A man seen in profile is sitting at a table that holds a plate and a bottle. A ghostly figure behind him looks over his shoulder. A tombstone rests on the floor.

Jack Shadbolt

(Shoeburyness, England, 1909 – Vancouver 1998)


Electric Chair


Gouache on paper

25.5 x 16.7 cm

Gift of Doris Shadbolt, 1998

Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, BG1943

© Simon Fraser University Galleries. Photo: courtesy of Simon Fraser University Galleries

Electric Chair, a gouache on paper, portrays a man in profile seated on a wooden chair. Behind him, a hovering ghostly figure and a tombstone suffuse the scene with the pessimism of the 1930s. While the splintered geometric forms and multiple points of view recall the compositional approach of Cubism, the darkness of the theme evokes the psychic universe associated with Surrealism. Electric Chair is one of the rare surviving pieces from Shadbolt’s early period, when he regularly destroyed his work.

Born in England, Jack Shadbolt immigrated to British Columbia with his family in 1912. In 1930, as a young painter, he met the artist Emily Carr and was deeply affected by her work. Around the same time, he was developing an interest in Cubism, abstraction and the psyche that is evident in the forms and theme of Electric Chair. The Great Depression led him to depict dark subjects that reflect the social-political context of the time. This youthful painting foreshadows Shadbolt’s later works distinguished by fractured representation and symbolic abstraction.


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