Enigma No. 9 1964

Harold Town, Enigma No. 9, 1964

Harold Town, Enigma No. 9, 1964

Brush, steel pen, black and white ink on grey paper, 43.8 x 66.3 cm

Estate of Harold Town

In 1964 Town was etching the metal panels for a large mural screen commissioned for the Toronto International Airport. To while away the time as the acid did its work, he began to draw. The figure that emerged was one he had drawn before; in his annoyance at repeating himself he drew a fire bucket wedged onto the figure’s foot. Surrendering to free association, he began to channel feelings and frustrations into a series of drawings made with steel pen and brush in black and white ink on tinted grey, green, and brown papers. The drawing technique is virtuosic and varied, ranging from boldly sketched to finely modelled. Alarmingly recognizable social types emerge from his imagination—businessmen caught with their pants off, powerful female nudes carrying men on their shoulders, men parading as priests, soldiers, or clowns.


In Enigma No. 9 a man and a woman lie end to end on a hospital gurney. With a trail of papers behind him and a chandelier overhead, a surgeon on roller skates performs an operation, apparently to suture the couple together at their knees. A satire on the state of marriage? On the venality of medicine? As Robert Fulford comments: “We are allowed to consider not only masses and lines but dreams and nightmares; indeed we are permitted to examine both a personal and an intellectual history.”


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