Order and Adventure (Portrait of George MacDonald), 1990
acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, framed, sight: 36.75 x 44 in (68.6 x 89.5 cm)
ESTIMATE: $3,000 — $5,000
PRICE REALIZED: $2,640
Collection of Dr. George and Mrs. Joanne MacDonald, Cantley, Quebec, gift of the artist;
Estate of George MacDonald.
This painting is illustrated in a 1994 newspaper article about George MacDonald's tenure at the helm of the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The caption quotes MacDonald's response to the painting which he understood to be a portrait of his dual nature,
I can't explain why Mickey Mouse is on the side of my heart and why my heart is on the side that represents order rather than adventure. It's rather impressionistic. You might not guess at first it's me. It's the inner me and I don't protest that .
While this could definitely be understood to be a double portrait of MacDonald, there are likely several more shades of meaning here. Professor Allan J. Ryan's thoughts present some of the possibilities:
Like many of McMaster's other works from this time, there are several levels of interpretation that add to the richness of this painting. It could certainly be read as a conversation on the legacy of colonization of the New World (note the map of North and South America in the globe at the centre of the kinetic lines of communication, reminiscent of Norval Morrisseau's shamanic lines of spiritual connection) possibly between a Black man and a Red man. It could also be a conversation between a person in a military uniform (a person in a power position) and the Red Man. The words, "Order" and "Adventure", hand lettered on the figures, suggest a critical contrast of world views: On the left, a dark presence embodying order, good governance, the introduction and imposition of civilization and linear thinking (rationality, scientific principles, incremental examination, museum classification and categorization). In contrast on the right, is the Red Man, embodying traditional Indigenous intuitive ways of knowing and experiencing the world that allow for creativity, possibility and adventurous life experiences. With this reading, the image of Mickey Mouse is a puzzling inclusion that could merely represent McMaster's playful viewer engagement strategy, but more likely, given the artist's fondness for critical aesthetic trickery, could represent the childish (but deadly) folly of trying to impose a Western form of civilization on peoples who already had their own sophisticated ways of relating to each other and understanding the world. The image could also symbolize Disney's tainted role in creating caricatures and stereotypes of Indigenous peoples that are still almost impossible to dislodge from the public psyche.
—Dr. Allan J. Ryan, New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture, Carleton University, May 2020
1. Nancy Baele, “George MacDonald’s Civilized Vision” in The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, July 24, 1994, p. B7.