Artwork by Harold Barling Town,  Picture for Heather #4
Thumbnail of Artwork by Harold Barling Town,  Picture for Heather #4 Thumbnail of Artwork by Harold Barling Town,  Picture for Heather #4 Thumbnail of Artwork by Harold Barling Town,  Picture for Heather #4

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

Lot #10

Harold Town
Picture for Heather #4

oil and lucite on masonite
titled and dated 1960 to two labels on the reverse; inscribed “P288 (O)” on the reverse
48 x 30 ins ( 121.9 x 76.2 cms )

Estimated: $22,000.00$18,000.00 - $22,000.00

Private Collection, Toronto
By 1960, Harold Town was a rising star of modern art in Canada. His steadily growing notoriety paralleled the broader cultural development of Toronto. The late 1950s had brought the city a new concentration of wealth, which in turn energized the art scene and brought increasing attention to its experimental artists. Along with his fellow members of Painters Eleven, Town had keenly absorbed the influence of artists such as Willem de Kooning and Pablo Picasso. A restless innovator, Town deliberately avoided confining his artistic practice to a unified visual style.

This work is one of a series of paintings Town dedicated to his daughter. Fittingly, the work exudes a playful, child- like quality. In a departure from the dense layering of his gestural “Big Attack Paintings”, Town radically pared down his paint application while embracing spontaneity. Essentially structured as a large drawing, the artist employed bold, simplified lines and flat areas of colour. A dynamic composition is created through the use of diagonal lines and the negative space of the lower half. Concentrated, calligraphic forms in the upper half are gently veiled with cadmium orange-red. The thick black lines and reductive forms are reminiscent of the late work of Paul Klee. This painting marks the gradual transition of the artist’s oeuvre from the gestural paintings of the 1950s towards a greater conceptual and pop influence in the 1960s and 1970s.
Sale Date: June 8th 2023

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Cowley Abbott
326 Dundas St West
Toronto ON M5T 1G5
Ph. 1(416)479-9703

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Harold Barling Town
(1924 - 1990) Painters Eleven, OSA, RCA

A lifelong Torontonian, Harold Town was one of Canada’s foremost abstract expressionists. After graduating from the Ontario College of Arts (now, OCAD University), he worked as a commercial illustrator for many years. In 1954, he became a founding member of the experimental painter’s group, Painters Eleven, a name he coined, himself, along with Jack Bush and Jock MacDonald.

Town’s work went beyond paint, though: he experimented with all kinds of different methods and materials. He often employed a lithography machine to ink his paper in different ways (his single autographic prints). A propane blow torch was occasionally used to burn his paper or canvas. And he particularly loved collage, stating, “it’s marvelous to think of the garbage of our age becoming the art of our time.” According to Gerta Moray, these collages are closely connected to his abstract expressionist painting: “the compositional modes of his collages share the aesthetic of his paintings: they spread out to fill the surface yet are given focus as configurations by areas of drawing in ink or paint.”

Two of Town’s single autographic prints were the first works by the artist to be acquired by the National Gallery of Canada. The NGC then selected him to represent Canada at the 1956 Venice Biennale, along with Jack Shadbolt and Louis Archambault.

By the end of the 1960s, Town had exhibited his work internationally and represented Canada at the Venice Biennale twice. He garnered covers of Maclean’s and Time magazines and became a hero of Canadian art. At one point his name was “synonymous with art in Toronto.” He received an honourary doctorate from York University and the Order of Canada.

In the 1970s, Town faced criticism for remaining in Toronto instead of going to New York to pursue Pop Art and minimalism. Town asserted that these claims by art critics suggested a subservience to the New York trends. He remained true to his roots in Toronto.

In the 1980s, Town returned to figurative painting. His bright colours and simple lines were playful, ironic, and influenced by folk art. In his series, Musclemen, he painted body builders in cartoonish proportions and colours, with giant muscles and tiny heads. Apparently, Town “came upon an international bodybuilding competition and was captivated by the human body performing its muscle-bulging poses as living sculpture.” Moray asserts that this series ironically comments on “the masculine ideal in popular culture.” This assertion is made more interesting when considering that he also painted a small number “Muscles Ladies.”

Four years before his death, Town was given a long overdue retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Town’s death in 1990 of cancer was felt profoundly by the artistic community. Pierre Burton wrote “Town was a great artist with an insatiable intellect.” David Burnett, the curator of his retrospective wrote: “Our response to his death must be to begin the process of understanding his achievement as a totality, of facing all of his work in the present” The enticing legacy of his work continues to captivate and intrigue audiences today.

Literature Sources
Iris Nowell, “Harold Town”, Vancouver, 2014, pages 175-78
Gerta Moray, “Harold Town: Life and Works”, Art Canada Institute, 2014 (

We extend our thanks to Scarlett Larry, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.