Paul Goranson

May 1, 1996 by Jennifer Morse


The life of airmen during wartime as visualized by Paul Goranson. From top to bottom: Posted to Newfie; Fitters At Work; Raid On San Guisto-Pisa

There’s a look of positive acceptance on the face of the young air force corporal as he steadies himself in the crowded train car. The man in blue has a small suitcase in his right hand and a bedroll under his right arm. His capped head is pushed to one side by the duffel bag on his left shoulder. It is 1942 and the quiet corporal is bound for Newfoundland.

The painting by Paul Goranson is called Posted To Newfie and it’s a good example of how this war artist saw things during WW II. In her book Canadian Artists Of The Second World War, author Joan Murray states that Goranson’s “literal, illustrative work acutely visualizes the life of airmen at war.” She writes that Goranson’s favorite subject, besides the pilots themselves, was the “relationship of men with machines.”

Born in Vancouver in 1911, Goranson studied under critically acclaimed WW I artist F.H. Varley. He attended the Vancouver School of Art and the British Columbia College of Art and worked as a freelance commercial artist before the start of WW II. Working with fellow artists Orville Fisher and E.J. Hughes, Goranson painted murals, including one for the British Columbia pavilion at the 1938 World’s Fair in San Francisco.

In 1941 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and two years later—after receiving his commission as a war artist—became the first Air Force artist to be sent overseas. “Under the influence of the dynamic watercolors and paintings of (Carl) Schaefer and the technically superior work of (Charles) Comfort, Goranson’s own work became freer,” writes Murray.

Goranson’s trip to England in March 1943 was not uneventful. His ship, the 5,000-ton banana boat SS Tucurinca, was torpedoed 250 miles south of Iceland. The torpedo struck in the early evening while Goranson was busy sketching the ship’s chief engineer. Despite a rough sea and lurking U-boats, the passengers and crew were rescued from their sinking ship by another ship and eventually taken to Glasgow, Scotland.

While overseas he painted Bomber Command activities before going to Tunisia and Italy in August 1943. From July 1944 to spring of 1945, he painted scenes with the Tactical Air Force in Northwest Europe. He remained overseas until 1947 because he felt he had a lot of work to complete from sketches he’d made while out in the field.

Goranson told Murray that while he was in the field, he used pencil mostly because it was the simplest thing to carry around. “…I would make these little scribbles, take them back with me and develop them into watercolors…I did quite a few watercolors on the spot, but most of it was in pencil….”

The artist spent two years in Ottawa after the war, then moved to New York City where in 1966 he got a job as a scenic artist for the Metropolitan Opera. He has since returned to Vancouver.

In his interview with Murray, Goranson said it was amazing how the war had launched him as an artist. He noted that during the war he released himself from the “near stylized work” he was doing. “I had to change and my work became freer. It did affect me that way and instead of going in one direction I began to see other directions.”

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

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Many of the Canadian War Museum’s ­holdings are ­available in reproduction at affordable prices. For more information, contact Image Reproduction Services, Canadian War Museum, 1 Vimy Place, Ottawa, ON K1R 0C2; tel: 1-819-776-8686; fax: 1-819-776-8623; e-mail: Imageservices@warmuseum.ca

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  • jmv

    I notice via captainstevens dot com that Paul Goranson was recommended for the MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 1944 or 1945, but was not approved. He was recommended for an award a second time in 1946, but again turned down – without explanation. If it were up to me, I’d issue that award posthumously, even if it is a bit late. I suppose now he could be
    awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal) posthumously, but this isn’t likely to occur for a Canadian. Closer to home, one might presume the Order of Canada is more appropriate, but this is not generally awarded posthumously, unless the nominee dies prior to the announcement or presentation. Whatever the case, while he deserves more recognition than he may have received, he is not forgotten, and his work lives on.

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