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Alpine Anatomy: The Mountain Art of Arnold Shives

By John Grande, Edward Lucie-Smith, Darrin J. Martens, Toni Onley, Glenn Woodsworth, Bill Jeffries

Review By Devon Smither

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 181 Spring 2014  | p. 158-59

Alpine Anatomy: The Mountain Art of Arnold Shives celebrates the North Vancouver printmaker and painter’s representations of British Columbia’s sublime mountainous landscape. The book offers an overview of Shives’ career and includes five essays by Bill Jeffries, Edward Lucie-Smith, Darrin J. Martens, Toni Onley, and concludes with an interview between John Grande and Shives himself.

Alpine Anatomy is a personal and critical examination of an artist who occupies an important position in the history of printmaking in British Columbia. The book will introduce Shives to a general audience interested in learning more about this lesser known Canadian artist. It is also a valuable resource for students and academics looking to undertake further research about Shives’ unique visual explorations of the British Columbian landscape.

The critical essays and the interview convey the profound spiritual connection and empathy Shives has with the barren peaks and vast forests of British Columbia that have inspired his best known large-scale prints. Woodsworth’s essay provides personal insight into the artist’s early years as both a mountaineer and emerging artist, but would have benefitted from more formal analysis and consideration of the visual connections between the artworks and the dangerous treks undertaken by Shives. The early essays are wonderfully written personal testaments to an artist who the authors clearly admire and whose friendship is held dear, a fact that is particularly evident in Onley’s brief but moving text. Lucie-Smith and Jeffries dig deeper, teasing out the varied influence of Shives’ mountaineering, environmentalism, Christian spirituality, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, and Concrete poetry on his artistic practice. The essay by Martens, and Grande’s interview with Shives, both explore the artist’s use of relief printing and offer further insight into the artist’s influences, from Cézanne, David Milne, and Paul Klee, to William de Kooning and Paterson Ewen.

While Alpine Anatomy is by no means a deeply theoretical art history text, it does offer some of the most comprehensive and thoughtful accounts of Shives’ work. That being said, the text would have benefitted from a longer biography of Shives, a list of exhibitions, and a bibliography. This kind of basic information would aid students and scholars interested in undertaking more research on Shives, an artist who is deserving of more critical attention. The book also contains seventy-five colour reproductions, organized chronologically from 1961 to 2010. For those unfamiliar with Shives’ oeuvre, it is unfortunate that the images reproduced in the book are uncatalogued, often making cross-referencing between the titles mentioned in the essays and the images themselves a frustrating process. However, despite these minor flaws, the book offers valuable personal insight and some of best formal and critical analyses of Shives’ work published to date.

Alpine Anatomy: The Mountain Art of Arnold Shives
John Grande, Edward Lucie-Smith, Darrin J. Martens, Toni Onley, Glenn Woodsworth, and Bill Jeffries 
Vancouver: Tricouni Press, 2012. 126 pp. Illus. $39.95 paper.