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.

1 comment:

  1. I Love those guys especially Gordon Rayner and Robert ReMarkle always supportive and hilarious to have an evening with. One evening in the Wheat Sheaf bar, Robert Roy was moving back to Ottawa and said to Robert Markle a native Ojibway " Bob I want you to have my Indians and produces fom his jacket pocket a collection of lead warriors he's had since childhood, It was touching as you may imagine and we all wished him well on his move back to Ottawa. Some weeks later we again where sitting in the bar and in the door comes Rob Roy he says to Markle "Bob can I have my Indians back" and Markle reaches into the pocket of his beaded moose hide jacket and hands the plastic bag of indians to Rob and says "Indian giver" a great laugh.


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