“HARMONIOUS DISAGREEMENT”: PAINTERS ELEVEN, ABSTRACTION, AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF CANADIAN MODERNISM IN THE 1950S by Jessica Poon B.A., Barnard College, 2009 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES (Art History and Theory) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) June 2018 © Jessica Poon, 2018 ii The following individuals certify that they have read, and recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for acceptance, the dissertation entitled: “Harmonious Disagreement”: Painters Eleven, Abstraction, and the Construction of Canadian Modernism in the 1950s submitted by Jessica Poon in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Art History and Theory Examining Committee: Dr. John O’Brian Supervisor Dr. Serge Guilbaut Supervisory Committee Member Dr. T’ai Smith Supervisory Committee Member Dr. Jaleh Mansoor University Examiner Dr. Tina Loo University Examiner Additional Supervisory Committee Members: Supervisory Committee Member Supervisory Committee Member iii Abstract This dissertation is an examination of Painters Eleven and the complex network of national and international discourses on modern art, abstraction, and cultural politics that converged in Toronto in the 1950s. As a practical grouping of artists, Painters Eleven relied on self-marketing and self-branding strategies to gain recognition for themselves as well as for modern art in general in English Canada. Through a close consideration of Painters Eleven’s paradoxical idea of “harmonious disagreement,” I explore the group’s artistic practices, exhibition practices and pursuits, public and private statements, and their career successes and failures in order to highlight the idiosyncratic and contradictory mechanics of the group. I argue that the tensions between rhetoric and practice, cohesion and incohesion, and amicability and antagonism in the group’s art and discourse form a complex series of conflicts—as well as attempts to overcome or smooth out these conflicts or frictions—which are at the crux of Painters Eleven’s significance for abstract painting in midcentury English Canada. This study reframes the relationship between Painters Eleven and their reputations as pioneers of midcentury Canadian modernism by investigating how the group conceptualized, curated, and constructed their own reputations as avant-garde radicals. It also considers what their discourse and practice in Toronto can reveal about a transnational network of experimental abstraction in the era following the end of the Second World War, where contemporaneous artistic and critical activities in centers like Montreal, New York, and Paris were similarly preoccupied with advancing modern art as a national or international cultural force. I seek to understand how Painters Eleven attempted to mediate and reconcile the universalizing convictions of modernism and progress in art, science, and technology with the increasingly urgent iv concern for national identity in Canada during this period. By examining Painters Eleven through the lens of a postwar cosmopolitan ethos and vision, this inquiry offers new insight into their significance for the construction of Canadian culture in the postwar era. v Lay Summary The goal of this study is to understand why Painters Eleven, a group of eleven artists that formed in Toronto in the 1950s, are significant to the history of art in Canada. In existing scholarship, Painters Eleven tend to be dismissed because their paintings did not make a radical, long-term, international impact on the art world. My dissertation refutes this perspective by arguing that Painters Eleven’s artwork, ideas, and activities reflect their critical awareness of major developments in abstract painting that were happening on an international level. By revealing how Painters Eleven attempted to insert themselves into these contemporary dialogues, I make the argument that the group is crucial to understanding how artists in Canada conceived of modern and abstract art. I also examine how Painters Eleven’s art and ideas responded to larger concerns about cultural nationalism and internationalism in the period after the Second World War. vi Preface This dissertation is an original, unpublished, independent work based on my own library and archival research. Initial consultation of MG30, D404, Harold Town fonds at the Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, was carried out by Jaleen Grove in September 2014, and her notes and photographs were shared with me with the permission of the Estate of Harold Town. I conducted my own consultation of these same fonds in January 2015, guided by Jaleen Grove’s notes. The research cited in this dissertation is a result of my own investigation of these fonds and the ideas and analysis presented in relation to these archives are completely my own. vii Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................. iii Lay Summary .................................................................................................................... v Preface ............................................................................................................................... vi Table of Contents ............................................................................................................ vii List of Figures ................................................................................................................. viii List of Abbreviations ..................................................................................................... xiii Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................ xiv Chapter One: Introduction .............................................................................................. 1 Chapter Two: The Struggle for Abstraction in Toronto ............................................ 41 Painters Eleven, the Art Society, and the Public on “Modern Art” ...................... 46 The Artist, the Layman, and the Nation ................................................................ 75 Chapter Three: Internationalizing “Harmonious Disagreement” in New York .... 103 The Ideology of Harmonious Disagreement ....................................................... 107 Toronto Abstraction in New York ...................................................................... 113 Compatible Effects .............................................................................................. 129 Chapter Four: The Failure of Cosmopolitanism in Paris ......................................... 147 “We Sink or Swim On Our Own Worth” ........................................................... 149 Aesthetic Internationalism and the Transnational Cultural Outlook .................. 168 Chapter Five: Creating the Space of Modernism ...................................................... 177 Abstraction in Hamilton: Rising Above the Material ......................................... 185 The Space of Canadian Modernism .................................................................... 207 Chapter Six: Conclusion .............................................................................................. 233 Figures ............................................................................................................................ 241 Bibliography .................................................................................................................. 274 viii List of Figures Figure 1: Alexandra Luke, The Cloister, 1953, oil on canvas, Private Collection. ........ 241 Figure 2: Oscar Cahén, Candy Tree, 1952, oil on masonite, Collection of The Cahén Archives. Permission courtesy the Estate of Oscar Cahén ..................................... 242 Figure 3: Harold Town, Tumult for a King, 1954, oil and Lucite on canvas. Permission courtesy of the Estate of Harold Town. .................................................................. 243 Figure 4: Newspaper clipping, Rose Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here or Is It Doodling Phase?” Toronto Telegram, March 9, 1951, p.3, Collection of The Cahén Archives. ................................................................................................................. 244 Figure 5: Oscar Cahén, Rooster, 1951, oil, location unknown, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. Permission courtesy of the Estate of Oscar Cahén ............................................................................................. 245 Figure 6: Jack Bush, Release, 1949, medium and location unavailable, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. .................................. 246 Figure 7: Harold Town, The Politician, 1949, medium and location unavailable, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. .... 246 Figure 8: Stanley Cooper, Intersection, c.1951, medium and location unavailable, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. .... 247 ix Figure 9: Alexandra Luke, Interior with Relics, 1950, oil on canvas, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. ................................................................................... 248 Figure 10: Jock Macdonald, Still Life with Yellow Bird, 1951, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. M. Sharf, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. ......................................................................................................... 248 Figure 11: Fred H. Brigden, Bay St. Lawrence, c. 1951, oil on canvas, location unavailable, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. ......................................................................................................... 249 Figure 12: A.Y. Jackson, October, Twin Butte, Alberta, 1951, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada, reproduction from the Ontario Society of Artists 1951 Exhibition Catalogue, F1140-5, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, North York, Canada. ......................................................................................................... 249 Figure 13: Oscar Cahén, Still Life, 1950, pastel on illustration board, Collection of National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. ...................................................................... 250 Figure 14: Exhibition Pamphlet, Painters 11 at the Roberts Gallery, 1955, Collection of The Cahén Archives. ............................................................................................... 251 Figure 15: Exhibition pamphlet, YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition, 1952, organized by Alexandra Luke, Collection of The Oscar Cahén Archives. .............................. 252 Figure 16: Abstracts at Home Advertisement, The Globe and Mail, October 19, 1953, Collection of The Cahén Archives. ......................................................................... 253 Figure 17: Publicity photography for the Abstracts at Home exhibition, October 1953. 254 x Figure 18: Nina Leen, photograph taken for Life magazine, “Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show,” Life, January 15, 1951. ..................................... 254 Figure 19: Bob Cowans, photograph of the opening of the 20th Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artists, New York, 1956. From left to right: Jock Macdonald, M.B. Kesserling (vice consul, Canadian consulate), Nettie S. Horch (director, Riverside Museum, New York), Alexandra Luke, Jack Bush, Helen Ronald, and William Ronald. ...................................................................................................... 255 Figure 20: Tom Hodgson, It Became Green, 1956, oil on canvas, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. ................................................................................... 256 Figure 21: Jock Macdonald, White Bark, 1954, oil on masonite, Private Collection. .... 257 Figure 22: Exhibition Pamphlet, 20th Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artists with “Painters Eleven” of Canada, New York, 1956, Riverside Museum, Collection of The Cahén Archives. .......................................................................................... 258 Figure 23: Kazuo Nakamura, White Landscape, 1953, medium and location unavailable. ................................................................................................................................. 259 Figure 24: William Ronald, Drumbeat, 1956, oil on canvas, Collection of Vanac Development Corp. ................................................................................................. 259 Figure 25: William Ronald, Central Black, 1956, oil on canvas, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Permission courtesy of the Estate of William Ronald ......... 260 Figure 26: Perle Fine, Thundering Rhythms, c.1956, medium and location unavailable. ................................................................................................................................. 260 Figure 27: George L. K. Morris, Space Recession, 1954, oil on canvas, Private Collection. ............................................................................................................... 261 xi Figure 28: Ilya Bolotowsky, Grey Diamond, 1955, oil on canvas mounted on panel, Art Institute of Chicago and Estate of Ilya Bolotwsky. ................................................ 261 Figure 29: Tom Hodgson, Yellow Hydrant, 1953, oil, sand, and acrylic on masonite, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. ...................................................... 262 Figure 30: Graham Sutherland, Thorn Tree, 1945, oil on canvas, Collection of British Council Visual Arts. ................................................................................................ 263 Figure 31: Jackson Pollock, Cathedral, 1947, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas, Collection of the Dallas Museum of Art. ................................................................ 264 Figure 32: Hortense Gordon, Orange and Yellows Bound in Space, 1952, oil and graphite on canvas, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. .......................................................... 265 Figure 33: Hortense Gordon, Figure in Solution, 1956, oil and graphite on canvas board, Collection of Barb and Jens Thielsen. .................................................................... 266 Figure 34: Hortense Gordon, Time Bound in Space, 1957, oil on canvas, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. ............................................................................ 267 Figure 35: Jock Macdonald, Nature's Pattern, 1954, gouache, ink on paper, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. ............................................................. 268 Figure 36: Kazuo Nakamura, Inner View, 1954, oil on masonite, Collection of the artist. ................................................................................................................................. 268 Figure 37: Kazuo Nakamura, Suspension, 1956, oil and graphite on masonite, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Permission courtesy of the Estate of Kazuo Nakamura ................................................................................................................ 269 Figure 38: Photograph of Kazuo Nakamura with the June 1957 issue of Scientific American, Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. ..................... 269 xii Figure 39: Cover of Scientific American, June 1957. ..................................................... 270 Figure 40: United States Atomic Energy Commission logo, featuring the Rutherford-Bohr Model of the atom, 1946–1975. ..................................................................... 270 Figure 41: Page from Lázsló Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, 1947. ........................... 271 Figure 42: Detail of Figure 39, electron micrograph of one grain of face powder enlarged 25,000 times, from László Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion, 1947. ....................... 272 Figure 43: Jock Macdonald, Nature Evolving, 1960, oil, Lucite 44 on canvas, Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. ................................................................... 