Artwork by John Graham Coughtry,  Untitled

Graham Coughtry

ink on paper
signed and dated ‘61 lower right
12.5 x 10.75 ins ( 31.8 x 27.3 cms ) ( sight )

Sold for $561.00
Sale date: September 29th 2020

Collection of Don Jean-Louis, British Columbia (A gift by artist exchange with Graham Coughtry)
Although best known for his abstractions of the human figure, Graham Coughtry was active in graphic design work in the 1950s; professionally, working in the television graphics department at the CBC until 1959 but also designing numerous posters for theatrical plays and music events. These are characterized by his distinctive hand-drawn and painted script text, such as the cover of Kenneth McRobbie’s Eyes Without a Face (published by The Isaacs Gallery, Gallery Editions in 1960). He also designed the poster for a Duke Ellington concert at Massey Hall, December 1959. Although this aspect of Coughtry’s work is rarely examined, several examples were included in the exhibition Small Villages, The Isaacs Gallery in Toronto 1956-1991, at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1992.

While the untitled drawing has compositional affinities to Coughtry’s design work, it appears to be an independent studio work: the text is a prose-poem rumination on “the mouth.” It is not known if this was exhibited at the time but Coughtry was included in a “graphics” group exhibition at The Isaacs Gallery July 4-24, 1961. Don Jean-Louis’s first solo exhibition of drawings at The Isaacs Gallery was September 29-October 19, 1961, and was represented by Isaacs until 1969.

Jean-Louis and Coughtry were both included in the exhibition The Contemporary Art of the Americas and Spain, which opened in Madrid, May 1963, and travelled to public galleries in Venice, Paris, Rome and Stockholm.

We extend our thanks to Dr. Ihor Holubizky for researching this artwork and for contributing the above essay.

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John Graham Coughtry
(1931 - 1999)

Graham Coughtry was born in 1931 at St-Lambert, Québec and lived in Toronto until his death in 1999. He became interested in art while at high school and later attended the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School. He studied at the Ontario College of Art where he graduated in 1953. He won an I. O.D.E. prize and a T. Eaton travelling scholarship in 1953 which financed his trip to France and Spain, 1954-55.

While in France he studied the work of Pierre Bonnard, and Alberto Giacometti whose drawings and paintings of ghost like forms were to influence him deeply. Before becoming well known as a painter, he had attracted attention as a graphic designer for the CBC-TV/Toronto. His drawing for the production “MacBeth” was reproduced in Canadian Art from another publication of the Annual of Advertising and Editorial Art. His work appeared again in Canadian Art for a special coverage on CBC/TV graphic art in which a drawing of his appeared.

His first exhibition was with Michael Snow at Hart House, University of Toronto, in 1955, and his first one-man show was held the following year at Avrom Isaacs's Greenwich Gallery in Toronto. He became, along with Snow, Joyce Weiland, Dennis Burton, Gordon Rayner, John Meredith and others, part of the "Isaacs Group" – artists joined by the radicalism of their art and by their interests in Dadaism and jazz.

In painting perhaps his first important achievement was the acceptance of his canvas “Night Interior” for the Second Biennial of Canadian Art in 1957. In 1958 Hugo McPherson in discussing art of Toronto and Montreal, placed Coughtry within the ranks of impressive talents. He made illustrations for the poems of K. A. McRobbie in 1960. Robert Fulford in 1961 writing notes on 24 Canadian artists found in his work a deep love of and wide grasp of the possibilities of paint. In 1959 Coughtry left the CBC for broader fields, doing commissions for the Beth David Synagogue, Toronto, in 1958 (sculptured walls); a mural at Malton International Airport (now Pearson International Airport), Toronto, in 1962, giving an interpretation of man’s yearning to fly – through the movements of a solitary figure in a series of panels. Elizabeth Kilbourn during that year has written a review in praise of his one figure series for their “emotional penetration and subtlety.” Evan Turner has found his Malton mural in some respects to be his most ambitious undertaking to that time. Here as in his other figure studies, he combined the colouring influence of Bonnard with the ghost like fire concepts of Giacometti, to create the unique style of his own. He also completed a bronze sculpture 16 feet high for the Yorkdale Plaza, Toronto, 1963. His paintings of two figures gained popularity among a number of prominent collectors.

Coughtry's work was almost exclusively concerned with the abstracted human figure and was characterized by rich colour and powerful impasto surfaces. Through his teaching at the Ontario College of Art and Design, the New School of Art, and York University, and by the example of his work, he had a substantial influence on a younger generation of painters in Toronto. He is represented in several public collections, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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