In 1955 construction began on Imperial Oil’s executive offices at 111 St. Clair Avenue West, in Toronto, a landmark high-rise that accommodated 1,200 people. Oscar Cahén was commissioned to design the eighth-floor cafeteria and lounge area. It was a highly prestigious assignment, for which Cahén was paid a princely $7,200 (a man working in manufacturing made about $5,000 a year). Intended to enliven this space of leisure, Cahén’s barb and crescent forms interact playfully with wide fields of pastel and vivid colours. He completed the commission just days before his death on November 26, 1956. After Cahén’s death, other artists, such as Cahén’s fellow Painters Eleven member Jack Bush (1909–1977), would go on to develop similar approaches, in colour-field painting and what New York critic Clement Greenberg termed Post-Painterly Abstraction.
Oscar Cahén, Multi-part Mural, Staff Lounge and Cafeteria of the Imperial Oil Executive Office Building, Toronto, 1956, installation view of central panel from period photograph (cropped on the right)
Acrylic on canvas, approximately 294.6 x 670.6 cm, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa