Alistair Drysdale Title

Listed Canadian Artist: (1932-2005)
Sight Size: h: 16 in. by w: 20 in, 40.6 x 50.8 cm, Oil on Canvas Board.
Signed: Recto lower right with monogrammed A & D.
Signed & Titled: Verso with name & address and titled "North Pond Brook".
Encased: within its original 1990's Red Oak techniqued frame with linen slip liner.
Overall Condition: Clean and varnished with no surface condition issues.

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It should be noted: This lively oil on canvas board by Alistair Drysdale, given due contemplation, can be considered one of the finest works produced by this talented and reclusive Newfoundland artist. This painting embodies many of the multi dimensional aspects of this man's working artistic world, that being colour, texture, intrigue and the joy of being able to create the prismatic movement found within the mesmerizing 'North Pond Brook', as it meanders its way to 'the Atlantic'.

Alistair Drysdale, A painter's Painter

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Alistair Drysdale Back Label


Alistair Drysdale Bio Title

Alistair Drysdale BioAlistair Drysdale can be considered one of Newfoundland's most overlooked artists. He was a recluse who 'painted the little side streets and unusual views' of St. John's and its surroundings, but he came to be regarded as a painter's painter by the professionals who knew him. To track the life of this visual artist is to follow scant clues. A solitary man, he didn't own a phone, moved through a series of boarding houses and small apartments in downtown St. John's, and had little contact with his family. His paintings, on the other hand, hold much more in evidence of the unique perspective eye that this talented artist possessed.

He leaves a legacy of Expressionistic work – one critic described it as bearing “ a touch of Van Gogh” - that his art dealer, gallery owner Emma Butler, predicts one day will be much sought after. Ms. Butler, who owns The Emma Butler Gallery in St. John's, represented him for 18 years. "He was reclusive. My phone would ring. He would be calling from a pay phone, saying he had something to show me. He would bring work in that was wrapped in big garbage bags." Mr. Drysdale would then ask her to wait in her office while he unwrapped his painting out in the gallery. "He'd say, 'Okay, Emma, you can come out now.' It was always something unexpected. Sometimes I was scared it wouldn't be, and I wouldn't be able to act like it was. But every single time, it delighted me. The colours, the shapes, the palettes. He was a painter's painter," said Ms. Butler. "He painted the little side streets and unusual views. He moved a lot so he had a lot of unusual views - Power Street, Nunnery Hill, Pilot's Hill."

Emma Butler once asked him if he painted flowers. "He said 'no.' The next thing he brought in was this sunflower (piece). He'd gone to Walmart, because it was winter, and bought an artificial flower, and painted it. It was remarkable. "He asked, 'Do I have to do more?' I said, 'No, it was just a suggestion', I wasn't insisting you start painting flowers. Mr. Drysdale used different media, but had of late, favoured oil on Masonite. He would pattern out his work using a grid and completed about six paintings a year. His inimitable style included a warm palette laid on with thick brushstrokes. “I always had difficulty selling his work to Newfoundlanders," said Ms. Butler. Instead, his earlier collectors had come from such places as Toronto, Halifax, or New England. Ms. Butler recalled one patron from Boston who came in and bought four pieces at once. "Newfoundlanders were a bit disturbed by his style. I thought he was under-priced, and put up his prices, and he started selling. I told him, 'You realize people who are buying your works are getting gifts. Should I put the price up?' He laughed. He didn't care."

