This painting by Harold Town (1924–1990) is both a grand culmination of his Set paintings and a transition toward his next series of works, where geometric discipline will prevail. Two open rectangular frames, just inside the edges of the canvas, are superimposed over the jostling animated forms that spill across the canvas from left to right. The painting is dedicated to Pearl McCarthy, the long-time art critic of the Globe and Mail who had recently died, and who had first noticed Town in his student graduation show and written in support of his work ever since. 


Harold Town, In Memory of Pearl McCarthy, 1964

Harold Town, In Memory of Pearl McCarthy, 1964
Oil and Lucite on canvas, 205.7 x 188 cm, private collection 

McCarthy’s presence is suggested by an organic form at the left that contains dispersing shreds of cellular patterning and a throbbing cluster of tiny coloured shapes. As though issuing from her mouth, three great speech bubbles take up the right, while the spaces between them form undulating feminine shapes. Set just off the vertical axis of the painting are two framed rectangles, picture frames within the picture. The “doughnut” patterning inside them is related to the patterning within the adjacent speech bubbles—McCarthy is discussing Town’s paintings. By changing the size of the doughnuts in different areas of the composition, the artist creates visual gradients that suggest fluctuating depth behind the surface. The symmetrical and formal distribution of irregular shapes within the painting creates a sense of dynamic authority. Town interweaves many levels of association within this work.


This Spotlight is excerpted from Harold Town: Life & Work by Gerta Moray. 

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