Although admired as one of Canada’s literary giants, very little is known of Reaney’s visual art practice. The Iconography of the Imagination: The Art of James Reaney introduced Reaney as an artist and provided an overview of his artistic production from the 1940s to the mid-1990s, and examined his art in relation to his writings. Reaney states that art has been a “constant” in his life, and much like his writing grew out of a desire to “keep a record” (Jean McKay, “What on earth are you doing, Sir?” ArtScape, Issue 5, June 2006, 10).
The artist’s landscapes consist of sketches made during his 1969 and 1970 cross-country tours with his wife, poet Colleen Thibaudeau, and their young family. These and other impressions of towns and rural regions in Ontario, executed in subsequent years, were kept as visual diaries of the places he had visited. Reaney’s landscapes are charming vignettes that reveal his deep-rooted preoccupation with small-town and farm life and have both personal meaning and collective appeal.
The Iconography of the Imagination was the first major public exhibition of the artist’s work. The exhibition featured more than fifty works, and in addition to previously unseen images, it included Reaney’s well-known literary masterpieces Twelve Letters to a Small Town, Souwesto Home, and The Dance of Death at London, Ontario, on which he collaborated with Jack Chambers.