Joyce Wieland

Blind Contour Homage: “O Canada” Joyce Wieland

Joyce Wieland was born in Toronto in 1930, the youngest child of British immigrants. After her parents died while Wieland was still in elementary school, she and her two older brothers struggled to survive, leading what she would later call a “Dickensian childhood” of poverty. To earn a little income, Wieland drew pictures for schoolmates: costumed movie stars for the girls, naked women for the boys. 

In high school, Wieland studied fashion design until one of the working artists there, Doris McCarthy, recognized her talent and encouraged her to pursue art. McCarthy recalls thinking that Wieland “drew like an angel.” She became an important mentor for Wieland.

After graduating in 1948, Wieland worked as a graphic designer, meeting artist Michael Snow at a Toronto graphics firm. They married in 1956, but not before Wieland had taken a step unusual for young women at the time and moved into her own apartment studio. She lived alongside artists and became part of the city’s growing boho scene. Her independent nature led her to travel to Europe a few times in her twenties. 

She began to achieve some success with her paintings in the late 1950s and had her first solo show in Toronto in 1960. Between 1962 and 1971, Wieland and Snow lived in New York. Feeling connected to the city’s counter-culture vibe, she continued to paint, but also explored other mediums. New York was teeming with pop art and conceptual art, and artists were responding to the issues of the time, including the war in Vietnam, feminism, and environmentalism. Wieland had a healthy relationship with sex and was passionate about women’s rights. Much of her artwork explores these themes, making her a vital figure in New York’s contemporary art scene.

Wieland had learned filmmaking and animation techniques while working in commercial design, so she began to create films. Before long, she was screening her pieces alongside her American colleagues. Her films’ political edge and wit were celebrated by critics. In 1968, the Museum of Modern Art presented Five Films by Joyce Wieland.  

Besides film and paint, she also started to work with fabric. Because of the traditional association of fabric with women and domesticity, Wieland intentionally used textiles to express her political ideas. She created quilts and mixed media pieces that challenged notions about art and craft, masculinity and femininity. She was a leader in bringing these materials and mediums into the fine art world.

Joyce Wieland, Photograph by John Reeves

On Canada Day in 1971, the National Gallery of Canada presented her retrospective, True Patriot Love. It was the first time the Gallery gave a solo show to a living Canadian female. At that time, she returned to Toronto to live and work. In 1976, she divorced Snow.

By the 1980s she was focused on painting and, in 1987, the Art Gallery of Ontario held a retrospective of her work.

Wieland maintained a studio practice in Toronto until her health began to decline. She was cared for by a group of female friends until her death on June 27, 1998 from Alzheimer’s disease.

1930 – Toronto, ON
1998 – Toronto, ON

Exhibition Dates for this series.


Nowell, Iris. Joyce Wieland: A Life in Art. ECW Press, 2001.