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Harold Town Life & Work by Gerta Moray

Town’s career is discussed in all publications on modern art in Canada. He has an extensive exhibition history, and his writing and interviews have been preserved. His archives are held at Library and Archives Canada, in Ottawa.


Key Exhibitions

Town’s exhibition history is voluminous. Selected exhibitions, some with valuable catalogue essays (as indicated), are listed below. More complete listings can be found in the publications by David Burnett (1986) and Iris Nowell (2010). 


LEFT: Catalogue for the 1975 exhibition Indications: Harold Town, 1944–1975 at the Art Gallery of Windsor RIGHT: Flyer for the 1987 exhibition Town: Works on Paper, 1952–1987 at the Canada House Cultural Centre Gallery, London, England
 

1954

March 1954, Painters Eleven, Roberts Gallery, Toronto. Inaugural Painters Eleven group exhibition. Subsequent annual Painters Eleven shows, 1955, 1956, 1957 with catalogue, 1958, 1958–59 circulated by National Gallery of Canada.

1954, Prints, Picture Loan Society, Toronto. First solo print show; second print show at this gallery, 1956. 

1955

October 1955, One Man Show: Recent Colour Print Collages, Helene Arthur Upstairs Gallery, Toronto. Subsequent solo shows at this gallery (under new name, Mazelow Gallery), 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975.

1956

June–October 1956, 28th Venice Biennale, Louis Archambault, Jack Shadbolt, Harold Town

1957

January 1957, Harold Town, Gallery of Contemporary Art, Toronto. First solo painting exhibition. 

March 1957, Autographic Prints by Harold Town, Galerie L’Actuelle, Montreal. 

July–September 1957, 2nd Ljubljana International Print Biennale, Yugoslavia. Town receives award; represented here subsequently, 1959, 1961, 1963.

July–November 1957, Milan Triennale. 

September–December 1957, 4th Bienal de São Paulo. Town wins the Arno Prize. 

1958

October 1958, Two Canadian Painters: Paul-Émile Borduas and Harold Town, Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery, London, England. 

1959

January–February 1959, Town Collages, Jordan Gallery, Toronto. Catalogue; essay by Robert Fulford. 

September–October 1959, An Exhibition of Drawings by Harold Town, Laing Galleries, Toronto. Subsequent show at this gallery, 1961. Catalogues; essays by Robert Fulford. (The 1961 show brought Town notoriety when thirty works were sold within two hours of the opening.) 

1960

1960, Guggenheim International Exhibition, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Catalogue.

October–November 1960, Salon d’automne: Kazuo Nakamura and Harold Town, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. 

1962

January 1962, Harold Town, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. 

April–May 1962, Harold Town: New Paintings, Collages, Drawings, Jerrold Morris International Gallery, Toronto. Subsequent exhibitions at this gallery, 1964, with catalogue, essay by Elizabeth Kilbourn; 1966; 1967, with catalogue, essay by Jerrold Morris; 1969. 

October–November 1962, Art of the Americas, Trabia-Morris Gallery, New York. 

November 1962–January 1963, Town, Andrew-Morris Gallery, New York. 

December 1962, Harold Town, Galerie Dresdnere, Montreal. Subsequent show at this gallery, 1964. 

1963

March 1963, Town: An Exhibition of Recent Paintings of the Theme of “The Tyranny of the Corner, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, NJ. 

November–December 1963, 1st Bienal Americana de Grabado, Santiago. Canadian section (curated by Kay Fenwick) wins Grand Award for best national representation; Town wins Second Purchase Award.

1964

March 1964, Harold Town Retrospective: 80 Drawings, Jerrold Morris International Gallery, Toronto. Catalogue; essay by Elizabeth Kilbourn. 

June–October 1964, 32nd Venice Biennale, Harold Town and Elza Mayhew.

October–November 1964, Thirteen Paintings by Harold Town, Vancouver Art Gallery. 

October–November 1964, Harold Town Paintings, Bonino Gallery, New York. 

1966

January–February 1966, Harold Town, Sears Vincent Price Gallery, Chicago. Subsequent shows at this gallery, 1967, 1968, 1969. 

