Blair Sharpe 1954 -2019: Community remembers dedicated educator and artist

Blair Sharpe is seen here at the Ottawa School of Art in 1995.

The Ottawa art community is mourning Blair Sharpe. The painter and educator died on Monday in the Bruyere hospice after a battle with acute myeloid leukemia.

The Ottawa School of Art, where Sharpe taught for some 40 years, expressed condolences in a Facebook post.

“The staff, students, and instructors at the Ottawa School of Art were devastated to hear of the passing of Blair Sharpe this morning. Blair was an integral part of the school. In 1974 he began teaching drawing and painting at the Ottawa School of Art (then the Ottawa Municipal Art Centre) where he taught for over 40 years. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Diploma in Fine Arts by the graduating class of the Ottawa School of Art. In 2014, the OSA recognized him for 40 years of excellence in art education.”

Sharpe had been battling ill health since 2015 when he was diagnosed with a condition known as pulmonary fibrosis (lung scarring). The scarring stemmed from a rare condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, according to an article posted on the website by Sharpe and his wife Brenda Sharpe.

He was not given much time to live without a double lung transplant which he received in 2017.

At the time of his pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis, his trademark humour was on view.

“I always thought art was a matter of life and death. This kind of proves it,” he told CTV news in an interview.

The double lung transplant limited his ability to work and he stopped teaching at the OSA.

Sharpe was born in Montréal in 1954. He lived across Canada and overseas before arriving in Ottawa in 1973.

He pursued a career as a visual artist and after his arrival in Ottawa he studied with local artists Richard Gorman (1935–2010) and James Boyd (1928–2002).

Over his career, Sharpe exhibited widely, with numerous solo shows in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as group exhibitions across Canada and abroad. In 1989, he was featured in a mid-career retrospective at the Ottawa Art Gallery, in the Arts Court building.

According to his biography, Sharpe’s work was “rooted in the rigorous traditions of formal abstract painting while maintaining a strong affinity to nature and natural process. His most recent works, the extended On Some Faraway Beach series, focus on the physical and formal attributes of composition while simultaneously engaging the spaces, edges and boundaries of the the known and unknown. These imaginary ‘beachscapes’ provide an excellent opportunity for reflection, contemplation and escape.”

Blair Sharpe. Ouananiche (1989). Acryllic on canvas. Jack Purcell Community Centre.

His work is included in public, private and corporate collections. His public commissions include the mural Ouananiche at the Jack Purcell Community Centre and River’s Invitation at the Smyth Transitway Station in Ottawa.

As a teacher of adults and children, Sharpe also worked with the city of Ottawa, Gloucester High School, the Carleton Board of Education and the Glebe Community Centre.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.