Harold Town

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Harold Town
Born Harold Barling Town
(1924-06-13)June 13, 1924
Toronto, Ontario
Died December 27, 1990(1990-12-27) (aged 66)
Peterborough, Ontario[1]
Nationality Canadian
Education Western Technical-Commercial School, Ontario College of Art
Known for Painting, printmaking, illustration
Movement Painters Eleven

Harold Barling Town, OC (June 13, 1924 – December 27, 1990) was a Canadian abstract painter. He is best known as a member of Painters Eleven a group of abstract artists active in Toronto from 1954-1960. Town coined the name of the group, which was based simply on the number of artists that were present the first meeting.[2] He also worked as an illustrator, a profession he credited with imparting a sense of discipline that would last throughout his entire artistic career.[3] His early illustrative appeared in magazines such as Maclean's and Mayfair.

Life and work[edit]

Harold Town was trained at Western Technical-Commercial School and Ontario College of Art, both in Toronto. The Royal Ontario Museum was an early source of inspiration, especially its East Asian prints and ceramics, and the Mesopotamian and Egyptian antiquities. His exposure to the diverse artistry of these works gave Town what he called “a global horizon,” a new outlook, which would influence his work as a commercial artist and inspire his first attempts at abstract art.[4] His early work also reflected his interest in Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning.[5]

Town developed his own innovative collage technique, which was highly acclaimed[5] His collages have been described by Gerta Moray in Harold Town: Life & Work as similar to his paintings in the way “they spread out to fill the surface yet are given focus as configurations by areas of drawing in ink or paint.” He also “juxtaposed contrasting or unexpected textures and fragments pulled from myriad everyday sources,” that lead the viewer “through sequences of association and ambiguity, of close-up and distant viewing.”[6]

Known as an "unpredictable" painter[2] Town's work moved quickly from a dark expressionist style to abstraction which contrasted vivid colours.[2] Highly eclectic, Town’s work rigorously explored a wide range of contemporary and historical styles, anticipating postmodern practices.[7] His pluralistic artistic method incorporated a variety of media and styles simultaneously, and assimilated complex artistic traditions, which he used to reflect his own personal experience.[8]

In the 1960s, Town developed a style of prints which he called "Single Autographic Prints" a phrase he never explained.[2] These monotype prints were colourful and delicate,[2] winning Town awards in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia and Santiago, Chile, where the prints were acquired by the Solomon Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA0. Alfred Barr the director of MoMA at the time called Town "one of the world's greatest printmakers."[5]

Described as a “Canadian loyalist,” Harold Town was unwavering in his commitment to proving that internationally important and innovative art could develop in Toronto.[9] Through his early success and his insistence on maintaining his roots in Toronto, Town helped foster a new confidence and maturity in the Canadian art scene of the late 1950s.[10]

Town was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts[11] In 1956, works by Town along with those of Jack Shadbolt and Louis Archambault represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. In 1964, Town and Elza Mayhew were chosen to represent Canada in the Venice Biennale.[12] Town's work also represented Canada at the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1957 and 1961.[5] He was recognized with the Biennale de São Paulo’s Arno Award in 1957.[1] York University granted him an honorary doctorate in 1966.[1] He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1968.[13][1]

Town had retrospective exhibitions at the Windsor Art Gallery in 1975 and the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1986.

Painters Eleven[edit]

Main article: Painters Eleven

In the late 1940s Town met Walter Yarwood and others involved in avant-garde art in Toronto and although he was not included in the Abstracts at Home exhibition held in 1953 at the Robert Simpson Company, Toronto, he joined Painters Eleven when the group was formed later that year. In Canada's conservative art world their early exhibitions were met with disdain.[14][15] Nevertheless, Painters Eleven attracted U.S. exposure with a successful exhibition, Twentieth Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artists with "Painters Eleven of Canada in 1956, with the American Abstract Artists at the Riverside Gallery in New York,[16] and were praised by the influential critic Clement Greenberg on a visit he paid to Toronto in 1957.[17] In the Canadian press, the group's most ardent supporters were art critic Robert Fulford and Pearl McCarthy, art critic of the Globe and Mail. The group formally disbanded in 1960.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d "Harold Town". National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Fulford, "Introduction"
  3. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 5. 
  4. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 4. 
  5. ^ a b c d thecanadianencyclopedia.com
  6. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 58. 
  7. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 52-54. 
  8. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 65. 
  9. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 13, 8. 
  10. ^ Moray, Gerta (2014). Harold Town: Life and Work (PDF). Art Canada Institute. p. 48. 
  11. ^ "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  12. ^ "Past Canadian Exhibitions". National Gallery of Canada at the Venice Biennale. National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  13. ^ "Harold B. Town, O.C., D.Litt., A.R.C.A.". Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  14. ^ Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, p.92
  15. ^ Burnett and Schiff Contemporary Canadian Art, p. 46
  16. ^ a b Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, p.96
  17. ^ Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, p.91

Further reading[edit]

  • Broad, Graham. "Art Shock in Toronto: Painters Eleven, The Shock of the New." The Beaver, Canada’s History Magazine Vol. 84:1 (2004).
  • Burnett, David G. Town. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1986. ISBN 0-7710-1781-2
  • Fulford, Robert. "Introduction." Magnificent Decade: The Art of Harold Town, 1955-1965. Toronto: The Moore Gallery, 1997.
  • Nasgaard, Roald. Abstract Painting in Canada. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2008. ISBN 1-55365-394-7
  • Withrow, William J. Contemporary Canadian Painting. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972. ISBN 0-7710-9029-3
  • Nowell, Iris. "Hot Breakfast For Sparrows: My Life With Harold Town," Toronto; Stoddart Publishing, 1992, ISBN 0-7737-2645-4
  • Nowell, Iris. "Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art," Vancouver: Doublas & McIntyre, 2010. ISBN 978-1-55365-590-9

External links[edit]