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Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) was an artist, novelist, critic and self-styled rebel. Born on a boat off the coast of Nova Scotia in to an American father and English mother, Lewis spent his early childhood living in Maritime outports until the family returned to England where his parents separated in 1893. Often in an antagonistic relationship with his Canadian origins, Lewis frequently referred to Toronto a "sanctimonious ice box" to correspondents during his residency in the city during WWII.
Lewis is perhaps best known as the chief instigator of the Vorticist art movement in England, a form of Cubo-Futurism, which flourished prior to WWI. The editor of the celebrated avant-garde magazine BLAST, Lewis, along with his friend Ezra Pound, stood out as a leader of the movement, particularly because of his penchant for controversy and provocative stances.
Although he spent the majority of his adult life in England, Lewis had several periods where he had a direct engagement with Canadian society. During WWI, he escaped active duty as a bombardier working instead as a war artist, where he was responsible for creating significant works of art for the Canadian War Memorials Fund, notably A Canadian Gun-Pit (1918) which resides in the National Gallery of Canada.
During WWII he and his wife found refuge in Canada where he supported himself as a portrait painter in Toronto and as a teacher at Assumption College in Windsor, Ontario. In fact, his novel Self-Condemned (1954) is set in Momaco, a fictionalized Toronto. He and his wife resided at the Tudor Hotel on Sherbourne Street from 1940 to 1943, until a hotel fire forced them to move.
Lewis's writing and art have had significant influence on major Canadian figures, most notably the author Sheila Watson and the media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Befriended by McLuhan during WWII, Lewis had a significant impact on McLuhan's theories on media and in particular his concept of "the global village" and the study of the mechanical environment as a teaching machine.
After the war Lewis and his wife returned to England where he continued to write criticism and published a semi-autobiographical novel "Self-Condemned." Wyndham Lewis went completely blind in 1951 and died in England on 7 March 1957.