May 1966, Exhibition of Autographic Prints and Drawings in Brush, Pen and Ink, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery.

June 1966, Harold Town, Waddington Galleries, Montreal. Subsequent exhibitions at Waddington, Montreal branches: 1970, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980; and Waddington, Toronto: 1981. 

1967

January 1967, Harold Town Paintings, Scarborough College, University of Toronto. 

1969

January 1969, Harold Town: Enigmas, Hart House, University of Toronto. 

1970

February 1970, Retrospective Drawing Exhibition, Art Gallery of Windsor. 

1973

May–June 1973, Harold Town: The First Exhibition of New Work, 1969–1973, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa; curator Kay Reid. Catalogue; essay by David P. Silcox. Toured Ontario. 

1975

1975, Indications: Harold Town, 1944–1975; Paintings, Collage, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture, Art Gallery of Windsor; curator Ted Fraser. Travelled in a reduced version to Sarnia Public Library and Art Gallery, October–November 1975; Macdonald Block, Queen’s Park, Toronto, December 1975–January 1976. Catalogue; essay by Ted Fraser, includes information directly from the artist.

1980

September–October 1980, Poets and Other People: Drawings by Harold Town, Art Gallery of Windsor. Catalogue; essay by Robert Fulford. 

1986

May 1986, Harold Town: A Retrospective, Art Gallery of Ontario. Book-form catalogue by David Burnett. 

1987

June–September 1987, Town: Works on Paper, 1952–1987, Canada House Cultural Centre Gallery, London, England. Travelled to Centre culturel canadien, Paris, December 1987–January 1988; Koffler Gallery, Toronto, December 1989. Catalogue; essay by David Burnett. 

1997

November 1997, Magnificent Decade: The Art of Harold Town, 1955–1965, Moore Gallery, Toronto. Catalogue. 

November 1997, Harold Town, National Archives of Canada, Ottawa. Exhibition of items from the Town fonds, acquired by the National Archives.


Poster for the 1973 exhibition Harold Town: The First Exhibition of New Work, 1969–1973 at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa


Writings         

Town was a gifted writer. He contributed regular cultural commentary for the Canadian press and polemical pieces on contemporary art, and he spoke about his own art when he gave interviews. But he disliked theorizing and agreed with his preferred critic, Harold Rosenberg, that “art should not be supported by words.” Below is a selected list of his most revealing writings, book publications, and interviews, in chronological order.


Invitation to the exhibition Painters Eleven, Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 1955.
Includes a statement by Town.

Painters Eleven. Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1957. Exhibition catalogue.
Includes a statement and essay by Town.

Introduction to Painters Eleven with Ten Distinguished Artists from Quebec. Toronto: Park Gallery, 1958. Exhibition catalogue.

“Toronto’s Beauty Enthralls Painter.” Toronto Telegram, November 16, 1960.

Kilbourn, Elizabeth. “Eighteen Print Makers.” Canadian Art 18, no. 2 (March/April 1961): 110–11.
Includes Town’s description of the full range of his printmaking processes.

“An Afternoon with Harold Town.” Interview by Jerrold Morris and John Richmond. Imperial Oil Review, October 1962.
Town discusses the definition of art, contemporary art movements, criteria for good painting, and the fallacy of romantic inspiration.

Layton, Irving, ed. Love Where the Nights Are Long: An Anthology of Canadian Poems. With illustrations by Harold Town. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1962.

Town, Harold, and David P. Silcox. Enigmas. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964.
Town’s preface to these elusive drawings is an all-too-explicit diatribe against everything that angered or irritated him in Canadian politics and culture at the time.

Town, Harold. “The Art Boom That Was a Trifle Flat-Chested—Not a Complete Bust.” In Canadian Art Today, edited by William Townsend, 36–44. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1970.
Town’s article follows one by curator Dennis Reid, “Notes on the Toronto Painting Scene, 1959–69,” which dismisses Town’s work, beginning a long animosity between the two; Town counters with an artist’s perspective on the Toronto art scene.

