Visual arts grad student wins $25,000 award

Jennifer Lefort, a York University graduate student in visual arts, will soon be off to the major art hubs of Europe – London, Paris, Berlin – as the recipient of the $25,000 Joe Plaskett Foundation Award.

Right: Jennifer Lefort. Photo by Glenn Lowson

This national award, launched last year, is one of the richest annual visual arts prizes for students in Canada. It is open to students from across the country who are studying for their Master of Fine Arts or have attained an MFA in 2005, and whose discipline is painting. The award offers the recipient the opportunity to spend a year in Europe furthering educational goals informally through travel and study.

Lefort, who is currently enrolled in her final year in the Graduate Program in Visual Arts, is a large-scale painter who is interested in abstraction as a means of communication. She was recognized for work described as “joyful, inventive and free with a fabulous colour sense” by the 87-year-old benefactor, Joseph Plaskett.

The prize was presented to LeFort at an awards ceremony at the Drabinsky Gallery in Toronto’s Yorkville district on Dec. 6 by Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC Radio’s The Arts Tonight and recently-appointed Member of the Order of Canada, and Marta Braun, renowned photographic historian. Both are close friends of Plaskett.

“I am proud to have won such an important Canadian award and I’m anxious to get started on what I believe will be a pivotal experience in my professional career,” said LeFort.

Left: Lefort’s 2005 large scale oil on canvas painting titled, “No Dry Run”

LeFort’s European itinerary includes trips to the Frieze Art Fair in Regent Park and the “Triumph of Painting” show at the Saatchi Gallery in London, England, as well as visiting studios of established artists and viewing art that rarely comes to Canada.

Plaskett, who was born in New Westminster, BC, was the recipient of the first Emily Carr scholarship in 1946. He was nominated by Group of Seven artists Lawren Harris and A.Y. Jackson. The award allowed him to study at some of the world’s leading art schools, including the California School of Fine Art in San Francisco, in New York with famous abstract painter Hans Hofmann, and later at The Slade School in London, England. He maintains an active art practice, and his still life paintings, portraits, interiors and landscapes are found in major public galleries across Canada. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001 for his contributions to the field of visual art.

Although he has lived primarily in Europe since the 1950s, Plaskett remains unwaveringly Canadian and a strong supporter of Canadian artists studying and working in Europe. He established the Joe Plaskett Foundation Award to provide to young Canadian painters the same enriching opportunities that helped him launch his career.

Right: Lefort’s 2005 work, oil on canvas, “It’s happening”

LeFort was chosen by a jury headed by painter Takao Tanabe of Parksville, BC, winner of the 2003 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. The other jury members, both from Vancouver, were Ian Wallace, a photographer, critic and teacher at the University of British Columbia who won the 2004 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, and Landon Mackenzie, an artist and professor at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.

“Jennifer LeFort obviously loves painting and is not afraid to use difficult colours. She is a true and natural painter. Her work is very strong and ambitious,” commented the jury.

LeFort has presented her work in solo exhibitions and more than a dozen group shows in and around her hometown of Montreal. Her paintings are in the collections of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Abbott Laboratories. She has two solo exhibitions coming up in the New Year. Her paintings will be on display at Gallerie Trois Points, Montreal, from Feb. 18 to March 18, 2006, followed by her MFA thesis show to be held in Toronto sometime during the spring.

Visit the Joseph Plaskett Foundation Award Web site for more information on the award.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena, Faculty of Fine Arts.