273 xiii List of Abbreviations AAA American Abstract Artists AGT Art Gallery of Toronto CBC Canadian Broadcasting Corporation CGP Canadian Group of Painters CNE Canadian National Exhibition CSGA Canadian Society of Graphic Artists CSPWC Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour ICA Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York NGC National Gallery of Canada NORAD North American Air Defense Command OSA Ontario Society of Artists RCA Royal Canadian Academy of Arts ROM Royal Ontario Museum YWCA Young Women’s Christian Association xiv Acknowledgements I would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to Dr. John O’Brian for his guidance and supervision in producing this thesis. I am thankful for his generous counselling and advice. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Serge Guilbaut and Dr. T’ai Smith, for their support and dedication to this project. I am indebted to the insightful feedback and knowledgeable critique they have offered me throughout this process. Special thanks to Dr. O’Brian for organizing the graduate class trip to the David Mirvish Collection in Toronto in March 2011, which inspired my interest in pursuing this research project. Thank you to the library and archival staff at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, and in particular Linda Jansma for allowing me access to the Gallery’s comprehensive Painters Eleven archives and the Joan Murray Artist Files. Thanks also to Michael Cahén and The Cahén Archives for facilitating my research at their Toronto location, for their funding through The Visual Literacy Foundation and Cahén Archives Research Award, and for inviting me to participate in the Cahén Colloquium in April 2014. I owe an additional acknowledgement to Dr. Jaleen Grove for her insights on Oscar Cahén and Painters Eleven, as well as her initial research from the Harold Town fonds at the Library and Archives Canada, which she shared with me with the generous permission of the Estate of Harold Town. Many thanks to the estates of the artists who gave me permission to reprint crucial images and archival material for this project: Terry Bush; Maggie Cahén, representing the Estate of Oscar Cahén; Hattula Moholy-Nagy; Elaine Nakamura, representing the Estate of Kazuo Nakamura; Mrs. Helen Ronald, representing the Estate of William Ronald; David Silcox, representing the Estate of xv Harold Town; and Sonya Jones, Curator of Collections at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. I also recognize and thank those who met with me and shared conversations with me during my research: Jaleen Grove, Anna Hudson, Gerta Moray, Dennis Reid, David Silcox, and Sarah Stanners. Research funding from UBC and the Killam Doctoral Scholarship award provided by the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Fund for Advanced Studies were crucial for the success of this project. This dissertation would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of my family and friends. I am grateful for my writing group, who read countless drafts of this project, and whose insights were crucial to the success and completion of this dissertation: Kristen Carter, Anton Lee, and Heather Muckart. Thank you for being so generous with your time and for your invaluable feedback and critique. My biggest thanks to Kristen, who has shared every step of this eight-year journey with me, and who has been an immeasurable support to me as both colleague and friend. To my husband Kai, thank you for your love and support, your unwavering patience and unconditional companionship throughout all of the ups and downs of this process. I could not have accomplished this without you by my side. 1 Chapter One: Introduction Publicized as “an unusual exhibition of paintings,” the inaugural showcase of a group of artists calling themselves Painters Eleven opened on the evening of February 12, 1954 at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto. Drawing record crowds to the gallery, the self-titled Painters 11 show offered its visitors an uncommon spectacle. It was one of the few exhibitions in Toronto to date to feature exclusively abstract and non-figurative works of art, marked by their distortion or outright rejection of real-world phenomena, produced by contemporary Canadian artists. Conceived as a means by which to confront a predominantly conservative public with “new forms of imagery,”1 the exhibition included The Cloister (1953) by Alexandra Luke [Fig. 1], Candy Tree (1952–53) by Oscar Cahén [Fig. 2], and Tumult for a King (1954) by Harold Town [Fig. 3]. In their refusal of representational or recognizable subject matter, the paintings on display at the Roberts Gallery were part of a “radical,” “experimental,” and “modern” art trend developing in Toronto in the late 1940s and early 1950s.2 One art critic for the Toronto Daily Star reported on the show's groundbreaking intervention in the art scene—albeit with a 1 Walter Abell, “East is West—Thoughts on the Unity and Meaning of Contemporary Art,” Canadian Art 11:2 (Winter 1954): 44. 2 Newspapers, magazines, and other print media often referred to abstract paintings as “radical” or “experimental” art. See for example Pearl McCarthy, “Ontario Society of Artists Encourages New Experiments,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1945, p. 3; McCarthy, “Society’s Exhibit Had Lay Appeal, Arouses Criticism,” Globe and Mail, March 4, 1949, p. 25; and Wessley Hicks, “Modernistic art fine for those who like it,” Toronto Telegram, March 1951, n.p. 2 reserved courtesy befitting Toronto’s culturally prim environment, stating: "[the exhibition]…blazes independent trails" and "gives conservatism a polite but firm kick in the pants.”3 Painters Eleven was a self-organized collective of abstract artists in Toronto. They have been considered to be among the pioneers of modernism in English-Canadian painting, and the successive counterpart to the Montreal Automatistes’ artistic and social revolution in French Canada in the 1940s.4 The group comprised eleven members: Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Hortense Gordon, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town, and Walter Yarwood. Formed in 1953 and active until their disbandment in 1960, the immediate purpose of Painters Eleven was purely practical. They aimed to circumvent the exhibitionary practices of local art academies, which they believed discriminated against abstract painting. To counteract this unjust marginalization, Painters Eleven grouped together as a collective, breaking away from established arts societies such as the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), which had controlled Toronto’s art scene since their founding in 1872 and 1880 respectfully. With their traditional standards and authority, societies like the OSA and the RCA maintained an 3 Hugh Thomson, “Painters Eleven Show Modern Art,” Toronto Daily Star, February 13, 1954, n.p. 4 See Joan Murray, Origins of Abstraction in Canada: Modernist Pioneers (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1994). See also Joan Murray, Painters Eleven in Retrospect (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1979); Denise Leclerc, The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada: The 1950s (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1992); and Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007). 3 artistic conservatism throughout Toronto and among its public by favoring traditional figurative and landscape painting styles over “modern,” or “experimental,” approaches.5 Societies were also exclusive institutions that required nominations and elections for membership, and also employed a jury selection system for their annual exhibitions. Painters Eleven, in declaring an autonomy from these restrictive establishments, sought a new model for exhibitions. They pursued the freedom of self-curation—to operate as an independent group by organizing and arranging their own shows. This quest for self-curation was perhaps more radical than the abstract content of their paintings themselves. Commercial and independent galleries were rare, and Painters Eleven were only able to secure their inaugural show because Jack Bush was already a represented artist at the Roberts Gallery. While Toronto had been previously exposed to a handful of “all-abstract” exhibitions—or shows which exclusively featured abstract paintings, typically assembled and financed by a gallery owner—it was nearly unheard of for an autonomous group of artists to conduct their activities outside of the dominant system of arts societies in Toronto.6 5 The dominant influence of arts societies in Toronto is chronicled in Robert McKaskell, “Changing Academies: The Rise of Abstraction in Canadian Painting,” in Achieving the Modern: Canadian Abstract Painting and Design in the 1950s, by Robert McKaskell, Sandra Paikowsky, Virginia Wright, and Allan Collier (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1993), 16–36. See also Maria Tippett, Making Culture: English-Canadian Institutions and the Arts Before the Massey Commission (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990). 6 McKaskell. 4 The eleven abstract artists who formed Painters Eleven in 1953 anticipated that they would have greater success in securing exhibition opportunities in Toronto by promoting themselves as a collective rather than as solo painters. As a practical initiative, Painters Eleven was not driven by strong artistic partnerships or personal relationships. At their first congregation in 1953, many of the eleven were strangers to each other—in one case, members Tom Hodgson and Alexandra Luke only knew of one another’s existence because they had seen their artwork at previous exhibitions. Of the eleven artists who were not strangers, only a handful were already acquainted, and fewer still could be counted as friends. Even as their group coalition developed into the mid-1950s, their personal bonds failed to form deep roots, and many of the artists remained distant from each other. This strangely incohesive and idiosyncratic assemblage defined Painters Eleven’s internal dynamics, often leading to clashes in personality and heated arguments at the sporadically held group meetings. Member Harold Town later confirmed that Painters Eleven was a fundamentally professional, even financially-motivated venture, when he described it as “nothing more than a mechanism for showing pictures economically.”7 Effectively, as Town confirms, the grouping acted as an administrative “mechanism,” and relied on tactics of self-marketing and self-branding as strategies by which to gain recognition not only for themselves as individuals, but also for modern art in general in Toronto. In their mission to combat artistic conservatism, Painters Eleven also had a broader, more ambitious agenda—to contribute to the changing tide against 7 Harold Town, “Rough drafts of P11 beginnings,” n.d., unpublished essay, MG30 D404, Volume 32, File 4, Harold Town fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 5 parochial thinking not just in Toronto, but also in the overall cultural environment of English Canada, through public and critical exposure to modern painting.8 The seeming incompatibility between Painters Eleven’s united front as a self-promotional vanguard for abstract painting and their inconsistent, dispassionate internal relationships is the most puzzling and paradoxical aspect of the group. How do the contradictions within Painters Eleven’s practical operations and artistic motivations make sense within Toronto’s art scene and discourse in the 1950s? In what way, if any, can these contradictions be resolved? Instead of viewing this set of conflicts as an obstacle that prevents or closes off significant study of Painters Eleven, I suggest that it opens up a new and fruitful avenue for critical exploration. From my perspective, the tensions between rhetoric and practice, cohesion and incohesion, and amicability and antagonism that are present in Painters Eleven’s art and discourse form part of a complex series of frictions—as well as attempts to overcome or smooth out these frictions—which are at the crux of Painters Eleven’s art historical significance. Despite being a pragmatic, 8 In using the designation “English Canada” I recognize that the dilemma of national identity in Canada at midcentury was marked by a distinction between English-speaking and French-speaking territories, regions, histories, politics, and culture. References to “English Canada” are an acknowledgement of the linguistic, political, and cultural specificities of Toronto’s position within an English-speaking, and even an Ontario-oriented, historical position. For more on English Canada, see Philip Resnick, Thinking English Canada (Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Company, 1994); Ian Angus, A Border Within: National Identity, Cultural Plurality, and Wilderness (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997); and José E. Igartua, The Other Quiet Revolution: National Identities in English Canada, 1945–71 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006). 6 economic “mechanism” for the exhibition of their abstract paintings, Painters Eleven relied upon a compelling publicity campaign through which to establish not only their aesthetic solidarity but also their investment in Canadian cultural identity and artistic modernism. The self-constructed nature of their group identity was rooted in the necessity for a self-conceptualized, recognizable brand, regardless of their internal contradictions. Overall, it was the illusion and outward projection of togetherness, and not a true unity, that allowed Painters Eleven to craft together a position for themselves as Toronto’s avant-garde modernists. It should be noted here that, as a result of Painters Eleven’s social heterogeneity and lack of personal cohesion, addressing all eleven artists at once is nearly impossible. Previous research has therefore tended to skew towards prioritizing individual artists who have gained the most recognition both domestically and internationally since the 1950s, which includes Jack Bush, Harold Town, Jock Macdonald, and William Ronald. As a result, the volume of critical attention given to its lesser-known members has been inadequate. With the intention of counterbalancing the common exclusion of these individuals—in particular Hortense Gordon, Alexandra Luke, Kazuo Nakamura, and Tom Hodgson—I am opting to grant more meaningful and extensive consideration of these members by highlighting their works where possible, in order to uncover their importance to a critical discussion of Painters Eleven. For example, one of the most overlooked Painters Eleven member is Hortense Gordon. Gordon’s reputation as a likeable elderly woman, together with the presumption that her paintings lack the same aesthetic sophistication and rigor as her associates, has relegated her to the farthest margins of Painters Eleven scholarship. A close analysis of Hortense Gordon, however, 7 demonstrates that she had a keen grasp on the major theoretical principles behind abstraction as well as how these modernist philosophies could explain the shifting cultural and social grounds around her. In my analysis, Gordon is demonstrated to be indispensable to understanding how Painters Eleven negotiated the idea of universality and cosmopolitanism through formal concerns with pictorial space and composition. Rather than concede that Painters Eleven’s contradictory positions make the group undeserving of critical scrutiny, I contend that the very nature of Painters Eleven’s internal incongruities is the source of their critical value. Painters Eleven, I argue, are important because of what their complex historical condition can reveal about how discourses of artistic modernism were received, negotiated, and articulated by artists at mid-century, and on an international scale. The group complicates the existing narrative of abstraction and the avant-garde in the postwar era by way of offering a mediating bridge between the shadow of provincialism and the promise of cosmopolitanism. By taking up Painters Eleven as subject of art historical inquiry, this study offers a re-evaluation of postwar artist groups, ideologies, and operations through the lens of discursive, theoretical, and practical self-fashioning, and in doing so, positions Canadian artistic modernism within a transnational framework. This dissertation investigates the entangled ways that art and discourse intersect and are realized in artists’ activities, articulations, statements, attitudes, outlooks and beliefs. Painters Eleven’s abstractions were exemplary of a “modernistic trend” in painting that had been developing in Toronto since the mid-1940s. During this period, the emergence of modern painting had not so much shocked or startled the conservatively-minded artists, critics, and general public in Toronto as it had antagonized their academic 8 sensibilities.9 In the years following the end of the Second World War, the terms “modern art” and “modernistic art” referred not only to the formal innovations of non-figuration introduced in the early-twentieth-century by European art movements such as Fauvism and Cubism,10 but also to any contemporary international practice that experimented with abstract forms, such as Montreal Automatism and New York Abstract Expressionism. The modern style of Painters Eleven ruffled the traditional, “stuffy” Toronto milieu because it departed from the landscape conventions associated with the Group of Seven, whose images of the “Great White North” from the 1920s and 1930s had achieved mythical status as symbols of Canadian artistic nationalism by midcentury.11 At the time of Painters Eleven’s genesis, cultural identity in Canada was affixed to the Group of Seven’s geographic and regional subject matter as an artistic part of the national heritage of “wilderness,” or what John O’Brian has termed “wildercentrism.”12 In its refusal to depict any recognizable forms or real-world phenomena, abstraction—also known as 9 This has been previously argued by Dennis Reid and Ihor Holubizky. See Barrie Hale and Dennis Reid, Toronto Painting: 1953–1965 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Ottawa, 1972); and Ihor Holubizky and Robert McKaskell, 1953 (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2003). 