Town, Harold. Silent Stars, Sound Stars, Film Stars. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1971.

“Sinews of an Ideal Critic.” Globe and Mail, May 5, 1973.
Town’s discussion of contemporary art critics, including Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg.

Town, Harold. Albert Franck: Keeper of the Lanes. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1974.
An homage to the Toronto painter whom Town considered an important mentor.

“From the CN Pinnacle to an AGO Exhibit, Harold Town Muses on Professionalism, Quackery.” Globe and Mail, May 3, 1975.
A typical example of Town’s cultural commentary.

Town, Harold, and David P. Silcox. Tom Thomson: The Silence and the Storm. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977.
This became one of the year’s bestsellers; Town’s text is noteworthy for its close reading of the meanings and methods of Thomson’s paintings and as a manifesto of Town’s own vision of art.



Film

The CBC archives holds Town film footage, but it is not readily accessible.

Christopher Chapman. Pyramid of Roses. Christopher Chapman Ltd. & Chartres Film, 1982. 35mm film, 10 minutes.
A film about Town’s Vale Variations.



Critical Interpretations

Town’s work during his lifetime elicited continual scrutiny, critical attention, and debate. His reputation is still being revised as his work generates renewed interest and new scholarship. In Town’s lifetime, debate became sharply polarized between supporters who had extensive exposure to his work and hostile critics and curators who were attuned to rival aesthetic frames of reference or were alienated by his intemperate manner. Interesting responses to his work can be found in the catalogues noted in the exhibitions list above. Even among favourably disposed critics there are wide disagreements as to which of his late series have merit. Further study is required to better understand the sources, implications, and potential meanings in Town’s varied, multi-layered, and complex body of work.


Burnett, David. Town. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1986.
This extensively illustrated book-length exhibition catalogue was prepared for the definitive Town retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As curator, David Burnett held extensive discussions with the artist about his techniques, ideas, and development and had access to a great proportion of his existing works. Burnett’s goal was to reflect “through its changes and constants, its internal contrasts and external responses, and its innovations and criticisms, the integrity of [Town’s] artistic production.” He provides a detailed analysis of representative examples from Town’s most important series of works, bringing out the underlying constants and concerns that emerge. The catalogue has a full exhibition history and bibliography on the artist to 1986, four years before his death.

Fulford, Robert. Harold Town: Drawings. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1969.
An extensive collection of Town’s drawings with commentary by an influential critic who knew him well.

Nowell, Iris. Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010.
A lively account of Painters Eleven and the careers of its members. The section on Town has excellent illustrations and is particularly rich in telling anecdote, by a writer who was Town’s close companion for many years.



Further Reading

In addition to the sources already noted, readers will find the following titles useful.

Burnett, David. Town: Works on Paper, 1952–1987. London, U.K.: Canada House Cultural Centre Gallery, 1987. Exhibition catalogue.

Dault, Gary Michael. “Harold Town.” Canadian Art, Spring 1986, 45–53.

. Harold Town: The Snap Paintings. Toronto: Christopher Cutts Gallery, 2011. Exhibition catalogue.

Hale, Barrie. Introduction to Toronto Painting: 1953–1965. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1972. Exhibition catalogue.

. Out of the Park: Modernist Painting in Toronto, 1950–1980. Provincial Essays, vol. 2. Toronto: Phacops Publishing Society, 1985.

Leclerc, Denise. The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada: The 1950s. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1992.

Murray, Joan. Confessions of a Curator. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1996.

Nasgaard, Roald. Abstract Painting in Canada. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007. 

Nowell, Iris. Hot Breakfast for Sparrows: My Life with Harold Town. Toronto: Stoddart, 1992.

Town, Harold, Robert Fulford, and David P. Silcox. Magnificent Decade: The Art of Harold Town, 1955–1965. Toronto: Moore Gallery, 1997. Exhibition catalogue.

Town, Harold, and Kenneth Saltmarche. Indications: Harold Town 1944–1975; Paintings, Collage, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture. Preface by Ted Fraser. Windsor: Art Gallery of Windsor, 1975.

Townsend, William, ed. Canadian Art Today. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1970.