Robert Pope's legacy on display in Wolfville

Wendy Elliott
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Dr. Jock Murray speaks at the opening of a retrospective of the late painter Robert Pope’s work at the Acadia University Art Gallery in Wolfville. His series about living with cancer continues to inspire. 

By Wendy Elliott

welliott@kingscountynews.ca

KingsCountyNews.ca

After graduating with a science degree from Acadia University, the Robert Pope went to art school in Halifax in 1978 and became a social activist.

The retrospective of the late painter’s works at the Acadia University Art Gallery shows his focus on relationships, illness and accidents. It is a remarkable collection.

Growing up in a converted coach house in Windsor, Doug Pope recalled his brother watching writers bring their dreams to his publisher father in order to find a life in print.

That has a lot to do, Doug suggested, with Robert’s desire to communicate hope and sharing. Not long after graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, he developed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1982.

Moved by Terry Fox’s run through Halifax, Doug said his brother used his painting to show that life is uncertain and all too short, but he also wanted to inspire others with his art.

Robert is best known today for his collection of 96 paintings that explored his experience as a cancer patient. The series movingly portrays those experiences and give a voice and visual form to those of fellow patients.

Doug, who is a painter himself, called the hospital a microcosm of society in need of healing, where that hospital room represents the whole universe.

He said his brother saw himself in the works and he wanted viewers to look for themselves in the paintings.

Slight physically, he came alive with passion. Jock Murray on Robert Pope

“It wasn’t just his own story,” Dr. Jock Murray, president of the Robert Pope Foundation, said at the Aug.14 opening of the exhibit.

More than 20 years ago Murray, who taught medical humanities at the Dalhousie Medical School, went to visit Pope’s studio and then invited him to visit first year medical school classes.

“And he was powerful at doing that,” Murray said. “Slight physically, he came alive with passion.”

Best of all, Murray noted, the students heard from the patient’s perspective about living with illness.

Pope died in 1992, but the exhibition that is his legacy has travelled extensively and, Murray, said not a week goes by that there isn’t a request for permission to use his paintings to illustrate books on issues like palliative care.

The cancer series celebrates unique work by a great artist, Murray added, and he acknowledged the Pope family for their support of Robert’s belief in the power of art as preventive medicine, art that generates hope, healing and inspiration.

The show was organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

The retrospective will be on display until Sept. 29. A curatorial talk is set for Sept. 27, 2 p.m. with curator Tom Smart.

Organizations: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Acadia University, Acadia University Art Gallery Robert Pope Foundation Dalhousie Medical School

Geographic location: Halifax, Wolfville, Windsor Nova Scotia

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