About | Peter Monk Sculptor

Biography and writings about Peter Monk

Peter Monk Sculptor Biography

Born: May 31, 1937

Formal Education: McGill University B.Com ‘58, Columbia University MBA ’61

Studied Art:
Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal
Montreal Ecole des Beaux Arts, Montreal
Saidye Bronfman Center, Montreal

I worked in the following mediums :
Clay, plaster, wood, stone and also did welding, collages,and construction, plus learned  engraving and drawing.

Love of his Life and his Muse: Joan Fish (Monk)

Life passions: Businessman, canoeist, husband, sculptor

Nickname: “Monk”

Patron: Joan Monk

Tools: Pneumatic hammer and carbide chisels

Preferred sculpturing stone: Carrara marble

Carving Team: Monk who did 100% of carving and nishing

Number of sculptures completed by Peter Monk alone: 157

Other artistic mediums: Printmaking, Collage, Assemblage

Relaxation diversions: Canoeing, Skiing

Most famous non-sculptural achievement: Bookshelf at 1st cottage

Most famous quote:

“It is not about the destination but about the journey.”

Gestures of the soul.

A Profile of Peter Monk Sculptor

I’ve been in touch with the Peter Monk sculpture Built Up #1, an experiment in notching stones, on Katherine Monk’s coffee table in her house in Point Grey for as long as I’ve known her – I give it a rub for good luck every time I visit.  Such lovely, cool, cold hard stone. I identify that piece with the view:  The blue palette of the Georgia Straight, the mountains and sky out her window at twilight (when I usually come by) and how the sculpture almost frames the landscape, and vice versa.

Then I was invited to visit Katherine at her parents’ cabin at Lac Ouareau in the Lanaudière, where dozens of her father’s sculptures are displayed in front of a different view of water, mountains and sky.  A wraparound mezzanine, on which several of Peter’s pieces are displayed, overlooks the greatroom. I walked the whole length of it and touched them all, in the sequence in which they were arranged by her mother Joan, I presume.

I also had a chance to meet Peter, who was at work in his studio, surrounded by noise and dust. It struck me that though their shapes were fluid poetry, the process of making these sculptures was quite difficult. He’s an interesting contrast: A thoughtful, understated captain of industry, who instead of golfing or yachting or any of the other pastimes usually pursued by powerful men, has chosen such an arduous and solitary passion.

I asked him then what attracted him to his medium.

“Because stone is slow enough, he answered.”

It was in this small semi-outdoor studio, as well as an even smaller, airless one in his company’s warehouse in Montreal, that Peter has worked on slowly piercing holes, and then finding the shapes, in Carrara marble and onyx and Greek alabaster that weighs 160 lbs per cubic foot, a ton of which he imported from Italy himself. This show is a selection from Peter’s body of work – over 150 works created over 51 years, in a process of piercing, shaping and then smoothing one of the Earth’s hardest materials.

It was only last week, as I viewed dozens of other pieces from his body of work sitting on the floors and shelves of the offices and boardroom of the Paris Glove warehouse building on a rainy stretch of Montreal highway, that it occurred to me: I had experienced Peter’s sculptures as elements of the various landscapes occupied by the Monks. But in some sense, his sculptures are their landscape; they chart the topography of his emotional life as a husband, father, man and artist over the last half-century.

Viewing these works, we understand both everything and nothing about the man who made them.

These are forms that are universal and unique, strange and familiar: The fearless asymmetry of Power and Grace, the piece that’s featured on the invitation; Melody, the pink Portuguese marble siren whose mouth-shapes sing silent, secret melodies from the cover of this book; the gorgeous ear-inside-out shape of Open Sound, the onyx piece that Joan says her coffee table is “naked” without, and the undeniable vulvic authority of Commander in Chief (that one reminds us that Peter is a man in a family of strong women, after all.)

“Looking at these, I cannot even believe that I made them,” says Peter. “They are emotional expressions of feelings I probably cannot express, and then the feelings about those feelings.”

These sculptures depict gestures of the soul that are available to all of us, and yet also belong to the artist alone. They stay with me, and I’m glad to have had a chance to meet them.


Journalist and critic


At the heart of emotions

Story from magazine Art & Design, November issue, published in France.

download pdf 1.6mb

At the heart of emotions… Such is the motto of Montreal Canadian sculptor.

Through his pieces for which he usually chooses Carrara marble, Peter Monk expresses his deepest emotions, constantly seeking for the perfect equilibrium between the possibilities of the material and his own feelings.

His often lyrical form resolves the dichotomy of positive and negative spaces by exploring every millimetre of the stone and representing a way for the artist to find peace and illustrate his favourite quotation: “What matters more is not the destination, it is the journey”.

The artist approaches each new work like a sportsman on a skiing slope: with great spontaneity, without fear, playing with nature’s obstacles to get the most from its treasure trove.


