Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts, as part of the Canada 150 Lecture Series. In 2020, her most recent Canadian portrait subject is Major-General Jennie Carignan, and in 2019 The Honourable Hugh Segal and Dr. Janice Stein. 2018-2019 saw a U.S. military project with General D H Petraeus as subject. Her works are in private and institutional collections in Canada including The Massey College Collection, U of T; The Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa; Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Collection; Department of National Defence; Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto; Canadian Forces College, Toronto. In late 2019 one of her three General Petraeus portraits was acquired by The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. A driving motivation in her conflict-related paintings and image/text print making is straddling the line between military and war art. She was appointed Honourary War Artist to the Royal Canadian Military Institute in 2019. Gertrude Steiger Kearns, C.M. was appointed as Member of the Order of Canada June 27, 2019 “for her contributions to preserving and understanding Canadian war history as a contemporary artist.”
Artist Statement: As a war/military artist I try to straddle that sometimes arbitrary line between war and military art. My projects offer a counter-view to more liberal artistic discourse around conflict. This makes what I do both not an easy or appealing fit for many current curatorial practices. Straddling diverse cultures, military and contemporary art, can challenge readings of my work. Twenty years ago I began to examine some Canadian Forces material as a contemporary artist, but not with the more normal anti-military and anti-war positionings. I have attempted instead a more complex and nuanced look at military responsibilities within my work.