10 Leah Dickerman, Inventing Abstraction 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art (The Museum of Modern Art: New York, 2013). 11 See Donald Buchanan, The Growth of Canadian Painting (London and Toronto: William Collins Sons and Co., Ltd., 1950). See also Charles C. Hill, The Group of Seven: Art For a Nation (Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada and McClelland & Stewart: 1995); and John O’Brian and Peter White, eds., Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007). 12 John O’Brian, “Wild Art History,” 21–37. 9 non-representation or non-figuration—was a threat to the “imagined community” of Canadian nationhood that relied heavily on the visualized presence of land, territory, and its inhabitants.13 To the displeasure of Toronto conservatives, abstraction was becoming increasingly common. Beginning in 1945, for example, the OSA accepted enough abstract works to dedicate an entire room to “experimental art” in their annual showcases at the Art Gallery of Toronto (AGT), and that same year the T. Eaton Fine Art Galleries spearheaded one of the first “all-abstract” exhibitions in Toronto, called Excursions in Abstract.14 Concerns over the status and future of Canada’s artistic identity grew ever urgent, and a back and forth between pro-modern and anti-modern camps began to take shape in the public arena. This period of controversy is often referred to in Canadian art history as the “crisis of abstraction”—a term first used by Denise LeClerc to describe a nearly two-decade period from the early 1940s to around 1960, characterized by a highly publicized and hotly argued debate over the validity of abstract painting.15 The conflict took place predominantly in print media, where editorials in newspapers such as The Globe and 13 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 2006). See also O’Brian and White, Beyond Wilderness; and Marilyn J. McKay, Picturing the Land: Narrating Territories in Canadian Landscape Art, 1500–1950 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011). 14 See Pearl McCarthy, “Ontario Society of Artists Encourages New Experiments,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1945, p. 3; Paul Duval, “Art in the Department Store” Canadian Art 2:3 (March 1945): 126–128. 15 See Leclerc, The Crisis of Abstraction. See also Murray, Painters Eleven in Retrospect, 6. 10 Mail and Toronto Telegram, and in the nationally-circulating magazine Canadian Art, advocated for or against modern art. Opinions could be hostile. Pro-modern supporters accused Group of Seven style paintings to be “stagnating” and “rotting” Canadian art with “aesthetic parochialism,” while the anti-modern camp condemned abstraction as “grotesque” and “hideous,” and “meaningless doodling.”16 Additionally, allegations of prejudice and discrimination were leveled on both sides. Those in support of non-figuration argued that art societies and conservatively-biased selection juries were censoring modern art. Those against abstract painting claimed the opposite, insisting that it was they, the academic painters, who were the victims of oppression by a new regime of modern painters. From the anti-modern perspective, the “modernistic invasion” was squeezing out the figurative tradition by marginalizing academic artists and giving preference to abstraction.17 The “crisis of abstraction” reached a tipping point in 1951 when four prominent members of the OSA publicly resigned in protest against the growing influx of modern art, and the story was splashed across the pages of The Globe and Mail and Toronto Telegram.18 16 For examples of pro-modern opinions, see Paul Duval, “Growing Recognition of Art’s Place in Society Evidenced by Large Cash Awards in Ontario,” Saturday Night, March 20, 1948, pp. 2–3; Barker Fairley, “What is Wrong with Canadian Art?” Canadian Art 6:1 (Autumn 1948): 24–29; and Andrew Bell, “Yes, Painting Might Be Better in Toronto,” Canadian Art 8:1 (Autumn 1950): 28–29. For anti-modern examples, see “Hideous, Sinister, he says,” Globe and Mail, n.d., 1951, n.p.; Rose Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here Or Is It Doodling Phase?” Toronto Telegram, March 9, 1951, n.p. 17 “Hideous, Sinister, he says,” n.p. 18 Ibid.; and Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?,” n.p. 11 Painters Eleven surfaced during the prime years of this “crisis” in Toronto. The oppositional forces embedded within this artistic controversy echoed the tensions between tradition and progress in the city as a whole. In the 1950s, Toronto was the fastest-growing city in Canada, undergoing major economic, demographic, and civic changes that would transform it from conservative “Toronto the Good”—a provincial city ruled by a stifling Victorian Protestantism—into a diverse metropolitan “boom-town” by the 1960s.19 Alongside the growth of automotive, financial, television, and advertising and publishing industries during this era of economic prosperity, Toronto received an influx of postwar European immigrants who diversified the city’s culture. Toronto was also expanding and developing, both physically and technologically. In 1953, the city federated with twelve surrounding municipalities to become Metropolitan Toronto, and in 1954 the opening of the Yonge St. Line marked the completion of Canada’s first subway. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) launched its first broadcast television programming in Toronto, as well as in Montreal, in 1952. While industry, media, and infrastructure were changing dramatically, however, Toronto’s traditional intellectual and social mentalities were slower to adjust. Painters Eleven members Harold Town and William Ronald have commented on the challenges of painting in “Toronto the Good” in 19 “Toronto the Good” was a motto for the city coined by mayor William Howland in 1880s. See also Leslie McFarlane, “Toronto Boom Town,” 10 min, National Film Board of Canada, 1951, https://www.nfb.ca/film/toronto_boom_town/ (accessed November 22, 2013); and Robert Fulford, “Artists in Boom-Town: Young Painters of Toronto,” Canadian Art 14:2 (Winter 1957): 68–70. For a study of the cultural condition of Toronto at mid-century, see Sarah Stanners, “Going British and Being Modern in the Visual Art Systems of Canada, 1906–76,” PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2009. 12 the early 1950s, when the city was still dominated by a “smug, insular mediocrity” of stuffy uptightness, where movies, sporting events, and serving alcohol were prohibited on Sundays.20 With sixty-nine percent of Torontonians being of British ancestry in 1951, the culture was found by many to be “a stoic bastion” of “Victorian morality” and “British Dullness.”21 The English writer and artist Wyndham Lewis, co-founder of the Vorticist movement and co-editor of the literary magazine BLAST, founded in 1914, who lived in Toronto for a number of years during the Second World War, described the place as a “sanctimonious icebox.”22 Furthermore, the deluge of “progress” in the forms of mass media advertising and television had generated a storm of debate, another “crisis” over the potentially stupefying effects of modern technology and mass-consumerism in English Canada.23 As historians L.B. Kuffert, Phillip Massolin, and Damien-Claude Bélanger have all argued, modernization in this form of industrial and technological advancement towards mass culture was threatening the humanities and intellectual rigor in education, high cultural 20 Barrie Hale, Out of the Park: Modernist Painting in Toronto, 1950–1981, Provincial Essays Vol. 2 (Toronto, Ont.: Phacops Pub. Society at the Coach House Press, 1985), 9. 21 Allan Levine, Toronto: Biography of a City (Madeira Park, B.C.: Douglas & McIntyre, 2014). Morley Callaghan uses the phrase “British Dullness” in his essay, “My Tiger City,” first published in New World (February 1947) and republished in part in William Kilbourn, The Toronto Book (Toronto: Macmillian, 1970), 199. 22 Cited in Kilbourn, The Toronto Book, 148. 23 L.B. Kuffert, A Great Duty: Canadian Responses to Modern Life and Mass Culture, 1939–1967 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2003). 13 standards, and religion and morality.24 Critics of modernity, according to Massolin, “rallied against a society whose values they perceived to be in crisis” as they advocated for “cultural moralism and social meliorism.”25 In the decade following the end of the Second World War, modernity and technology became increasingly associated with American culture. The penetration of advertising and television programs from the United States—a country blighted with consumerism, materialism, and mass media-induced vapidity, so it was claimed—into Canadian societies was seen by many as jeopardizing a wholesome Canadian way of life, just as abstract painting, in its rejection of landscape, was seen as a “crisis” of cultural identity in Canada, a threat to the “imagined community” of Canadian nationhood.26 The fear of American “cultural imperialism” was compounded by an alarming increase in economic and military ties with the United States after the war, which appeared to be leading to a loss of autonomy and sovereignty in Canadian policy.27 One such early critic included Marshall McLuhan 24 See ibid.; Philip Massolin, Canadian Intellectuals, the Tory Tradition, and the Challenge of Modernity, 1939–1970 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001); and Damien-Claude Bélanger, Prejudice and Pride: Canadian Intellectuals Confront the United States, 1891–1945 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011). 25 Massolin, Canadian Intellectuals, 9. 26 Anderson, Imagined Communities. 27 A number of events triggered these fears of economic and military imperialism, including Canada’s “piggy-backing” onto the Marshall Plan for European recovery, the integration of the defense systems of Canada and the United States through NORAD, and the mobilization of Canadian troops by American forces in Korea without the consultation of Prime Minister Lester Pearson. See Massolin, Canadian Intellectuals; Reg Whitaker and Steve Hewitt, Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: James Lorimer and 14 who, as a professor of English at the University of Toronto, began a series of projects and seminars that investigated the role of media and communication in the structuring of human perceptions and interactions. Most notable of his publications during this period is The Mechanical Bride (1951), in which McLuhan presented a highly moralistic appraisal of technology, commenting on advertising’s homogenization of society, its decreasing of intellectual culture, and the corruption of western values.28 Although McLuhan would later abandon his moralistic condemnations of mass media, The Mechanical Bride reveals the tensions between tradition and progress which were shaping public discourse in Toronto in the early 1950s. The debate over abstraction, then, can be contextualized within a larger conversation about “progress” in the field of cultural production in Toronto and English Canada, where “progress” was not only aligned with the “modern” as an opposition to the traditional, but also with shifting ideological configurations of “national culture.”29 As Jody Berland has argued, Canadian cultural discourse in midcentury was structured around a duality of two “isms”—nationalism and modernism. According to Berland, these two “isms” constituted “the dominant frameworks in which artists, intellectuals, and administrators grappled with changing relationships between culture, space, time, Company, 2003); and Reg Whitaker and Gary Marcuse, Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945–1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994). 28 Marshall McLuhan, Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951). 29 Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 15 and identity” in the twentieth century.30 For many artists, including Painters Eleven, “progress” and “modernism” were not only understood as an aesthetic rupturing of tradition through the visual rhetoric of non-figuration, but were also forces that liberated art from the burden of nationalistic expression. By the 1950s, modern-leaning critics were frustrated with narrow geographic and regional definitions of “Canadianness” in art. Artist Graham Coughtry famously quipped, “every damn tree in the country has been painted” in Canadian Art magazine in 1948, and in 1952 William Ronald declared that Canada was reaching “a turning point” towards “a broader language in all fields.”31 Modernism and its associated ideological principles—formal autonomy, innovation, and universal purity—opened the aesthetic and spatial parameters of Canadian art onto this “broader language” of “universal concepts” beyond the limitations of the national.32 For those in the world of painting, being modern meant an embracing of internationally-oriented themes and especially scientific and technological advancements which were 30 Jody Berland, “Nationalism and the Modernist Legacy: Dialogues with Innis,” in Capital Culture: A Reader on Modernist Legacies, State Institutions, and the Value(s) of Art, eds. Jody Berland and Shelley Hornstein (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000), 25–26. See also Paul Litt, “The Massey Commission, Americanization, and Canadian Cultural Nationalism,” Queen’s Quarterly (Summer 1991): 357–87. 31 Graham Coughtry, quoted in David Burnett, Toronto Painting of the 1960’s (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1983), 10; and Correspondence from William Ronald to the Canada Foundation for Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, 28 October 1952, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 32 On the ideology and rhetoric of “purity” in abstract painting, see Mark Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 16 transforming the global society. The 1940s and 1950s, for example, gave birth to both the “Atomic Age” and the “Space Age,” a cultural period marked by the development of the atomic bomb and the invention of the V-2 Rocket, which launched an era of human space exploration. Science and progress were aligned with a contemporary modern spirit as an expression of the future and a new era of expanded, “universal” human consciousness unbounded from earthly geopolitics. Painters Eleven were keen to embrace this new ethos of progress—Ronald, for example insisted that “the 20th century is going through a time of terrific speed, and the painters are keeping up-to-date with the times.”33 As Berland points out, the “formative coalition” between nationalism and modernism signaled a convergence of ideas between artistic producers and cultural administrators in English Canada.34 The document that encapsulates this critical historical juncture and the nationalization of culture in Canada is the Royal Commission on National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences, an official inquiry into the state of the artistic and intellectual environment in Canada, led by diplomat Vincent Massey from 1949–51 and colloquially known as the Massey Report.35 The Report campaigned for increased federal funding of the arts in Canada and the exportation of its artistic and intellectual products in order to cultivate a national high culture to counteract the vapid 33 Ronald, quoted in “Abstract Art Show Will Be Intriguing,” The Daily Times-Gazette (Oshawa-Whitby), October 17, 1952, n.p. 34 Berland, “Nationalism and the Modernist Legacy,” 17. 