Honorary degree citation - Philip H. Surrey*
By: Patrick Landsley, June 1981
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Philip Surrey, distinguished painter and draftsman.
As a young artist of 16, Philip began working at the Winnipeg firm of Brigdens, often from 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. Walking home from work at these late hours soon gave Philip his enduring love of the night that was to play such a dominant role in his painting and indeed has done so ever since.
To quote the 17th century poet, William Habington, whose poetry Philip has admired since a young man:
When I survey the bright Celestial sphere,
So rich with jewels hung, that night
Doth like an Ethiop bride appear,
But if we steadfast look We shall discern
In it, as in some holy book,
How man may heavenly knowledge learn.
In fact the title of this poem "NOX NOCTI INDICAT SCIENTAM" "Night unto night showeth forth knowledge" serves as the title for one of the paintings in the exhibition of Philip's work that we invite you to view, after these ceremonies, in our Art Galleries on the Mezzanine.
At the age of 19, Philip had to find a steady income in order to support an ailing mother and thus was able to be independent of current fashions and especially the vagaries of the art market of the time. He was able to stand apart, to be his own man and to paint what he wanted the way he wanted. A prominent Montreal art dealer advised him to not put people into his paintings as these did not sell. Philip continued to put them in and today these figures, in sombre urban landscapes, with lights reflecting on wet streets are among his most sought after works.
While employed at the Montreal Standard newspaper he became a member of the "Eastern Group of Painters" and in 1938 was instrumental in founding the "Contemporary Arts Society", a group formed to fill the needs of progressive artists and to further the cause of modern art.
As early as 1938, not content to remain a part of the "Two Solitudes" in this province, Philip took courses in French and through the prominent historian Jean Palardy, he met and befriended the renowned Quebec painter Alfred Pellan. When life for an artist, hard at the best of times became ever harder, Philip was able to offer more than friendship to this fellow painter.
Philip has had numerous one man exhibitions, participated in over 80 group shows in Canda and the United States, has works in scores of private and public collections including the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and the National Gallery of Canada and was recently featured in the important National Gallery travelling show "Painters of the Thirties". He remains after half a century of dedicated and creative endeavour committed and devoted to art, an example I present to you, the graduating class, of the tenacious artist.
Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Philip Surrey, that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.