When Charles Pachter was just four years old, his parents volunteered him to star in a promotional movie for the Canadian National Exhibition. That 1947 short, “Johnny at the Fair”, lives on today on YouTube, where it depicts a young Charles close up and personal with a pet moose on exhibit.
Little did anyone realize that this casual encounter would end up defining the career of one of Canada’s most talented artists.
If Pachter is well known at all outside cultural circles, it may be for his painting “Queen on a Moose”, which scandalized the country in 1972. Who was this artist to take such liberties with a royal figure? Her Royal Highness and many other moose have subsequently starred in Pachter’s artwork – one piece even piece that depicts that famed equestrian Princess Anne clearing a farm fence on the back of a moose.
But far from being disrespectful, Pachter says his artwork is all made in the name of helping Canadians make sense of their own country and their own heritage.
“I’m not trying to be malevolent,” he said. “It’s all just affectionate mischief.”
Pachter has a reverence for Canada’s history, from the days of the French empire to the tumultuous times that drove the Loyalists north to Upper Canada during the American Revolution. He revels in the imagery of what makes us Canadian – or what we think of as being Canadian. He has created a famous series depicting the maple leaf flag.
He has painted portraits of Samuel de Champlain and John Graves Simcoe. Another group of prints depicts “Obscure Canadian Historic Events” – and then there is a tire with treads made from little maple leaves. He has just sold the rights to that one to Canadian Tire Corporation.
“I have sold one piece to a countess in Paris, and other to a hotel in Saskatoon,” he told several hundred art students at the Barrie Campus of Georgian College on April 2. “I’d rather have my material seen by the public than worry about what Canada’s nameless bureaucrats think of it.”
Pachter shared with students his experiences of making a living as an artist in Canada. One frequent theme is how he’s been ignored by the big government arts agencies and galleries. Another is his “do-it-yourself” attitude. He has built his own art galleries to exhibit his work. He has promoted his paintings and prints endlessly. He has even made up “critics” to comment on his own work. Over the years he has bought, renovated and re-sold buildings to finance his art career. He does whatever it takes.
And yet, he has become a major Canadian artist. His work hangs in the homes and businesses of countless private collectors the world over, and most recently, in Canada House, the nation’s prestigious consular headquarters in London, England. Twenty-five years from now, he predicts, PhD candidates will be pawing through his canvasses and correspondence to put his historic contributions into perspective.
He told young artists from Georgian’s Design and Visual Arts programs that, to make a name for themselves, producing great art along isn’t always enough.
“I’ve seen some pieces at your student show here today that are just beautiful pieces. In the right hands they could sell for a lot of money. But my advice is to do something outrageous to get noticed. What that would be is up to you to figure out.”
Pachter has a close relationship with the Orillia area, having owned a farm and a cottage in Oro-Medonte. He’s recently bought a property in the city which he is developing into a gallery. He is also a key figure in the community effort to transform the former Huronia Regional Centre into an international arts and culture centre.