Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Gerry Porter was a versatile, essential part of the St. John’s arts community

Newfoundland graphic artist Gerry Porter became a prominent member of the St. John’s arts community, drawing comics and designing posters and other promotional material for theatre, dance and film productions.

Dave Howells

Newfoundland graphic artist Gerry Porter, who died this month, was known for his endless versatility. He became a prominent member of the St. John's arts community, drawing comics and designing posters and other promotional material for theatre, dance and film productions. He also contributed to many local art projects.

Mr. Porter was 54 when he died on Dec. 2, eight months after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. His death came exactly one week after a "premortem" party, dubbed Gerrypalooza, took place in downtown St. John's. Mr. Porter's wife, Debbie, and two sons all spoke at the event, as his grandchildren raced around.

After Mr. Porter's death, Tom Power, host of CBC Radio's Q, said: "A great artist from Newfoundland has passed." He also mentioned Gerrypalooza.

Story continues below advertisement

Some of Mr. Porter's best-known work was for the beloved radio serial The Great Eastern – which was broadcast on CBC in the late 1990s and presented as the (fictional) flagship broadcast of a (nonexistent) Newfoundland public broadcaster. He devised a logo for the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland, individual program fonts, T-shirts, mock-ups of honorary degrees, faux-Rembrandt portraits, fake magazine covers and renderings of various other things imagined on the show.

Such a rich, clever tapestry was right up Mr. Porter's alley. When one episode posited that The Great Eastern's anchor host, Paul Moth (played by Mack Furlong), had taken part in the 1969 bed-in with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Montreal, Mr. Porter used Photoshop to place Moth in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel bedroom. His images were so realistic that an Internet search of bed-in photos will now yield several featuring Mr. Moth. Mr. Porter also built and curated an online archive for the cult favourite.

"As a fan he knew us and he liked the show," said The Great Eastern's co-creator Edward Riche, a screenwriter and novelist who knew Mr. Porter since childhood.

Mr. Porter also did slides to accompany a theatre production by Mr. Riche called Possible Maps. They depicted "the course of a character's life, love and doubt, success and disappointment, milestones somehow represented as topography," Mr. Riche said.

"Porter's map projections are an integral and indispensable part of the story," Evening Telegram theatre critic John Holmes wrote. "The research that Mr. Porter has put into this collection of maps of locales as far apart as Moscow and Jupiter is immense, and visually worth the price of admission."

In the early 1980s, he had started doing posters, and he kept this as a side gig. He drafted well over 100, even as he worked full-time at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

"He wanted design to be invisible, practical," Mr. Riche said. "Each poster design was the one that suited the show. If he had a style it was clarity."

Story continues below advertisement

NDP MHA Lorraine Michael paid tribute to Mr. Porter on the floor of Newfoundland and Labrador's House of Assembly after his death. "Most of us in this House have been his subject on social media, Mr. Speaker, but I think we can all agree Gerry avoided low blows."

Working across several platforms, Mr. Porter was immensely productive, Mr. Riche said. "He had a full-time job where he's the boss, he's raising a family, taking care of the dogs, making posters, often for minimal pay, if that, volunteering all over the place. The amount of work he could do in a given period of time was astonishing."

Gerald Cameron Porter was born Sept. 12, 1962, to Ida (née Healey) and Gerry Sr.; he has a younger sister, Lisa.

Mr. Riche recalled him being a rather bookish child. "He was a slight boy, but he was active. He could walk on his hands."

Pursuing an anthropology degree at Memorial University, Mr. Porter edited the student newspaper, The Muse, and was elected president of Canadian University Press for 1983-84.

The national co-operative and newswire service, based in Ottawa at the time, had a considerable voice and profile; its core principle was that student journalists should act as agents of social change.

Story continues below advertisement

"CUP was the quintessential network for several generations of journalists," said former National Bureau Chief Bill Tieleman, "with noteworthies from [former Prime Minister] Joe Clark to [the National Post's] Andrew Coyne attending CUP conferences over the Christmas holidays and celebrating New Year's wildly [for] every time zone in Canada – Newfoundland first."

After CUP, and back in St. John's, Mr. Porter worked as a graphic designer with Arts in Formation magazine and as a reporter with the Evening Telegram.

Memorial University then hired him, first as a graphic artist and later as multimedia specialist.

"His graphics were classic, consistently," said Dave Roe, a fellow visual and media artist and long-time friend.

In the mid-1980s Mr. Roe was accepted to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, but he realized a few weeks before starting that his portfolio needed to include some photography, which he didn't know how to do.

"Over the course of two days Gerry showed me how to develop film and print in the darkroom. He was extremely patient, thorough, and fun. A natural teacher." NSCAD deemed the photos he submitted to be some of the best they had ever seen.

Sharp-witted and sweet-tempered, Mr. Porter tended to keep the friends he made: His weekly poker game went back three decades.

He loved music, especially jazz, and was always open to experimental, unusual sounds. As his legacy, his family has established the Award for Creative Improvised Music, an honour that comes with a $1,000 cheque.

Mr. Porter leaves his wife, Debbie McGee; sons, Nicholas McGee, a doctoral student in East Asian history, and Christopher McGee, a composer and musician; grandchildren, Jack and Ursula; and his sister and father. His mother predeceased him in 2006.

To submit an I Remember: obit@globeandmail.com

Send us a memory of someone we have recently profiled on the Obituaries page. Please include I Remember in the subject field.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.