Discussing prints by Irish-Canadian artist George Wallace

A dementia-inclusive resource

This resource focuses on prints by Irish-Canadian artist George Wallace (who features in the free exhibition George Wallace: Reflections on Life) and is designed as an aid for carers and health professionals to help individuals with dementia to enjoy the artworks through discussion and practice-based exercises. This resource can be used to prepare for a visit to the exhibition, or simply to enjoy at home if you won't have the opportunity to visit.

For a full and comprehensive guide to leading a session using our resources, read through the overview page first.

Who was George Wallace?

George Burton Wallace (1920–2009) was an Irish artist known for his sculptural and graphic work. His graphic work in particular, including etchings, monotypes, woodcuts, and drawings created over 50 years, is the subject of an exhibition called George Wallace: Reflections on Life on display in the National Gallery of Ireland until 29 August 2021.
 

Early life 

George Wallace was a Dubliner; he was born on Monday 7 June 1920. George was an only child and he amused himself by drawing. Some of his early drawings featured armies and soldiers. He was sent to boarding school at quite a young age: first to Aravon in Bray and, later, aged 14, to St Columba's College in Rathfarnham. George studied philosophy at Trinity College, but continued to make artworks such as small wooden sculptures. While at Trinity College, he met his wife Margaret Howe. George and Margaret were married in 1946. In that same year, Wallace decided to study art and he enrolled in the West of England College of Art. 

Artist and teacher 

When George graduated from art college, in 1949, he took a job teaching art at Falmouth College of Art in Cornwall. During this time, he was exhibiting his work in Ireland and the UK. In 1957, he emigrated with his family to Canada. He worked as a schoolteacher initially, and showed his work at galleries in Toronto. In 1959, he began teaching part time at McMaster University in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, becoming a full-time member of staff in 1960.

George Wallace tended to focus on powerful themes such as grief, loss and pain caused by war and oppression. He would portray these themes in facial expressions. He also had a great knowledge of the Bible and was fascinated by the key stories of the Christian faith. These stories feature heavily in his work. Through his monoprints we can see Wallace's sense of humour. He collected newspaper images of aspiring business people and used them as a starting point for a series of satirical prints. 

The artworks

We'll be looking at a three prints from the exhibition for this activity. You can find more details about the Gallery's full collection of work by George Wallace on our online collection site.

Christ walking in the Garden, 1971

About the print
  • This is an etching produced by George Wallace.
  • This is a scene from Christ's Passion.
  • The scene takes place in a rubbish-filled park.
  • The figure of Christ can be seen walking barefoot with hands outstretched.
  • The ‘No Litter, No Loiter’ sign suggests that the rule of law has broken down.
  • One of the boxes has the lettering ‘Paradise Fruit’.
Discussion points
  • Wallace sets the scene in a 1970s suburb. How do you feel about Wallace’s reimagining of this biblical story?
  • Christ’s surroundings are very grim. Do you think that the artist is trying to symbolize the bleak fate that awaits him?
  • It is interesting that Wallace portrays Christ, wearing ordinary clothes, pacing rather than in solemn prayer. Does this make Christ seem more human?
  • The rubbish symbolises materials that have been cast aside. Is Wallace suggesting that humanity is casting Christianity aside?
  • The crucifix can be seen in the chain lock fence. Do you think this is a clever use of imagery?
Two naked figures set looking at a television set in front of them, which illuminates them
George Wallace (1920 - 2009), Early Afternoon, 1995.Credit

Early Afternoon, 1995

About the print
  • This is an etching produced by George Wallace.
  • This image is part of a series of images called Summer Shadows, Summer Dreams, produced by Wallace in 1995. There are twelve images in the series and they mainly depict people watching television.
  • In this image we see a couple in a state of undress.
  • It has been suggested that the couple are watching a soap opera in the early afternoon.
  • The glow of the television places a spotlight on them.
Discussion points
  • The name of this series of prints is Summer Shadows, Summer Dreams. Does this image give us any clues as to why the series is so called?
  • Is this a positive or a negative portrayal of ordinary life or is it a bit of both?
  • Why do you think Wallace portrays his figures in this way?
  • Do you think Wallace is poking fun at people who are obsessed with soaps operas? 

Big Businessman, 1992

About the print
  • This a monoprint that George Wallace produced in 1992.
  • This was also part of a series of prints depicting businessmen.
  • Wallace used the 'mug-­‐shots' of aspiring business people in Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail as the starting point for his series of satirical prints.
  • The image was blown up many times larger than the original passport sized photographs.
  • Wallace focuses on the fleshy chins and receding hairlines of recently promoted company directors and bankers.
Discussion points 
  • How you feel looking at this portrait?
  • Wallace described these 'portraits' as giving an impression of both 'self-involvement and alienation'. Do you agree?
  • Is there an air of grandiosity and self-importance about this person, and do you think Wallace is trying to ridicule these traits?
  • What to you think of the style Wallace employs, does the portrait look realistic?

Practical session: Printmaking

Printmaking is an artistic process based on the principle of transferring images from one surface onto another. George Wallace was a master printmaker and produced woodcuts, etchings, monotypes and lithography. 

In this practical session, you will create a very simple print.

Materials

  • A soft pencil (2B)
  • A sheet of paper
  • A portrait from a newspaper

Instructions

Step 1: Cut out an image of a head or heads from a newspaper.

Step 2: Flip the image over, and use your pencil to shade in all over the reverse of the image.

Step 3: Flip the image back over again, and place it on a white sheet of paper.

Step 4: Trace along the lines of the portrait with a pencil.

Step 5: Take the newspaper cutting away and you’ll find that the graphite from the pencil has made an impression of the portrait on the white paper underneath.

ZOOM sessions and PDFs

To further explore the works, you can book a discussion and practical session with a member of the Gallery’s education team via ZOOM. Contact Caomhán Mac Con Iomaire in our Education Department by telephone, 01 6633507, or by email, [email protected].

If you'd prefer to download and print out these in-home resources, you can access the PDFs below:

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