35 Canada. Royal Commission on National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1951). 17 imports of American mass media, and to then “project” this elevated culture “abroad.”36 Like artists Coughtry and Ronald, Massey insisted that the key to cultural progress in Canada was not in geographic nationalisms but rather in abstract painting and its international, if not its “universal,” character. “Modern painting,” the Report reads, “can no longer exploit the novelty of the Canadian landscape...Our young painters are being judged on exactly the same footing as the abstract painters of other countries.”37 In other words, Massey believed that art in Canada depended on its participation within an international sphere of painting in competition with those being produced in other countries. Berland argues that the Massey Report “placed modernist art discourse at the centre of the country’s new official culture,” and that, “nationalist in rhetoric but internationalist in its proposed aesthetic strategies,” the Report’s idea of progress aligned with a growing cosmopolitan outlook on cultural identity in Canada.38 This cosmopolitanism may be characterized as a worldview that links national and international cultural preoccupations together as a set of “interpenetrating principles” by situating local cultural affiliations within the context of a universal whole.39 In Toronto, Painters Eleven’s cosmopolitan leanings manifested in the belief that the transcendent visual language of abstract painting could elevate art and culture in Canada to be “up-to- 36 On the relationship between Vincent Massey and culture, see Karen Finlay, The Force of Culture: Vincent Massey and Canadian Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004); and Tippett, Making Culture. 37 “The Royal Commission–Excerpts from the Report,” Canadian Art 8:4 (Summer 1951): 177. Also quoted in Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, 92. 38 Berland, “Nationalism and the Modernist Legacy,” 20. 39 Ulrich Beck, The Cosmopolitan Vision (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006). 18 date” with global developments and international experiments in abstraction at midcentury.40 In grappling with these evolving relationships between nationalism and modernism, Painters Eleven joined a transnational preoccupation with abstract painting as a means of coping with the geopolitical turmoil and uncertainty that emerged after the end of the Second World War. In a new world order, where European countries like France and Italy found themselves wounded and recovering from the economic, social, and political aftershocks of the war while the United States flourished in a boom of postwar prosperity and political power, major nations attempted to recuperate, or even create anew, the “cultural forms of modernism that had been allied with national strength.”41 In this “reconstruction of modernism,” as Serge Guilbaut has called it, the Parisian art scene in particular struggled to reestablish its intellectual and artistic prestige as a show of fortitude. Caught between a desire to restore their prewar glory by reviving the early-twentieth-century legacies of modern masters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and a competing belief in the necessity for new art and “adventure,”42 the Parisian art scene was, like Canada, entangled in what Natalie Adamson calls a “dialectical conflict” of national and cosmopolitanism. In her comprehensive book, which examines the medley of abstract styles that formed in Paris during the time, including art 40 Ronald, quoted in “Abstract Art Show Will Be Intriguing,” n.p. 41 See Serge Guilbaut, Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945–1964 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), xii. 42 See Michel Tapié, “An Other Art,” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings 2nd ed., eds. Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz (University of California Press, 2012), 43–44. 19 informel, art autre, and tachisme, Adamson asserts that this conflict spoke “simultaneously to national tradition and to a diverse, universalised concept of artistic identity” in postwar France.43 Meanwhile, the United States was thrown into the international spotlight with the emergence of New York Abstract Expressionism. In New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was also a contested field of art production in the battle between conservative institutions and abstract artists in the United States. One such battle manifested in a debate over the “Irascible 18.” In 1951, a group of eighteen abstract painters which included Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and others who were associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement, signed an open letter to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. In this letter, the artists—who would be labelled the “Irascible 18” or simply “The Irascibles”—protested the Metropolitan Museum’s conservative bias, calling for the institution to end its “contempt” and “notorious hostility to advanced art.”44 The move reverberated into nearby metropolitan centers like Boston and Chicago, where debates over “modern art” or “contemporary art” fueled print media articles and editorials.45 In the United States, the issue carried severe political undertones, as it echoed pressing concerns over Communism and leftist leanings during a period where Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch-hunt had reached a fever pitch. 43 Natalie Adamson, Painting, Politics and the Struggle for the École de Paris, 1944–1964 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 7–8. 44 “Open Letter to Roland L. Redmond, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” May 20, 1950. 45 See Richard Meyer, What Was Contemporary Art? (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013). 20 Accompanied by the outbreak of the Cold War, Abstract Expressionism came to be inscribed with nationalistic agendas, ideologies, and identity. As Eva Cockcroft and Serge Guilbaut have independently noted, in the 1950s the liberated gestural brushwork of Abstract Expressionism—epitomized in the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock—were seen to stand in for American democracy, individuality, and freedom of expression in opposition to the oppression and conformity of Soviet Communism.46 Abstract Expressionism came to be a tool in international cultural diplomacy. Closer to Toronto, the Montreal Automatistes had set an avant-garde precedent for Canada with the publication of the Refus global manifesto in August 1948.47 Lead by Paul-Émile Borduas, the Automatistes boycotted the conservative bias of the jury of the Musée des Beaux-arts earlier that same year, and had subsequently been nicknamed Les Rebelles (the Rebels). Refus global, or Total Refusal, called for the social and artistic liberation from Quebec’s conservative Catholic government. Foreshadowing the intense 46 See Eva Cockroft, “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the Cold War,” Artforum (June 1974): 39–41; Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom and the Cold War, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). See also David Craven, Abstract Expressionism and the Cultural Logic of Romantic Anti-Capitalism: Dissent during the McCarthy Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and Megan M. Fontanella, “A Vital Force: Abstract Art and Cultural Politics at Mid-Century,” in Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949–1960, by Megan M. Fontanella, Flavia Frigeri, Tracey Bashkoff, and Joan Marter (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2012), 49–58. 47 Paul-Émile Borduas, Total Refusal: The Complete 1958 Manifesto of the Montreal Automatistes, trans. Ray Ellenwood (Toronto: Exile Editions, 1985), 37–41. 21 political and cultural upheaval of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, where the secularization of Quebec’s government ushered in a new era of reform, including in the education and economic sectors, the Refus global manifesto lashed out against state and institutional authority and the repression of culture and knowledge. The text was replete with inflammatory rhetoric that glorified and reproduced the avant-garde themes of political and artistic rebellion. As François-Marc Gagnon has noted, Montreal artists in the 1940s still considered Paris to be the center of the modern art world, having come to such conclusions after a string of unimpressive, albeit uninformed and poorly timed, visits to New York, where Borduas and others missed crucial Abstract Expressionist shows.48 Inspired by the return of Alfred Pellan to Montreal from Paris in 1940, the Automatistes were interested in a transatlantic connection by constructing a French lineage rooted in the Surrealist tradition.49 The regional gap in culture at this time between Toronto “the Good,” with its stuffy “British dullness,” and Montreal, allied with French cultural sophistication, is clear in the different approaches to “avant-gardism” that emerged in each city. Although both Painters Eleven and the Automatistes demanded modernism in the form of a rupture from suppressive academic institutions and traditionalism, the Automatistes were bursting with 48 François-Marc Gagnon, “New York as Seen from Montreal,” in Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945–1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), 130–143. 49 See Sandra Paikowsky, “Vivre dans la cité: Quebec Abstract Painting,” in Achieving the Modern: Canadian Abstract Painting and Design in the 1950s, by Robert McKaskell, Sandra Paikowsky, Virginia Wright, and Allan Collier (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1993), 39–58; and LeClerc, The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada. 22 political fervency and blasphemous language in their manifesto—Refus global damned Catholicism “to Hell” and called for revolution, passion, and savagery—while Painters Eleven opted for a polite and unexciting suggestion for resolution between pro-abstract and anti-abstract camps in Toronto.50 Rather than make demands for complete rebellion or Total Refusal, Painters Eleven could not help but be faithful to their Torontonian propriety in the statement published in their inaugural exhibition pamphlet for the Roberts Gallery in 1954. In this pamphlet, Painters Eleven declared: “This exhibition is not a compact to agree, but rather the expression of a long repressed desire on the part of eleven painters to disagree harmoniously in terms visually indigenous to this age.”51 Woven into this ceremonious wording was not just a branding of their group as a unit of “repressed” abstract artists, but also an offer to "disagree" with conservatives with "harmonious” civility—no hostility and no passion required. The following year, a second exhibition at the Roberts Gallery maintained their courteous position of “harmonious disagreement,” and in fact, claimed that theirs was “no manifesto here for the times” at all.52 Even in their desperation for aesthetic liberation, the language of the English-Canadian artists fizzles in comparison to their French-Canadian contemporaries, a symptom of “British dullness.” It is peculiar that Painters Eleven, with its long-lasting reputation in the canon of art history in Canada as modernist trailblazers, are characterized by such a dispassionate union. However, it would be an oversight to dismiss Painters Eleven and the “crisis of 50 Borduas, Total Refusal, 37–41. 51 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1954), n.p. 52 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1955), n.p. 23 abstraction” in Toronto as a “quaint conflict” of Canadian provincialism as Barrie Hale does in his essay Out of the Park: Modernist Painting in Toronto, 1950–1981 (1985), simply because of this attribute.53 Scholars such as Hale have downplayed the significance of the debates over modern art and nationalism that took place in Toronto in the 1940s and 1950s within a larger, international scope of artistic debate in the postwar era. This has been one of the critical oversights in existing literature on the topic. Scholarship has had a tendency to ignore the fact that similar controversies and concerns over art and nationhood were being fought on a transnational scale, infecting major cultural and artistic centers like New York and Paris. By situating Painters Eleven within the broader postwar context of a global political, cultural, and social upheaval, I argue that Canada’s internal struggle between the competing forces of nationalism and internationalism is a crucial part of a transnational network of locations, artists, critics, and publics, all attempting to define and understand abstraction in the mid-twentieth-century. Furthermore, I venture that in spite of the reserved and polite nature of some of their promotional material, in much of their private writings Painters Eleven had a surprising propensity for vigorous and even aggressive language, often framed in the lofty and idealized notions of solidarity and harmony, progress and autonomy, and elevation and universality. These ideas suggests that, when crafting their own identity as Toronto’s avant-garde “rebels,”54 Painters Eleven were articulating an internalized set of modernist ideologies and dialogues which were also being explored in contemporary 53 Hale, Out of the Park, 14. 54 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” Time Canada 67:19 (May 7, 1956): 38. 24 debates in French Canada, England, the United States, and France. In both their public and private texts, Painters Eleven often articulated a three-fold interest—to act as a united front in the face of marginalization in Toronto, to delineate the formal principles of aesthetic signification that legitimized abstraction, and to elevate Canada’s artistic identity and cultural taste towards the international. I contend that Painters Eleven folded themselves into a transnational network of debates about abstract art, both national and international, and staked a claim for themselves as the avant-garde of midcentury modernism in English Canada. As an investigation of Painters Eleven as part of an interconnected dialogue, this project can be seen as an extension of the art historical considerations undertaken in Joan Marter’s critical anthology, Abstract Expressionism: The International Context (2007).55 Marter’s anthology examines the broader context of Abstract Expressionism by situating the reception of the American style within the political and cultural perspectives of contemporaneous artists in Latin America, the Soviet Union, Italy, and Japan. The texts decentralize Abstract Expressionism by reframing the movement as part of an international “ascendency” of postwar abstract painting. Like Marter, I seek a recontextualization of midcentury modernism that opens up the discourse “beyond the previously identified roster of participants and ideas.”56 Unlike Marter, however, I do not foreground Abstract Expressionism as the primary prism through which to view and build upon this discursive expansion. Rather, I argue that Painters Eleven reveals a nexus of 55 Joan Marter, ed., Abstract Expressionism: The International Context (Rutgers University Press, 2007). 56 Ibid., 1–3. 25 dialogues among a number of American, European, and British ideas, suspended together both in Painters Eleven’s visual practices and their aesthetic philosophies. No single figure, theory, or school is prioritized in my inquiry. Painters Eleven’s abstractions are instead understood as intertextual—a layered and textured relation of meanings which exist and move within a “network of textual relations.”57 I explore how a nebulous set of exposures to the ideas of major international artists and art-critical writers like Hans Hofmann, Graham Sutherland, Herbert Read, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, American Abstract Expressionists, and Clement Greenberg helped Painters Eleven develop their own field of modernist discourse in Toronto. Informed by these widely influential contemporary figures, but often distilled in the reception of their ideas, Painters Eleven’s writing and artwork push and pull within and against the limitations of their position as they attempt to expand their artistic circle into a global milieu. I propose that Painters Eleven occupy an ambivalent, if not contradictory, position in the narrative of art history in Canada. While they are commonly acknowledged as the first abstract painters to burst the “parochial backwater” of Toronto and to “awaken” the rest of English Canada, they are just as often dismissed as derivative of American Abstract Expressionism or as a mere lead-in to the subsequent generation of controversial 57 Graham Allen, Intertextuality: The New Critical Idiom (London: Routledge, 2000). “Intertextuality” was first coined by Julia Kristeva in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. T. Gora et al (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980). See also Roland Barthes, “Theory of the Text,” in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge, 2006), 31–47. 