Peter Monk au coeur de la pierre

Comme au Coeur des émotions ! Voilà le credo de ce sculpteur canadien installé à Montréal.

A travers ses pièces uniques essentiellement faites en marbre de Carrare, Peter Monk expriment ses émotions les plus profondes, cherchant toujours l’équilibre parfait entre les possibilités du matériau et ses ressentis.

Ses formes, le plus souvent lyriques, jouant avec les creux et les pleins comme pour explorer chaque millimètre de la pierre, sont une manière pour lui de trouver l’apaisement, d’illustrer aussi sa citation favorite : « ce qui compte le plus ce n’est pas la destination, mais le voyage ».

Ainsi, l’artiste se lance dans une nouvelle sculpture comme un sportif, sur une piste de ski : avec spontanéité, sans peur, jouant avec les obstacles de la nature pour en faire ressortir le meilleur.

Mount Royal artist Peter Monk donates a Carrara marble sculpture titled L’Harmonie to the Town


Excerpt from Town of Mount Royal article


Mount Royal, August 26, 2015 – This evening, Mayor Philippe Roy, accompanied by various Town councillors and dignitaries and the artist himself, celebrated the donation of a magnificent sculpture to the Town’s collection of art works. Titled L’Harmonie, the work of Townie Peter Monk embodies the shapes, sense of movement and emotion for which the sculptor is renowned. The donation is the result of a generous initiative by the artist.

Mr. Monk’s sculpture is a contemporary work made from Carrara marble. It will now be exhibited at the Reginald J. P. Dawson Library alongside other works presented to the Town in recent years. Its curves and flow make L’Harmonie an exceptional work, whose form, like its name, expresses a certain voluptuousness and demonstrates the artist’s impressive mastery of the art of stone carving.

Gathered at a reception in honour of Mr. Monk and his admirable act, the guests were all smiles. “We are honoured to be able to add a sculpture of this calibre to our collection,” said Mayor Roy. “We will exhibit it in a way that allows all Townies to come and appreciate it. This is important in a community like ours, which has always maintained a privileged relationship with the arts.”

Peter Monk Sculptor Biography



In 1956 the Hungarian revolution grabbed the attention of everyone in the West…ordinary Hungarians took to the streets, took over Russian tanks in Budapest, and declared themselves a free people. One of the great pictures of that era was a young Hungarian Freedom Fighter, his upper torso emerging from the turret of a tank and holding aloft a rifle. The image was overwhelming to me, then a second year Commerce student at McGill University, living at home, drinking beer at the Sigma Chi Fraternity and basically living a carefree existence. Somehow that image of that Freedom Fighter, a young man probably no older than me, trying to change the course of history, overwhelmed me and I had to somehow internalize the feelings that swept over me. I went to my young sister’s room, took all her plasticene, and sculpted a four inch high image of the young man holding the rifle (with the plasticene lightly wrapped around a paper clip, which became the barrel of the gun). For the next six years, I had nothing to do with plasticene nor any other malleable media.

By 1960 I had spent three years as a clerk at Shell Oil while enrolled in evening courses at McGill leading to an MBA. In 1960 Columbia Univeristy in New York accepted me as an MBA student and allowed me the rare privilege of completing the degree in two semesters, by recognizing five of the night courses I had taken at McGill, provided I took the remaining fifteen courses in the two semesters. Setting a program of eight courses in the first semester and seven in the second, I studied intensely, made the Dean’s list with A grades, and graduated in June 1961 with an MBA and a job offer from Paris Glove, the family firm. During the two semester stay in NYC, the lady who had been a campus blind date in 1957, re-entered my life, visited me several times in New York and we were married on September 9, 1961. Today 53 years later the fabulous Joan Fish is still my wife.

We set up house in a small apartment (bedroom, kitchen, living-dining room, bathroom) on Graham Blvd. in the Town of Mt. Royal. I was like a caged animal in the small confining space, walking around and around, somehow seeking “air”.  Joan quickly recognized my frustration and encouraged me to explore my sublimated passion to sculpt, and suggested I enrol in evening courses in sculpture then being offered by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The Museum had wonderfully sympathetic and talented instructors who showed us how to prepare the clay from powder, build armatures to hold up our forms, and finally how to cast those clay sculptures in plaster. Today, only one piece from those days remains, a plaster head of a studio model. I remained at the Museum as a student for four years.

The 60’s were a time of excitement and turmoil as the world underwent social change everywhere. Quebec was just entering it’s quiet revolution, the society around us was changing and the quiet conservative MMFA was not reflecting the vibrancy and the emotions of the society around us.

Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts had been an institution of excellence in the city for many years and it’s reputation and it’s graduates dominated the Quebec art scene. With trepidation I enrolled in night sculpture classes there and quickly was overwhelmed and engorged with the visual delights and avant garde works which filled its halls and classrooms. I learned to work with blow torches and attach steel rods together, cut plexiglass and mold it and understand that any found object could be incorporated into a sculptural statement.  A whole series of boundary pushing pieces quickly separated me from the tranquil clay modelling of the MMFA to the exciting constructions we were encouraged to build at the EDBA. I remember particularly a teacher by the name of Pierre Bourassa, then a set designer for the CBC, and ardent Quebec nationalist, and an extremely capable beer drinker. Pierre’s passion for his work, his willingness to experiment with non-traditional materials and his quiet encouragement of the up-tight Anglo in his class, soon placed me in a group of his protégés. In fact today, hanging on the walls of our basement, is a painting-collage of mylar and Molson beer bottles in vivid reds and greens. Pierre, like many artists of that era, did not achieve great artistic fame, and today his name does not resonate among Quebec’s art groupies.

Under Pierre’s tutelage I created a famous assemblage from an old egg-beater, an umbrella and other various found objects into a sculpture that caused a number of objects to revolve when the handle of the egg-beater was turned, the most colourful of which was the umbrella painted in a series of bright day-glo colours. From that era, the “Fighting Saws,”  The “Bleeding Hose,”  “John 26” (somewhat damaged) are all that remain from the rather fragile materials used in those constructions.

By the early 70’s, the École des Beaux-Arts had become a revolutionary centre, with the students occupying the school, and the Quebec revolution quickly taking form. The Government wanted to regain control of the institutions it was supporting with money and quickly changed the dynamics of the institution and changed it from it’s free-wheeling style into a bureaucrat-controlled arm of government. Instead of allowing students to take courses when and where they wanted, a pedagogical structure was imposed on the institution and all students needed to have prerequisite courses in grammar, literature, math, etc…all the trappings of the then emerging CEGEPs. For a “businessman” with an MBA, taking art courses for spiritual sustenance, this was not inviting and I sought out in the community, other possible venues to feed my soul.

The Saidye Bronfman Centre was a well regarded and exciting place where many of Montreal’s best artists including Ghitta Caiserman-Roth, Rosalyn Swartzman, Stanley Lewis and others were teaching courses. For the next ten years I faithfully studied under a number of instructors, culminating in the last years, working under Stanley Lewis’ guidance in stone. The techniques and the tools that were introduced to me at the Saidye are the core of my work today. While at the Saidye we were acquainted with the sources of stone in the city and a particular passionate Italian stone artisan, named Rocco Petrelli, remains in my memory (his stone base coffee table still sits proudly in our living room). Rocco loved stone and his dog. The underworld focused on Rocco’s business, seeing it as a way to import drugs hidden in stone and offered to “buy” his business, but Rocco refused, only to find his dog dead as a warning that the offer was non-negotiable. From one day to the next, he left Montreal and sought safe haven in small town Ontario. His wonderful supply of interesting sculpture stone ceased, and was never replaced by a supplier of such passion and dedication. After ten plus years of studying and working at the Saidye, I felt that I had the essential skills and fully outfitted myself with compressors, stone chisels and all the accoutrements needed to work on my own.

The primary studio was in our new building on Montée de Liesse where I had a day job as President of Paris Glove and an even earlier day job as the passionate sculptor, arriving each morning at 7:00 to 7:30 in the morning, and working one to two hours on the stone of the day, before showering and moving on to my second day job. During the summers I work in a semi-outdoor setting at our summer home near St. Donat in the Lanaudière, The old cottage, which was built in the early 1930’s, was taken down 6 years ago, so today our home there is the display space for about a quarter of the sculptures I have produced. The bulk of the sculptures are in our Montreal home where they encourage us on a daily basis to continue this most gratifying passion.

The work is totally emotional, an orgasmic expression emanating from somewhere deep in the abyss that is the inner brain and soul we all possess. The organic shapes, and the positive and negative spaces that emerge balance and play to each other in an ongoing “ying and yang” sequencing exercise that I can never rationally explain. Each piece “emerges” from the stone and the process could be compared to what the skier does as he begins to carve down the mountain…the first turn leads to the second, and on to the bottom of the trail. My first cut is a similar exercise and the sculpture that finally emerges can be compared to a successful descent down a difficult hill.

The work is totally emotional, an orgasmic expression emanating from somewhere deep in the abyss that is the inner brain and soul we all possess. The organic shapes, and the positive and negative spaces  that emerge balance and play to each other in an ongoing “ying and yang” sequencing exercise that I can never rationally explain. Each piece “emerges” from the stone and the process could be compared to what the skier does as he begins to carve down the mountain…the first turn leads to the second, and on to the bottom of the trail. My first cut is a similar exercise and the sculpture that finally emerges can be compared to a successful descent down a difficult hill.

Sculpting feeds my soul and my brain and it is the food on which I survive and manage the stresses of my very complicated life. The full life of being both a businessman and a sculptor has meant that my work in stone has never been exhibited, however I now wish to share with others the work and passion they represent.