In April of 1992, Alistair had a solo exhibition at The Butler Gallery. James Wade, an art reviewer with the, then Evening Telegram, wrote that Mr. Drysdale "had a touch of van Gogh in his work. Drysdale's signature technique is the distorted buildings and houses, etc., which undulate as if seen through water. His work is expressionist in the classic sense with a simplified style that carries an emotional impact. His organizational style can be seen as being virile and rugged, as he had a strong individual way of painting with a deft grasp of pliable animation. Newfoundland artist Kathleen Knowling felt that Alistair Drysdale's painting was heavily influenced by Cubism. “It was very influenced by what was going on in England in the '40s. And it was very influenced by a kind of skewed thing, almost as if he were seeing St. John's through a prism." Noted Newfoundland visual artist Christopher Pratt, RCA, first met Alistair Drysdale at Prince of Wales College in the late 1940s. "He was two or three years ahead of me, but I was aware of him for two reasons that are both superficial: One, he didn't look like anyone else with his big crop of red hair; and two, I thought his name was very exotic." Later, the two men both worked summer jobs at the provincial Department of Forestry, where they hand-coloured maps.

Christopher Pratt said, "I certainly respected his work and I felt he was very earnest. There was a lot of emotional content. He was not the sort to be churning out stuff to appeal to tourists. I respected the professional way he went about doing his work. I did bump into him occasionally at the Emma Butler Gallery, as he rarely went to openings and I rarely went to openings, but we did meet and speak as people who had known each other for a long time, and as professionals.” Pratt also said, “Alistair Drysdale was interested in his work by itself. He was not preoccupied with appealing to a certain audience. Professionals in any field have to have a practical streak, just for survival. Even van Gogh had a practical streak. But when you're with your art in your studio, inside those four walls, it is your work that you're trying to do, and it is your work that you're trying to develop, and it is your own ideas that you are dealing with. That's a hallmark of integrity." Mr. Drysdale's later work, while still focused on the little alleyways and cul-de-sacs of downtown St. John's, displayed a lighter palette with more uniquely stylized shapes.

He also greatly admired the work of the Group of Seven. As a younger artist, he studied with Hans Melis, the Holland-born visual artist and teacher who was appointed the official provincial government sculptor under Premier Joey Smallwood in the 1960s and 70s. Alistair Drysdale received a number of grants from the Provincial Arts Council and also won several awards in the Provincial Arts and Letters competitions during his painting career. For some years, he worked as an electronics instructor at the St. John's College of Trades and Technology which gave him an income that allowed him to indulge in painting in his spare time. As a side note, he occasionally enjoyed playing the grand piano at the Delta Hotel in downtown St. John's, where he also delighted in a comfortable sit down to read the Globe and Mail for free.

"He never got a lot of recognition when he was actively painting, perhaps because he was so quiet and so retiring," said artist Kathleen Knowling. "He is Newfoundland's most overlooked artist,” she added. “I can picture a young curator trying to get enough of his work together. I believe it's very important Newfoundland art, fine art. And it shows his affection for this place."

Alistair Adam Drysdale, born in St. John's on July 28, 1932, died there on June 13, 2005.

This personal profile of Alistair Drysdale is a partial excerpt from an article published in The Globe and Mail Sept. 13, 2005, and we thank them for its permitted use herein.

Important note concerning his monogram: We would like to point out to the viewer that even though this oil on canvas board by Alistair Drysdale is well signed and documented on the verso (back) displaying his written name, name and address label and the title “North Pond Brook”, you may notice that he signed this painting ever so unobtrusively in the lower right front corner with an almost imperceptible monogram of A and D. But we do believe, he was devilishly playing with the viewer's perception, concerning who the artist really may have been. He wanted the viewer to pause and to question, "who did this work?". Again, upon close examination, if you intently study the rock formations in the brook, you will see multiple abstract examples of the letters A and D couched together as boulders in the stream, executed in Alistair's prismatic painting style. That would be an “A” and a “D”, for Alistair Drysdale. Alistair always signed his works with some form of a stylized monogram of “A” and “D”. One can now sense that in his own playful and quirky way, Alistair Drysdale absolutely initialed this painting multiple times over again without it being made obvious to the casual viewer that he may have ever signed it at all.

Painting Ref No: 1NOEX19MCL-S/BIEE

Alistair Drysdale, noted Newfoundland reclusive artist

Updated November 15, 2022

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