26 Toronto artists.58 Just one year after Painters Eleven’s inaugural show, a new cast of artists—Michael Snow, Graham Coughtry, Dennis Burton, and Gordon Rayner—followed with their own “shocking” exhibition at Hart House Gallery at the University of Toronto in 1955.59 Writers Paul Duval, R.H. Hubbard, and Gerta Moray have also conflated Painters Eleven’s visual practice with Abstract Expressionism, sometimes going as far as to accuse Painters Eleven of “copying New York,” or to refer to them as the “Canadian Abstract Expressionist movement.”60 Additionally, despite Painters Eleven’s national reputation, significant critical dialogue on the group is sorely lacking, as few texts outside of exhibition catalogues or anthology surveys have undertaken the subject.61 58 See Hale, Out of the Park, 14. 59 See Hale, Out of the Park; and Barrie Hale, “Introduction,” in Toronto Painting: 1953–1965 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Ottawa, 1972); and Ihor Holubizky and Robert McKaskell, 1953 (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 2003). 60 See Paul Duval, Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and Their Contemporaries, 1930–1970. (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1972); R. H. Hubbard, The Development of Canadian Art (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1966); Gerta Moray, Harold Town: Life and Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2014); and also Fenton, Terry, and Karen Wilkin. Modern Painting in Canada: Major Movements in Twentieth Century Canadian Art (Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1978); Barry Lord, The History of Painting in Canada: Towards a People’s Art. (Toronto, New Canada Publications, 1977). 61 I refer here to publications that have taken as their subject Painters Eleven as a whole, and not to publications that focus on the individual artists, of which there have been a few significant studies. See for example Joan Murray, Alexandra Luke, Continued Searching (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1987); Joyce Zemans, Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape (Toronto, Canada: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1981); Karen Wilkin, ed., Jack 27 Such publications tend to mythologize the group, as for example in Russell J. Harper’s Painting in Canada: A History (1966), which describes Painters Eleven as “revolutionary,” and a “noisy revolt,” or in a number of catalogue essays written by Joan Murray, including Origins of Abstraction in Canada: Modernist Pioneers (1994) and Painters Eleven in Retrospect (1979).62 These authors may have taken their cue from Kay Woods, who in 1970 looked at the publicity surrounding Painters Eleven in the 1950s and took their avant-garde identity as truth based on remarks made by commentators like Vincent Tovell or newspaper clippings from the Weekend Telegram in 1957.63 At the same time, however, a handful of texts since the early 1970s have attempted to dispel the notion that Painters Eleven were radical by deconstructing their avant-garde status and highlighting their debt to a successful self-branding strategy. Among those who have carried out this demythologizing work are Dennis Reid, who argues that Painters Eleven’s success relied on their self-publicity, and Ihor Holubizky, who insists that Painters Eleven’s 1953 exhibition Abstracts at Home “barely raised an eyebrow in critical Bush (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart with Merritt Editions, 1984) and Marc Mayer and Sarah Stanners, eds., Jack Bush (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2014). 62 Harper, Painting in Canada; Murray, Origins of Abstraction; Murray, Painters Eleven in Retrospect; LeClerc, The Crisis of Abstraction in Canada; and Graham Broad, “Painters Eleven: The Shock of the New,” The Beaver (February–March 2004); 20–26. 63 Kay Woods, A History of Painters Eleven (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1970), Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. See also Vincent Tovell, “Seven, Come Eleven: Eleven Painters Start a War,” Canadian Commentator 1:11 (November 1957): 10; and “Weekend Tely: Toronto Artists Startle Canada,” The Weekend Telegram, October 25, 1957, n.p., Painters Eleven File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Canada. 28 circles.”64 Holubizky, in particular, upon dismissing the group as a mere blip in the already incoming tide of abstract painting in Toronto, makes a begrudging reference to Painters Eleven, as though exasperated with their persistence in the canon of twentieth-century art in Canada. For Holubizky, as well as Hale, it seems Painters Eleven was simply a beneficiary of coincidence—of being “at the right place, with the right ideas, and at the right time.”65 While it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the issue is divisive or even debated in a significant manner, the conflicting perspectives outlined above regarding Painters Eleven’s reputation bring to light the inconsistencies in existing literature. The state of the scholarship reveals that, because of the dire lack of critical consideration of the group, a number of fundamental questions have still not yet been satisfactorily answered: What, exactly, is the nature of Painters Eleven’s contribution to mid-twentieth-century abstraction, in the context of either Canada or the international world? Why have Painters Eleven come to represent a formative moment in Canadian artistic modernism, and how might such a modernism be defined with regards to visual practice, intellectual preoccupations, and historical and cultural specificity? To what extent can Painters Eleven be considered the avant-garde of midcentury abstraction in English Canada, and to what extent is the group simply a split-second snapshot into the “quaint conflict” against provincialism in stuffy Toronto?66 And, does their contribution warrant their 64 See Hale and Reid, Toronto Painting; Hale, Out of the Park; and Holubizky and McKaskell, 1953, 19. 65 Holubizky, 1953, 19; and Hale, Out of the Park, 33. 66 Hale, Out of the Park, 14. 29 long-standing status in the history of art in Canada? These pressing questions are central to my examination of Painters Eleven, and the nature of these questions is indicative of what is at stake in the undertaking of such a project—a comprehensive study of Painters Eleven must also argue for and validate the significance of the group as a subject in art history. A diagnosis of Painters Eleven’s paradoxical position in art in Canada will find that there has been an inconsistent, or perhaps altogether improper, framing of the subject in existing literature. Scholarship on Painters Eleven often swings either end of the “avant-garde” question—that is, the tendency is to ask: Were they, or weren’t they, truly revolutionary in their time? Within this limited approach, any analysis of Painters Eleven’s artwork, philosophies, and actions is restricted to a binary set of criteria, oscillating between whether or not the group successfully measures up to the avant-garde benchmarks of formal innovation and social or political radicalness.67 As a result, scholars such as those I have mentioned above have possessed an anxiety about understating or overstating Painters Eleven’s significance. This ambivalence usually surfaces when art historians confront the most fundamental aspect of the group—the practical and self-serving motivations behind their very existence. Self-promotion and branding are not only at the core of the group’s purpose and operations, but are also acutely associated with the commercial realms of advertising and marketing. Because Painters Eleven’s self-curated identity is incompatible with a modernist ethos of 67 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, trans. Michael Shaw, Theory and History of Literature Volume 4 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press and University of Manchester Press, 1984). 30 enlightenment, art historians are often unable to resolve the incommensurability between Painters Eleven’s use of blatantly self-publicizing tools and the ideologies of mythic avant-gardism, which may be defined loosely as a romanticized notion of social and economic marginalization. In facing this conflict, some art historians have opted to call Painters Eleven’s value into question. Like the aforementioned Holubizky, Dennis Reid has also suggested that the group’s identity as a practical mechanism raises doubts about the legitimacy of their reputation. In his 1973 publication A Concise History of Canadian Painting, Reid argues that Painters Eleven owe their enduring standing not to any “shocking” blows delivered by their paintings, but rather to the success of their marketing platform over the near-decade of their existence. “If Abstracts at Home had simply assembled these beginners at abstraction,” Reid writes, “[the show] would long ago have been forgotten.”68 Reid’s skepticism here also involves passing a judgement of value based on the quality of Painters Eleven paintings, referring to them as “beginners of abstraction” in a subtle disavowal of their aesthetic merit. Reid’s tone of skepticism, echoed by Holubizky and to a certain extent by Barrie Hale, is common. It seems that Painters Eleven’s existence as a cool-headed, professional marketing “mechanism”—rather than as a collective of inner trailblazing political and artistic passions like their Montreal contemporaries, the Automatistes—undermines any claim to their modernist vanguard status. This perspective fails to acknowledge that avant-gardism itself is not derived from an innate set of characteristics, but is, as Peter Bürger reveals in Theory of the Avant- 68 Dennis Reid, Concise History of Canadian Painting (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1973), 245. 31 Garde (1984) and his analysis of the historical avant-garde, historically contingent and constructed.69 I suggest that the relationship between Painters Eleven, modernism, and avant-gardism must be reframed. Rather than ask, “were Painters Eleven radical?”—a question that restricts the parameters of discussion within a binary criteria of value—I ask: In what ways did Painters Eleven frame themselves and construct their own reputations as radical, and what can this self-curation reveal about national and international discourses on midcentury modern abstraction and avant-gardism? What exactly were their self-marketing and self-conceptualizing strategies, how did they employ these strategies both successfully and unsuccessfully, and how did these strategies constitute a particular set of understandings about contemporaneous artistic and critical activities of the postwar global art world? Underlying my line of inquiry is a crucial shift in the existing methodology on the subject. Instead of assuming that the emergence of “Canadian modernism” constitutes a natural step in a teleological narrative of twentieth-century art history in Canada, a narrative into which Painters Eleven must somehow be shoehorned, I aim to historicize the idea of Canadian modernism as a contested value whose construction as progress towards a “nationalist” or “internationalist” artistic identity can be historically located through an examination of Painters Eleven. In seeking to answer a central question—what was Painters Eleven’s contribution to mid-twentieth-century abstraction?—my approach offers an extended perspective on the transnational network of experimental abstraction in the postwar era. 69 Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde. 32 As an inquiry into their framing devices and strategies this project looks not only at Painters Eleven’s artistic production, but also their group pursuits, operations, and written material in order to explore the artistic, the practical, and the discursive manifestations of their self-conceptualization. Of particular interest for this project are the historical circumstances of Painters Eleven’s formation, their internal group dynamics, the process and execution of their exhibition initiatives, and their collective and individual writings both private and public. I examine a wide range of Painters Eleven’s written material, including group exhibition and individual artist statements, newspaper and print media press, personal and professional correspondences, and private diary entries and notes. By investigating these textual documents together with the group’s exhibitionary activities, a picture of Painters Eleven’s philosophical ethos, and how this ethos motivated and informed their self-curating strategies as well as their visual practices, emerges. Most importantly, this picture offers insight into the process by which Painters Eleven conceived of themselves as an avant-garde group, how they understood their place within the larger art world, and how their aesthetic philosophies line up with this highly self-conscious outlook. In this sense, “self-curation” here refers not just to Painters Eleven’s independent exhibition practices, or the hanging and arranging of their own gallery displays, but also to their self-conceptualization and self-branding dialogue—that is, the construction of a particular group identity and the outward projection of such a curated identity into the world. Painters Eleven’s public and private writings additionally reveal that these strategies were by no means part of a carefully plotted design. They did not deliberately calculate and then execute a planned self-marketing campaign to falsify their avant-garde 33 cohesiveness. Instead, their actions were informed by an internalized set of modernist ideologies, whereby the belief in their own vanguard qualities—including social marginalization, aesthetic radicality, and progress-oriented convictions—mobilized their self-mythologizing discourse. By nuancing Painters Eleven in this manner, my inquiry complicates art historical understandings and approaches to abstract artist groups and avant-gardism in the mid-twentieth-century. Unlike the legacy of the New York Abstract Expressionists or the School of Paris, whose contribution to modernism was cultivated in their own time by major art critics Clement Greenberg and Michel Tapié—in Tapié’s case, despite the chaos of the Paris scene—and unlike the Montreal Automatistes who were led by Borduas, Painters Eleven had no external advocate or champion to situate them within a given aesthetic narrative. They followed no particular theory or single style of abstraction, and offered little in the way of a unified aesthetic vision. Painters Eleven was above all a heterogeneity, fraught with internal conflict. In facing the challenge of accounting for Painters Eleven’s motley formation, I do not aim to provide a single cohesive chronicle of the group, but rather to focus on the tensions in order to underscore the complexities and contradictions embedded within their story. This approach will allow the discrete practices of each artist to be foregrounded without losing sight of their significance to the whole. As this project is an exploration of Painters Eleven as a historically-contingent construction, made out of an array of modernist ideologies stitched together to produce an illusion of togetherness, it also stakes out an alternative way of looking at artist groups and their responses to an international crisis of abstraction in the postwar era. 34 The chapters that follow will address the major aspects of Painters Eleven’s self-conceptualizing strategies. Chapter Two, “The Struggle for Abstraction in Toronto” introduces the circumstances surrounding Painters Eleven’s formation by situating the group’s emergence within the controversy of modern art in Toronto and the grounds on which abstraction was debated from the late 1940s to the mid 1950s. By foregrounding this “crisis of abstraction,” this chapter explores how Painters Eleven deliberately positioned themselves, both in their opening exhibitions and in their statement rhetoric, within an existing dialogue surrounding what was known as “modernistic” art and its relationship to Canadian artistic identity. Outlining Painters Eleven’s