Friday, October 22, 2010
Shocking Business: The Group of Eleven
One autumn day in 1953 abstract art landed with a thump, like a heavy, unexpected snowfall, on what used to be called Toronto the Good. Splay-footed pedestrians passing Simpson’s mammoth department store at Queen and Yonge Streets were the eyewitnesses. They were used to the home-furnishings window displays and the fur-clad mannequins, but something had gone mightily askew here. The window was full of weird paintings, possibly from one one of those new-fangled UFOs everyone was talking about.
This decidedly non-gallery setting was where seven young Canadians vented the fever of the affliction that had overtaken New York.
The instigator was William Ronald, who did the artwork for Simpson’s ads and handled the window dressing at the store. His biggest challenge until then had been trying to outdo the displays at rival retail behemoth Eaton’s.
Ronald’s bold stroke got enough attention for him and the other six live wires involved in the plot that they — joined by four others and calling themselves Painters Eleven — got an exhibition the following February at the Roberts Gallery further down Yonge.
The Group of Seven had quietly blazed new paths in the woods, and with their adherents pretty much painted “every damn tree in the country”, as another top Canadian artist, Graham Coughtry, put it. Painters Eleven — Alexandra Luke, Harold Town, Oscar Cahén, Kazuo Nakamura, Jack Bush, Hortense Gordon, Walter Yarwood, Ray Mead, Tom Hodgson, Jock Macdonald and William Ronald — were chattering ice cutters noisily opening the Northwest Passage.
Please click here to be taken to Paul Dorsey's article, in The Dali House.
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