Artwork by Gregory Richard Curnoe,  Moustache #9 (1965)

Greg Curnoe
Moustache #9 (1965)

collage, stamp-pad ink on paper, Plexiglass, screws, cup-washers, screw eye on painted wood

date stamped “Dec. 5, 1965” lower centre
8.5 x 18 ins ( 21.6 x 45.7 cms )

Sold for $4,708.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Isaacs Gallery, Toronto
Masters Gallery, Calgary
Private Collection, Calgary
CUTOUT: Greg Curnoe, Shaped Collages 1965-68, Museum London, January 22 - April 17, 2011
Robert Fones, ed., Ben Portis, and Carol-Ann M. Ryan, CUTOUT: Greg Curnoe, Shaped Collages 1965-68 [Exhibition Catalogue] Museum London, 2011, pages 17-34, reproduced page 65
James King, The Way it Is: The Life of Greg Curnoe, Toronto, 2017, page 186
Sarah Milroy, “Greg Curnoe: Time Machines”, in Greg Curnoe: Life & Stuff, Dennis Reid and Matthew Teitelbaum (eds.), Toronto, 2001, pages 59-60
From December 1965 to August 1968, Greg Curnoe produced a series of approximately fifty shaped collages mounted on painted wooden supports. Unique in the history of art and within his own trajectory as an artist, the body of work to which “Moustache #9” belongs is significant within Curnoe’s practice. Allowing the artist the freedom to work intuitively and quickly, the objects mark a significant departure from his previous methods, for it was while devising the cutouts that Curnoe first experimented with unconventional materials. Constructed from found paper clippings, Plexiglass, and remnants of wood found in his studio, the experimental collages helped the artist develop his characteristic intrinsic framing system; moreover, they enabled Curnoe to test the concept of the painted freeform cutout that would appear on a monumental scale in the controversial “Homage to the R 34” (October 1967 – March 1968), a mural commissioned for the Montreal International Airport in Dorval, Quebec.

Curnoe’s choice of materials was as responsive to his formal concerns as it was to his love of popular culture and his immediate surroundings. Composing the vibrant paper artifacts collected on his daily outings no doubt satisfied a purely formal impulse of Curnoe’s, as well as a prescient desire to invest in, archive, and document a shrinking scene: by the 1970s, small businesses in downtown London would become threatened by suburban development, and local artists who had been regular fixtures in Curnoe’s studio (and the sources of many of his collage materials) were forced to relocate further afield.

Though the artist’s collages are frank visual records of his daily experiences, as Robert Fones observes, Curnoe’s juxtapositions are neither isolated, nor arbitrary: The neo-Dada and Pop affinities of American and British artists of the 1950s had an immediate impact on Curnoe. Like the other shaped collages of this brief but key period - thermometers, revolvers, ties, noses, and blimps - Curnoe’s moustaches not only demonstrate the irreverent humour he shared with his international contemporaries, but, Portis argues, reveal how attuned Curnoe was to creative processes that could transform discarded commercial waste into “shapes that referenced the abstracted, archetypal body and the machine.”

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Gregory Richard Curnoe
(1936 - 1992)

Born in London, Ontario in 1936, Greg Curnoe was a fervent regionalist visual artist and musician who championed the distinct voice of Canadian locales and London, Ontario, specifically. He attended Beal Technical School (1954-1956) and the Doon School of Art (1956) before attending the Ontario College of Art (1957-1960) then returned to London in 1960.

While still attending Beal Tech he became interested in Dada art and joined the Société Pour L’Etude Du Movement Dada since he himself became dedicated to attacking existing standards of the establishment bound by international styles of art. Taking the opposite pole, Curnoe freed himself from this concern by choosing his subjects immediately around him and rejoicing in a people’s art he encountered in everyday personal experiences.

One can find in his work the elements of constructivism, op art, pop art, dadaism and comic-strip-like marriage of words and pictures, a facet of art which has been his keen interest from his earliest years (his childhood ambition was to be a cartoonist). Curnoe’s work is drawn together by colours ranging from a brilliant carnival-like intensity to softer blends of browns, oranges, pinks, greens, etc.

In an article on Curnoe’s work in Saturday Night, Barry Hale in 1970 gave this description, “Curnoe’s paintings are as immediate in their impact as superlative, blown-up comic books; they are figurative, but not ‘realistic’ - the outlines (in general) are hard edged, there is no modelling, and large, brilliant colour areas collide and vibrate to achieve a hotly overwhelming whole. Like comics, they are printed all over the works, in various manners – words as labels, or self-contained statements like cartoon-balloons; they may surround the picture frame and lead off the right edge (like the narrative print of a cartoon strip), or simply exist in conjunction as a kind of concrete poetry – so , as well as their hot impact, Curnoe’s paintings have a McLuhanesque cool, they must be read, with all the self-involvement that reading implies.”

In addition to his painting, Curnoe was involved in many other fields, including nihilist politics, writing, film making, pop music and non music. In 1961 he began publishing the magazine “Region” with friends, as his commitment to regionalism intensified. They also opened the Region Gallery. He co-founded the Association for the Documentation of Neglected Aspects of Culture in Canada and co-founded the Canadian Artist’s Representation (a national association of Canadian artists growing in stature); the Nihilist Party of London, a good natured group of hecklers of establishment parties (all members with equal say, no leader). His work was first recognized by Ronald Bloore in 1961 when Bloore was a juror of a show and awarded Curnoe a prize.

Curnoe went on to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1976 and had a retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1981, which then travelled across Canada. Though the artist’s work has influences of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and even musicality, Curnoe rooted his practice in the regional visual language of his native London and greater Canada. He is represented in the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I: A-F", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977