distinct formalization of a particular pro-abstract, pro-modern position through the use of modernist language and logic, this Chapter Two historically situates and defines the parameters and major axes of the modernist discourse as it unfolded in Toronto. The debate over modern art is also examined here within a milieu of changing attitudes towards nationalism and the role of cultural production in Canada. In other words, this chapter asks, what conditions set the stage for Painters Eleven to be in the “right place, with the right ideas, and at the right time” in Toronto when they debuted in 1954? Chapters Three and Four, “Internationalizing ‘Harmonious Disagreement’ in New York,” and “The Failure of Cosmopolitanism in Paris,” lead an inquiry into the global postwar world of abstraction by tracing the success and failure of Painters Eleven’s attempts at international exhibition and recognition in New York and Paris at the peak of their momentum. In examining their choice of venue or location, their selected paintings, and their critical reception, these chapters highlight the artistic preoccupations and internal politics which plagued not only Painters Eleven, but also the international 35 artworld—a chaotic scene which Painters Eleven did not have a full grasp on. Chapter Three examines the group’s first and only showcase outside of Canada at the Riverside Museum in New York in 1956. While Painters Eleven considered this to be a landmark accomplishment which validated both the international quality of their abstraction and their vanguard status, they seemed unaware that their hosts, the American Abstract Artists society (AAA) were partial antagonists in a complicated New York scene—the bastions of the old avant-garde. Chapter Four exposes the critical fault-lines of Painters Eleven’s transnational strategies by investigating a planned exhibition in Paris, also to take place in 1956, that was abandoned and never realized. This failure of recognition outside of their nation is another indication of the group’s lack of awareness of the intricacies of international artistic politics, despite their attempts to weave themselves into this global network of discourse. These chapters offer an understanding of why Painters Eleven were not able to capitalize on the momentum they had achieved in the first few years of their existence—why they had so quickly fallen out of sync with fate, no longer “in the right place, at the right time” as they had been in 1954, but in 1956 finding themselves either in the right place but at the wrong time, or, at the right time but in the wrong place. Chapter Five, “Creating the Space of Modernism” zeroes in on Painters Eleven’s artistic practice by looking at the impact of scientific discourses, especially those of space and technology, on their aesthetic philosophies. Offering an analysis of Painters Eleven’s appropriation and digestion of these ideas within a larger cultural dialogue, I argue that the group’s particular form of modernism emerges from their discursive binding together of two commensurate concepts of “space”—the pictorial and the metaphysical. Painters Eleven drew not only from artistic theories that insisted upon the universalizing capacity 36 of abstract pictorial space, but also from scientific-technologically defined notions of metaphysical space, which had penetrated popular culture through the new metaphysical dimensions of the Atomic Age and the Space Age. This approach offers a crucial insight into the specific artistic strategies used by Painters Eleven to bridge the gap between the universalizing convictions of abstraction and the increasingly urgent concern for national specificity in the wake of the Second World War. Lastly, this project seeks to delineate the ways in which Painters Eleven’s self-marketing and internationalizing strategies implicate the group in the construction of a larger art historical narrative, whereby the question of national identity is naturalized as an integral part of artistic production in Canada. As it has been persuasively argued by Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada (2014), the writing of Canadian art history has since its inception in the late-nineteenth century prioritized the “quest to define what exactly constitutes the nation”70 as an essential and fundamental criterion for Canadian art, and thus a determining factor in the inclusion or exclusion of particular artists in the canon. Asking, “why did one artist meet the standards for inclusion in the…twentieth-century narrative of Canadian art and not [another]?,”71 Jessup, Morton, and Robertson offer a new critique of the field of Canadian art history which confronts the role of the capitalist liberal order that, beginning in the nineteenth century, sought out the construction of an 70 Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson, “Introduction: Rethinking Relevance: Studying the Visual in Canada,” in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, ed. Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 4. 71 Ibid., 11. 37 art history that was necessarily a national(ist) chronicle—or in other words, a nationalist art history to validate the establishment and existence of Canada as a sovereign entity. A brief survey of the major texts that have surfaced over the past half century which discuss Painters Eleven within the narrative of twentieth-century Canadian art history reveals beyond a doubt that the group have been woven into the history as part of the “quest” to define nationalism in art.72 Historian Russell Harper set the precedent in 1966 for this particular interpretation by outlining how Painters Eleven were dealing with a “national inferiority complex.”73 Scholarship is heavily implicated in the naturalization of the quest—questions about “what makes an art or artist Canadian” as presented by Terry Fenton and Karen Wilkin have served only to reinforce the limits of Canadian art within the framework of nationalism. In this model, artistic production is understood as part of the process of constructing the nation, relying primarily on the designation “Canadian” and limiting the way in which the visual in Canada is able to be studied. Jessup, Morton, and Robertson suggest that a new approach to the question of nationalism in art history “might be simply to acknowledge the implication of art and disciplinary art history in liberalism” and to “study not only how this implication 72 See for example Sharon E. Brooks, “Abstracts at Home” Against the Ideals of Nationalism: A Study of Exhibition Practices in Toronto 1940–1953, Master’s thesis: York University, 1992; Harper, Painting in Canada; Dennis Reid, Concise History of Canadian Painting, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988); Fenton and Wilkin, Modern Painting in Canada; and Anne Whitelaw, Brian Foss, and Sandra Paikowsky, The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 2010). 73 Harper, Painting in Canada, 383. 38 functions now, but also how it has functioned in the past.”74 This dissertation takes Jessup, Morton, and Robertson’s proposal into account by asking how Painters Eleven’s promotion of abstraction as an internationally-oriented national identity offered an alternative construction of nationalism in the arts. By establishing abstraction as a universalizing aesthetic—one that bridges geopolitical boundaries through its transcendent, non-figurative visual “purity”75—Painters Eleven’s work was allied to the Massey Report’s cosmopolitan vision. In other words, Painters Eleven coincided with the government’s official promotion of a nationalistic cultural identity through an engagement with international aesthetic strategies. It is this overlap in cosmopolitan outlooks between official administrators of culture and individual artists, producers of culture, that allowed the group to enter into the narrative of twentieth-century Canadian art history, implicating Painters Eleven in the maintenance of the Canadian liberal order framework.76 That is, Painters Eleven were seen as artists who could advance Canadian art history as a story of the inter/national in art, and thereby could be included in this history “without actually disrupting the basis of the narrative itself."77 It was their goal to be nationally recognized, and by 1960 Painters Eleven were officially recognized by the National Gallery of Canada, and since then the canonization of Painters Eleven’s version of inter/nationalism has contributed to the “obfuscation of any idea that there might be 74 Jessup, Morton, and Robertson, “Introduction,” 17. 75 Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity. 76 Ian McKay, “The Liberal Order Framework: A Prospectus for a Reconnaissance of Canadian History,” The Canadian Historical Review 81:4 (December 2000): 616–645. 77 Jessup, Morton, and Robertson, “Introduction,” 15. 39 other competing notions of nationality within its borders.”78 To fold Painters Eleven into the narrative of Canadian art without actually challenging its liberal order recreates the politics of cultural compromise. Drawing from Barbara Jenkins’ idea of the “transnational cultural ideology,” which refers to Canada’s prioritization of culture in the constitution of the nation within an international liberal order, I argue that Painters Eleven’s artistic cosmopolitanism offered a convenient parallel to the official institutional narrative whereby the contradictory relationship between nationalism and international is smoothed over in cosmopolitanism’s harmonizing process.79 This dissertation is a focused examination of Painters Eleven and abstract painting in Toronto in the 1950s. It is an inquiry into ideas about modern art as they were received, understood, and articulated within the historically specific context of English Canada in the decade and a half after the end of the Second World War, and explores how Toronto artists grappled with concepts of modernism as it entered into the discourse of Canadian art. How can the artistic ideas and intellectual tendencies of Painters Eleven be accounted for through their interactions with both local and international preoccupations with defining modern art and culture? In what ways did their paintings, as well as their activities as a group, attempt to mediate or reconcile the universalizing convictions of modernism and abstraction with the increasingly urgent concern for national identity and practice in Canada during this period? In answering these questions, this dissertation will 78 Ibid. 79 Barbara Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy and the International Liberal Order,” in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, ed. Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 114–129. 40 also examine how the complex network of international discourses in art, abstraction, and cultural politics in the late 1940s and into the 1950s provided the historical circumstances out of which Painters Eleven came to be established as a force of Canadian modernism. 41 Chapter Two: The Struggle for Abstraction in Toronto This exhibition is not a compact to agree, but rather the expression of a long repressed desire on the part of eleven painters to disagree harmoniously in terms visually indigenous to this age.80 Painters 11, 1954 There is no manifesto here for the times. There is no jury but time. By now there is little harmony in the noticeable disagreement. But there is a profound regard for the consequences of our complete freedom.81 Painters 11, 1955 The above statements, published in the exhibition pamphlets accompanying Painters Eleven’s82 first two shows at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto in 1954 and 1955, reveal the group’s stance on the controversial issue of modern, or abstract, art. Behind the vague allusions to repression, the stated desire for “complete freedom” and “noticeable 80 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1954), n.p. 81 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1955), n.p. 82 In their early documents, Painters Eleven referred to themselves interchangeably as “Painters 11” or “Painters XI.” Sometime between 1955 and 1956, Painters Eleven changed the style of their moniker from “Painters 11” to “Painters Eleven” in their official documentation and has since been standardized as such. This dissertation adheres to the standardized style “Painters Eleven.” 42 disagreement” in these exhibition materials is a direct reference to a contentious, highly-publicized debate regarding abstract painting taking place in Toronto, where artists and critics clashed in print media over the aesthetic and cultural value of an artistic practice that threatened traditional modes of pictorial representation. Painters Eleven were speaking as a collection of individuals who were exasperated with the antagonistic discourse that pervaded the topic of modern art not just within Toronto’s art scene, but also throughout local and national newspapers and magazines, from The Toronto Telegram and the Globe and Mail to Canadian Art magazine. Press coverage on the subject had been growing steadily throughout the 1940s. By the early 1950s the “crisis of abstraction,” as art historian Denise LeClerc has called it, had reached a critical breaking point, causing a schism among Toronto’s public and its artists who often chose to stand on either side of the debate.83 In their exhibition statements, Painters Eleven referred to this divisive issue by calling it a “noticeable disagreement.” The group had good reason to frame their exhibitions as a response to Toronto’s modern art debate—art critics writing for the Toronto Telegram and Evening Telegram Toronto, among other newspapers, had been using their paintings as examples of “modernistic” or “radical” art since the late 1940s. Exhibition reviews and art editorials often mentioned their paintings by name and title, and sometimes the publication would feature image reproductions of their artworks as well. A prime example of how Painters Eleven members were caught up in the press is in the Toronto Telegram’s article “Is Art Revolution Here Or Is It Doodling Phase?,” written 83 LeClerc, The Crisis of Abstraction. 43 by regular art columnist Rose Macdonald and printed on March 9, 1951 [Fig. 4].84 This write-up was one of a flurry of articles that ran in local newspapers between March 8 and 11, all reporting on the latest—and perhaps the most dramatic—“modern art” scandal in the city.85 That week, four prominent members of the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA) publicly resigned from the prestigious art society in protest against what they called “too much modernism” in the society’s annual exhibition.86 These four artists claimed to be victims of a “modernistic invasion,”87 arguing that they, as well as many other painters who practiced a conservative visual tradition, were squeezed out of exhibitions by the “trend” of modern art, which they described as “mumbo-jumbo,” “plain ugliness,” and “meaningless doodling.” Macdonald’s write-up on the scandal was accompanied by reproductions of six “modernistic” paintings, which were on display at the OSA exhibition in question. Three of these six images were by future members of Painters Eleven—Release (1949) by Jack Bush, The Politician (1950) by Harold Town, and 84 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?,” Toronto Telegram, March 9, 1951, p. 3. 85 See also “Protest ‘Doodles’ in Society Show, 3 Artists Quit,” Toronto Daily Star, March 8, 1951, n.p.; Wessley Hicks, “Modernistic art fine for those who like it,” Toronto Telegram, March 9, 1951, n.p.; Roy Greenaway, “Rap ‘Monstrosities’ Say Show Committee Picked Own Pictures,” Toronto Daily Star, March 9, 1951, n.p.; and “4 Artists Quit Society, ‘Too Much Modernism,’” The Globe and Mail, March 9, 1951, n.p. 86 These four artists were Angus A. MacDonald, Archibald Barnes, Manly MacDonald, and Kenneth Forbes. “4 Artists Quit Society, ‘Too Much Modernism,’” The Globe and Mail, March 9, 1951, n.p. 87 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 44 Rooster (c.1950–1951) by Oscar Cahén.88 The story of the OSA resignations also made the front page of the Toronto Daily Star, where Jock Macdonald’s Still Life with Yellow Bird (1950) was reproduced.89 When Painters Eleven referenced “noticeable disagreement,” they were speaking not as mere onlookers or conscientious bystanders, but rather as individuals who had been implicated in a developing dialogue about “modern art” by way of their inclusion in the press. This discursive positionality is key to understanding the motivations for Painters Eleven’s formation, including the public and self-promotional nature of the group’s written material, their exhibitionary activities, and the avant-gardist perspectives produced and enacted within them. In many ways, Painters Eleven’s statements and exhibitions were meant as an intervention into the conversation, directed not just at the critics who had targeted their artworks in their attacks, but also at the larger artistic conservatism of “Toronto the Good.” Between roughly 1948 and 1953, the eleven individuals had become increasingly ensnared in the debate over modern art and abstraction regardless of whether they had intended for their artwork to play such a role. A few of the artists, like Bush, Cahén, and Macdonald, were caught in anti-modern crossfire when their paintings were singled out by exhibition reviewers, while others actively and assertively inserted their voices into the dialogue. Most notable among the 88 The other three paintings featured were Stanley Cooper, Intersection; Sydney H. Watson, Black and Tan; and LAC Panton, Rock Cleft Composition 1950. See Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 89 “Protest ‘Doodles’ in Society Show, 3 Artists Quit,” Toronto Daily Star, March 8, 1951, n.p. See also Jaleen Grove, Oscar Cahén: Life and Work (Toronto: Art Institute Canada, 2015), 26. 