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Blazing Figures

A Life of Robert Markle

By J.A. Wainwright
Subjects Art
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Hardcover : 9781554581825, 304 pages, March 2010

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Blazing Figures: A Life of Robert Markle by J.A. Wainwright
List of Illustrations
I. Gesture: July 5, 1990
II. Indian Blood: Hamilton 1936–1955
III. Early Figures: Toronto 1955–1960
IV. The Inner Circle: Toronto 1960–1965
V. Glory Days: Toronto 1965–1970
VI. Promised Land: Mount Forest 1970–1978
VII. Visions of Johanna: Toronto and Mount Forest 1978–1983
VIII. Meeting Places: Mount Forest 1983–1990
IX. Afterlife: 1990
Source Notes
Photograph Acknowledgements


Robert Markle (1936–1990) was an infamous figure on the Canadian cultural scene for almost three decades. His paintings and drawings celebrating the female nude were deemed obscene by Ontario courts in 1965, and Markle defended them on national television, emphasizing what he considered a crucial distinction between eroticism and pornography. Although Markle was a Mohawk who employed Native symbolism in his later work, he refused to identify himself as a Native painter.
Blazing Figures chronicles Markle’s boyhood in Hamilton, Ontario, his early exposure to the worlds of burlesque and jazz, and, following his expulsion from the Ontario College of Art, his immersion in the Toronto world of painting and music. It recounts his emergence as a controversial expressionist painter of the figure and a beloved teacher of his craft. After his abandonment of urban life for small-town Ontario, Markle, in the last twenty years of his life, produced his greatest works and formed close friendships with his fellow painters and with public figures Patrick Watson and Gordon Lightfoot, both of whom were interviewed at length for this book. The book also takes a frank look at Markle’s complex relationship with his wife and muse that survived his affairs with other women.
The only full-length work written about Robert Markle’s life and career, Blazing Figures is based on Markle’s copious personal notes and numerous interviews with his family, friends, colleagues, and former students. This snapshot of Canadian cultural history will be of interest to scholars of art history, Aboriginal studies, and Canadian studies as well as the general reader.


  • Short-listed, Evelyn Richardson Memorial Literary Prize for Non-fiction, Atlantic Book Awards 2011
  • Short-listed, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award, Biography Category 2010


This book makes an indisputably original contribution to Canadian visual and cultural studies.... In well-crafted prose, J.A. Wainwright explores the range and complexity of Robert Markle, who was, at turns, loyal, thorny, ribald, fierce, passionate--and does due justice in measuring these facets of his personality in relation to his art.

- Linda Morra, Bishop's University, editor of Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth (2006) and co-editor of Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations (2010)

An impressive blend of meticulous research with an astute, often poetic reading of imagery, both informed with an insider's savvy and the whole just touched with the soft glow of friendship, Andy Wainwright's biography of Robert Markle is an exceptional contribution to our understanding of this singular figure in Canadian art history. And it is so timely. With what he reveals of Markle and his art it is clear that we will understand a whole period of our cultural history more clearly when we fully comprehend the workings of this brilliant, complex artist.

- Dennis Reid, Chief Curator, Research, Art Gallery of Ontario, 2010 February