45 latter during this period is Alexandra Luke, who, as one of Toronto’s most outspoken pro-abstract advocates throughout the 1950s, did not only defend modern art in opinion letters she wrote for the Oshawa Daily Times and Toronto Evening Telegram, but also presented a number of lectures on the topic at venues such as the Women’s Lyceum Club and the Sackville Art Association.90 Luke was also a crucial pioneer in modern art exhibitions Toronto, responsible for organizing one of the city’s first “all-abstract” exhibitions in 1952. I argue that Painters Eleven did not spark the “crisis of abstraction,” but rather took their rhetorical and strategic cues from the dialogues that the crisis produced. This chapter investigates the art milieu of Toronto from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, before Painters Eleven came to exist. I seek to establish that by the time of their formation in 1953, a certain discursive framework surrounding the question of modern art in Toronto was already in development. In its partisan form, the eleven artists increasingly perceived themselves within the discourse as part of a marginalized, alienated vanguard fighting against traditional mentalities. In particular, I consider how the development of Painters Eleven’s vanguard ethos may be chronicled through its embryonic stages—from the OSA’s 1951 scandal, to the Canadian Abstract Exhibition in 90 Margaret A. McLaughlin, “Defending Modern Art,” Letter to the Editor, Oshawa Daily Times, n.d., 1933, Alexandra Luke file, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa; “A Painters Throws Light on Obscure Modern Art,” unknown publication, 18 October 1947, Alexandra Luke file, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa; and Alexandra Luke, unpublished lecture transcripts, Alexandra Luke digital archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 46 1952, and the Abstracts at Home show in 1953—and the debates about modern art, culture, and taste taking place in Toronto’s public forum. In giving shape to the major cultural, social, and aesthetic concerns that defined the controversy over abstraction on a broader scale, I aim to contextualize Painters Eleven’s self-curating activities within these preoccupations. For consistency and ease of reading, throughout this dissertation I refer to any member, and any grouping of the eleven members as “member(s) of Painters Eleven” or as “Painters Eleven,” even when discussing an event or period that occurred prior to the group’s formation. Occasionally this may also be denoted by using the phrase “future member of Painters Eleven.” Painters Eleven, the Art Society, and the Public on “Modern Art” A cursory scan of the six paintings reproduced in Rose Macdonald’s Toronto Telegram article “Is Art Revolution Here Or Is It Doodling Phase?” reveals that in Toronto in 1951, the range of painting techniques that were considered “modern” or “modernistic” were broad.91 The terms “modern art,” “modernistic art,” and “modernist art” were generally interchangeable, the “modern” moniker primarily referred to an artwork’s visual appearance, applying to any work of art that departed from attempts to capture mimetic and visually pleasing depictions of the world and its objects. Varying degrees of pictorial distortion and abstraction counted as part of a “modern” practice. Oscar Cahén’s Rooster [Fig. 5] and Jack Bush’s Release [Fig. 6], as examples featured in 91 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 47 the Telegram were “modernistic” because, despite their representational and recognizable references to a crowing rooster and a human figure, respectively, both paintings simplify the rendering of their subjects to a basic silhouette, only partially filled in with textural or modelling detail. Rooster and Release disfigure their forms to a certain extent. In Rooster, Cahén presents a bird with a third foot and no identifiable head—its comically agape beak, bulging eyes, and top crest float just above the neck, unattached to the rest of the body. Release reduces the human form down to a basic geometric outline, with no face, feet, or hands. Both paintings, however, maintain a consistency of spatial perspective by producing a distinguishable relationship between figure and ground. Cahén positions his subject in the world by placing the rooster atop a rocky formation, and Bush grounds his figure in a landscape, against the sky. In contrast, two other paintings reproduced in the Toronto Telegram lean towards non-figuration, or non-representation, in that their distortions are exaggerated, or their forms heavily abstracted to outlines or shapes to the point where a visual and coherent recognition of each element is unattainable. Harold Town’s The Politician [Fig. 7]and Stanley Cooper’s Intersection [Fig. 8]—Cooper was not a member of Painters Eleven—make attempts to deny the spatial logic of figure and ground in many areas by fragmenting the pictorial surface into geometric forms. In Coopers Intersection, this dismantling of perspectival illusion is constructed through flattened, single planes of color, with some of areas of inconsistent shadowing which produce a disrupted sense of depth. Town’s Politician opts for a similar effect, but renders it through density rather than the suggestion of planarity. Politician suggests a human figure, presumably the politician denoted in the title, at the center of the canvas. His form is disfigured much in 48 the same way as his surroundings—as tight bundles of narrow, pointed, angular triangles—so that the density of the figure is almost indistinguishable from that of the air around him. Cooper and Town’s images are more aggressive than Bush and Cahén’s in their rejection of visual mimesis. Although theirs were mild in contrast, Bush and Cahén’s paintings were still deemed by many OSA exhibition visitors to be nearly as illegible, and just as unappealing. For example, one visitor to the exhibition was overhead to say, “it looks like a rooster, I think,” in reference to Cahén’s Rooster, to which her husband reportedly grunted in response, and said, “I wouldn’t eat it, not even if you fried it.”92 In the press, “modern art” seemed to point not only to an artwork’s visual appearance—which, as evident in the differences between Cahén’s Rooster and Town’s Politician, could vary in the extent of its formal distortion or simplification—but also to the historical aesthetic innovations of European twentieth-century movements like Fauvism and Cubism. The abstractions initiated by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in the early 1900s, as well as Surrealism and Paul Cézanne’s post-impressionism, were quickly becoming institutionalized as the French “modern tradition” throughout the international cultural world, in Toronto as well as in Montreal, New York, and Paris.93 In 92 Hicks, “Modernistic art fine for those who like it.” 93 See Adamson, Painting, Politics and the Struggle for the École de Paris; John O’Brian, Ruthless Hedonism: The American Reception of Matisse (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Susan Noyes Platt, Modernism in the 1920s: Interpretations of Modern Art in New York from Expressionism to Constructivism (Ann Arbor, UMI Research Press, 1985); and Gail Stravitsky and Katherine Rothkopf, eds., Cézanne and 49 1947, the Art Gallery of Toronto (AGT) hosted the exhibition The Spirit of Modern France, 1745–1946, which included paintings by Matisse, Cézanne, and Georges Braque, and reaffirmed France’s place as the “vanguard of civilization” in its catalogue foreword.94 “Modern art” in Toronto’s print media and art world was used to describe both the historical paintings produced by Matisse, Picasso, and Cézanne in the late 1880s and early 1900s, and the contemporary paintings being produced in 1940s and 1950s Toronto that took the formal breakthroughs of these artists as their inspiration. Despite the institutional acceptance of Fauvism and Cubism taking place in major cultural centers, Picasso was not exempt from some of Toronto’s most fervent hostilities against modern art. Kenneth Forbes, who was one of the leading and outspoken “anti-moderns,” was of this particular mind, and is quoted to have said “Picasso is no good at all.”95 Forbes was one of the four artists who resigned from the OSA in 1951. To add further confusion to the vocabulary that was being used in Toronto during this period, “modern” and “abstract” were not always differentiated in their meaning. As curator Leah Dickerman makes clear in her publication Inventing Abstraction 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art (2012), there is a critical point of distinction today between “modern” art, which may encompass a certain level of representation, and “abstract” art, which, as Dickerman puts it, offers “no discernable American Modernism (Baltimore and New Haven: Baltimore Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2009). 94 “Foreword,” The Spirit of Modern France: An Essay on Painting in Society, 1745–1946 (Toronto: Art Gallery of Toronto, 1947), n.p. 95 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 50 subject matter” and “evacuates the object world.”96 While “modern art” is predominantly understood today to be inclusive of “abstract art,” the reverse is typically not so. “Abstraction” currently designates complete non-figuration and non-representation—or paintings that, as Mark Cheetham explains, are “purely” form97—but in Toronto in the 1940s and 1950s the definition was nebulous. Two examples underscore this point. First is an essay written by Lawren Harris, published in Canadian Art magazine in 1949, in which Harris defended modern art. In the article, entitled “An Essay on Abstract Painting,” Harris defined as “abstraction” as “abstracted from nature,” but distinguished it from “non-objectivity,” which he described as “simply a fine organization of lines, colours, forms and space independent of anything seen in nature.”98 For Harris, abstraction was difficult to pin down, although it was fluid in its relationship to the natural world. Second, in 1952 Alexandra Luke organized the exhibition Canadian Abstract Exhibition which she referred to as the first national exhibition “devoted exclusively” to abstract painting. At this exhibition, “modern” was also interchangeable with “abstract,” since representations of the real-world were present in Bush’s Angry Man and Harold Town’s Woman with White Cat. It appears that “non-objectivity” was the only term that consistently denoted the total refusal, or “evacuation” of recognizable objects or figures. To clarify these terms as they are used throughout my study, “modern art” will, unless specified otherwise, henceforth refer to its broad definition, applicable to any 96 Dickerman, Inventing Abstraction, 13. 97 See Cheetham, Rhetoric of Purity. 98 Lawren Harris, “An Essay on Abstract Painting,” Canadian Art 6:3 (Spring 1949): 105. 51 painting which presents a non-naturalistic and non-illusionistic image through pictorial distortion. “Abstract art” and complete or full “abstraction,” along with any of its synonyms “non-objectivity,” “non-figuration,” or “non-representation,” will refer to painting that has no real-world references whatsoever. When in quotations, “abstract art” I denote its usage in 1950s Toronto, which is the broader sense similar to “modern art” during that time. Additionally, it appears that the term “contemporary” did not bear any significant meaning or usage in Toronto in this period, other than to refer to living artists in Canada. This is in contrast to New York and Boston, where in 1948 the Boston Museum of Modern Art changed its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art, leading to a maelstrom of politically-charged conflict over the museum’s abandonment of the term “modern,” which connoted progressive internationalism through abstraction, in favor of “contemporary,” which for some referred to leftist regionalism and figurative painting.99 Although the controversy over “contemporary” did not enter into Toronto’s field of knowledge, the embroiled debate in Boston, centered around a change in just one word, points to parallel complications and debates caused by the idea of “modern art” beyond Canada. 99 As Richard Meyer argues, the idea that modern art was a visual language of codes “reinforced cold war cultural politics at the time, including the suspicion that abstract and otherwise non-naturalistic art was un-American and tacitly, if not manifestly, Communist.” Richard Meyer, What Was Contemporary Art? (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2013), 194. See also Serge Guilbaut, “The Frightening Freedom of the Brush: The Boston Institute of Contemporary Art and Modern Art,” in Art Apart: Art Institutions and Ideology Across England and North America, ed. Marcia R. Pointon (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994), 231–249. 52 Sorting through this clutter of terminology as it played out in Toronto in the 1950s is a critical task towards positioning Painters Eleven within a particular field of discourse, not as the city’s natural vanguard or as the most radical of its artists, but as an assembly of individuals who mobilized the right language and practices to construct an identity for themselves within this field of discourse. By “discourse” I refer to what Michel Foucault has theorized as a historically contingent system of social and cultural relations that produces knowledge and meaning for both the subjects and objects within that system.100 For Foucault, any given discursive system constructs the parameters of a subject’s framing and position by producing “a certain grid of explicit or implicit interrogations,” or an organizational field made up of prescribed categories of ideas, attitudes, statements, and practices.101 The “various situations” that the subject may occupy, according to Foucault, may be redefined through “the establishment of new systems of registration, notation, description, classification,” including the introduction of new forms of information, relations with other theoretical domains, and with other institutions.102 Drawing from this understanding of discourse, I utilize the term here to address midcentury Toronto as a historically situated space for dialogue, one through which a complex intertwining between individual verbalizations and opinions, overall debates and discussions, and the evolving conversation regarding modern art, are all negotiated. 100 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Tavistock Publications/Pantheon, 1972). 101 Ibid., 52 102 Ibid., 53. 53 It is important to understand that the dialogues between the artist, the press, and the broader art-viewing community is constitutive of the particular discursive space of modernism historically located in Toronto in the decade following the end of the Second World War. As art historian Jonathan Harris points out, “modern art’s meanings…cannot be achieved without the presence and influence of critical language” and “the world it creates.”103 The “world” created by the debates in Toronto in the 1950s serves as what Foucault calls the “grid” or the discursive field in which Painters Elevens attitudes, statements, and actions acquire meaning. In order to appropriately contextualize Painters Eleven’s reputation as Toronto’s “modernist pioneers,” the parameters of their discursive framing as “modern” must be unraveled by investigating their subject position within it. In other words, in order to answer the question “how did Painters Eleven frame themselves as avant-garde?,” one must inquire and give shape to the surrounding system of cultural and social relations, as well as the realm of terms and reference points, from which the notions of “radicalism” and “modern art” were defined. As is evident in the public dialogue surrounding the 1951 OSA resignation scandal, the dimensions of the discursive space in Toronto were largely limited to a position either for or against “modern art,” with only rare moments of critical nuancing in between.104 The widespread coverage of the OSA affair amplified the already existing hostilities between the “modernist” and “anti-modernist” camps, and intensified the division in opinion among 103 Jonathan Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried and Clark (New York: Routledge, 2005), 43. 104 One example is Maxwell Bates, who, although he practiced “modern” art, was opposed to non-objectivity. See Bates, “The Flight from Meaning in Painting,” Canadian Art 11:2 (Winter 1954): 59–61. 54 artists and their viewing public. Because “modern art” was also an under-defined, all-encompassing term, this bifurcated framework would have led Painters Eleven to be perceived as rebellious “modernists” regardless of the extent of their abstraction. Painters Eleven were by no means the only “modern” painters in Toronto. Edna Taçon, Fritz Brandtner, and the aforementioned Stanley Cooper, for example, were exhibiting non-objective, or fully abstract, paintings at OSA shows. Meanwhile, many of the canvases created by Painters Eleven and selected for display at the OSA in the early 1950s were representational to some degree, like Bush’s Release and Cahén’s Rooster. Although a number of Painters Eleven members were producing non-figurative artwork, like Hortense Gordon and Harold Town, the ones accepted by the OSA exhibition jury tended to adhere to Post-Impressionist, Cubist, and Fauvist techniques—examples include Alexandra Luke’s Interior with Relics [Fig. 9], Jock Macdonald’s Still Life with Yellow Bird [Fig. 10], and Ray Mead’s Still Life on a Green Field. These images make use of distortion but maintain figural references, and render their pictorial surfaces with either daubed texture, saturated color, or surface fragmentation to yield visual obfuscations of depth and disarticulations of foreground, background, and atmosphere. As art historian Robert McKaskell has pointed out, such pictures were not “particularly daring.”105 McKasell’s assessment is similar to one that Michael Leja makes of American Abstract Expressionism, which Leja claims were ideologically “tame” compared to the politically charged, “destructive, nihilistic component” of the European interwar modernisms of Dada or Surrealism, for example.106 However modest in contrast, 105 McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 21. 106 Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism, 23. 55 Toronto’s modern paintings were still labelled as “hideous monstrosities” by anti-modernists like Forbes. Even in the 1950s, contemporary figures recognized that Painters Eleven and many other modern artists in Toronto were unadventurous in their recycling early-twentieth-century aesthetic styles, while artists in Montreal were making leaps into innovative, daring modes of abstraction. One of Painters Eleven’s contemporaries and a fellow modern artist, York Wilson, made this direct comparison in 1951, stating: “Quebec artists would consider [Toronto’s modern art] namby-pamby…compared to what bursts on to canvas there.”107 Artists in Toronto were well aware of the developments in abstract and non-objective experimentation occurring in Quebec. French-Canadian art was included in nation-wide exhibitions at the AGT, including the annual Canadian National Exhibitions and Contemporary Canadian Exhibitions, which featured painting, sculpture, and watercolors selected by art societies throughout the country. Quebec art also made frequent mention in Canadian Art magazine, which in 1948 published a special issue dedicated to the arts in Quebec and “recent trends in Montreal painting.”108 Reproductions of images in the magazine included artworks by Alfred Pellan, who was the inspirational figure of the Automatistes, as well as those of Borduas, Goodridge Roberts, and Stanley Cosgrove. When Wilson referred to Toronto art as “namby-pamby,” he was acknowledging that many of the local paintings which were deemed “radical” by 107 York Wilson, quoted in “Art May Test Diplomacy of Lord Alexander,” Montreal Daily Star, March 10, 1951, n.p. See also Wilson, quoted in McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 21. 108 Special Quebec Issue, Canadian Art 5:3 (Winter 1948). 56 the press were tame in consideration against the captivating, visually charged surfaces and politically driven rebelliousness of Montreal’s Automatistes and the Plasticiens. While the Automatistes also took their aesthetic inspiration from an early-twentieth-century French movement, Surrealism, their ideological alliance with social and political revolution gave their particular visual forms a bold and forward-looking significance. Founded in the early 1940s by Paul-Émile Borduas, the Automatistes were a group of artists who rejected Quebec’s institutional and cultural authorities. Demanding social and artistic liberation from the province’s repressive environment, characterized by the extreme conservatism and clerical austerity of the regime of Premier Maurice Duplessis, the Automatistes published their manifesto of revolution Refus global in August 1948.109 The manifesto pitted non-figurative painting110 against the stagnating and suppressive academicism in artistic production as it was controlled by institutions such as the École des Beaux-arts and the Musée des Beaux-arts. By the 1950s, a new group of non-figurative artists were emerging in Quebec. Les Plasticiens broke away from Surrealism’s influence and the subconscious-revealing techniques of automatic drawing, and turned towards geometric abstraction, characterized, as Sandra Paikowsky explains, by rationalized pictorial structure, convergence of geometry and gesture, and 109 Borduas, Total Refusal, trans. Ray Ellenwood, 37–41. 110 The Automatistes utilized the term “non-figuration” or “automatism” to describe their work, as it referred to the language of the French surrealists of the early twentieth century that based their artistic processes in automatic drawing. I use the term “non-figuration” here to denote this mode of abstraction. For an account of the evolution of the terminology of abstract art in Montreal, see Paikowsky, “Vivre dans la cite,” 39–58. 57 controlled form and alignment of shape.111 In their paintings, Les Plasticiens retreated further away from the real world as a path towards spiritual liberation and universal collectivity. According to Paikowsky, their manifesto asserted that an “ideal ordering of the painter’s pictorial language” would create “a parallel reality” that emerged from “the authentic creative experience.”112 If Toronto art was “namby-pamby” in comparison to Montreal, how did Painters Eleven gain their reputations as English-Canada’s midcentury avant-garde? I argue that Painters Eleven capitalized on the perceived radicality of their aesthetic practice in the press and print media, exhibition statements and art society politics. Within the art milieu of “Toronto the Good,” where artistic and cultural conservatism “ruled the roost,” and modern paintings “stood out like sore thumbs” in art society exhibitions.113 Arts societies were academic institutions that dominated the system of arts circulation and sales, operating on the basis of member election and fees, jury-voted annual salons, and executive committees.114 Modelled after the distinguished academies of eighteenth and nineteeth-century Europe like the Royal Academy of the Arts in England and the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in France, art societies in Canada were established in the 1870s and 1880s. The oldest in Canada were its own Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) and the OSA, but by the mid-twentieth century Toronto’s art scene was bursting with academies representing a multitude of visual art forms, including the 111 Paikowsky, “Vivre dans la cite,” 39–58. 112 Ibid., 41. 113 Jack Bush, quoted in Iris Nowell, Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010), 27. 114 See McKaskell, “Changing Academies.” 58 Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour (CSPWC) and the Canadian Society of Graphic Artists (CSGA). Arts societies dominated Toronto’s system of art exhibition and circulation into the 1950s through their annual juried exhibitions, which were held at the Art Gallery of Toronto (AGT) and often traveled through organized regional art circuits, including the Western Ontario Art Circuit and the Maritime Art Association. As McKaskell explains, art societies and public galleries like the AGT were financially mutually dependent because there was very little public funding for the arts in Canada until the later 1950s. Societies provided the galleries with exhibitions to fill their spaces, and in turn the galleries offered the societies a display venue as well as institutional credibility.115 Society memberships required a nomination and election by majority vote. Membership provided artists with a way to display and sell their work to a wide audience. At the OSA, for instance, members were allowed to submit up to four original works for annual jury selection, whereas non-members are allowed only one. Interestingly, although many future members of Painters Eleven had already exhibited frequently and nearly annually at OSA, RCA, and other art society exhibitions since 1945, only a handful were elected members of these societies. In 1951, for example, only Jack Bush and Jock Macdonald were part of the OSA, but that year, all but three Painters Eleven members 115 McKaskell points out that only four cities—Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver—had buildings that were constructed specifically to serve as gallery spaces. Other galleries were often housed in other buildings, for example the Winnipeg Art Gallery was located in the Civic Auditorium Building, and in Oshawa, Ontario exhibition spaces were held in the YWCA, in London, Ontario they were in public libraries. See ibid., 19. 59 had paintings exhibited at the annual exhibition. Tom Hodgson, Harold Town, and Walter Yarwood were elected in 1953, and Oscar Cahén followed in 1954. Snubbed in this membership process was Hortense Gordon, who was nominated alongside Hodgson and Town in 1953, but was not elected.116 Art society exhibitions were the primary battlegrounds for the acceptance of modern and abstract art. They were also the events that produced most of the public dialogue on the topic. However, besides the public conversation taking place in newspapers, where modern painting was ridiculed for being a “hoax,” “meaningless doodling,”117 and so hideous that “a child could do better,”118 the debate had also made its way into art society affairs. Although they are not candidly forthcoming about the actual terms of the discussions, the minutes from the OSA’s society meetings of 1950 and 1951 reveal that the issue of annual exhibitions and modern art were an underlying concern for its members.119 Of most interest here are the minutes from the meeting of March 14, 1951, where the resignation letters of Kenneth Forbes, Archibald Barnes, Manly MacDonald, and Angus A. Macdonald were read and submitted to the society. 116 Ontario Society of Artists Minute Books, November 1945–December 1952, F1140-3, MU 2255 Box #B287367, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, Toronto. 117 That modern art was “hideous,” “ugly,” and “meaningless doodling” is repeated in articles such as “Hideous, Sinister, he says,” unknown source, c. 1951, Kazuo Nakamura File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. See also Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?;” “Protest ‘Doodles’ in Society Show,” and William McCloy, “Growing Pains in the Arts,” Canadian Art 9:3 (Spring 1952): 127. 118 Paul Duval, “Art in the Department Store,” Canadian Art 2:3 (March 1945): 126–128. 119 Ontario Society of Artists Minute Books, November 1945–December 1952, F1140-3, MU 2255 Box #B287367, Ontario Society of Artists fonds, Archives of Ontario, Toronto. 60 Transcribed in these minutes is a reference to “serious consideration and lengthy discussion” among the society members. While no hint is given as to the exact nature of the conversation, this suggests that many individuals in the OSA were attentive to the implications of the resignations. At the same meeting, a letter from a member of the public was read aloud. Addressed to the OSA, Miss Marion Long “expressed concern over the large proportion of works of a modernistic character” included in the previous exhibition.120 Strongly alluding to the possibility that she had a personal relationship with an unnamed OSA member, Miss Long’s letter stated that she “felt that these conditions were detrimental…to artists who did not paint in the modernistic manner,” and also suggested that “the Society give serious consideration to the points raised by a member.” Again, the minutes are vague and do not reveal any explicit details about the “points raised by a member.” However, it points to the fact that modern art had been a previous topic of discussion, and perhaps of heated debate, at society meetings. In contrast to the neutral and disinterested tone of the OSA minutes, which maintain the professional appearance of the Society as a whole, the language used by its individual artists in the public arena was not as civil. The four OSA resignees took to the press to air their grievances and to complain about being victims of a modernistic “invasion.”121 The Toronto Daily Star, writing on the scandal, reported that “promising young painters” were having difficulty having their works selected by society juries 120 Ibid. 121 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 61 unless they “adopted the trend of modern art.”122 One of those resigned, Angus A. Macdonald was quoted as saying “they no longer hang my pictures,”123 while another, Barnes, reportedly “disliked the trend…very intensely,” and said “this insane modernism is like a rotten apple, with the rot spreading and leaving a bad smell behind.”124 Accusations were made of bias and fraudulent misconduct—according to the Daily Star, the resignees claimed that the jury selection committee “picked their own pictures.”125 The public also weighed in. “The current [OSA] exhibition,” wrote A. Ellis to the editor of the Daily Star, “is truly in keeping with the trend of that organization these last few years…now dominated by a few modernists, is no longer representative of public taste nor of Ontario artists’ taste….Our finest painters have ceased to submit their works, knowing it to be condemned.”126 Others defended the OSA exhibition’s inclusion of modern art, calling it “inventive” and “the most stimulating and laudable display the [OSA] has put on for a decade.”127 According to Rose Macdonald in the Toronto Telegram, the resignations came as a shock but “it had been known for some time that the dissatisfaction existed.”128 Members of Painters Eleven were not only aware of these 122 Roy Greenaway, “Rap ‘Monstrosities’ Say Show Committee Picked Own Pictures,” Toronto Daily Star, March 9, 1951, n.p. 123 Macdonald, quoted in ibid. 124 “Bitter Quarrel Started Over Art Show Exhibits,” Hamilton Spectator, March 9, 1951, n.p.. 125 Greenaway, “Rap ‘Monstrosities’ Say Show Committee Picked Own Pictures.” 126 A. Ellis, “Criticizes OSA Show,” Letter to the Editor, Toronto Daily Star, March 20, 1951. 127 Quoted in McKaskell, 21. 128 Macdonald, “Is Art Revolution Here?” 62 newspaper articles—they also actively collected the clippings. Kazuo Nakamura, for instance, kept a collection of all the aforementioned articles, exhibition reviews, and letters to the editor.129 For “anti-modern” artists, modern art’s refusal of mimetic representation was a serious affront to the practice of image-making as a tradition based on knowledge and training. According to this conservative perspective, abstraction turned its back on the “proper sphere” of the human race, wherein the relationship between artist and nature is expressed as timeless “discernment of beauty.”130 It is no shock, then, that “modernistic” paintings were chiefly accused of being hideous and meaningless, bearing the dislike of the general gallery-going public. Art’s value as an articulation of the beauty of the natural world could not be found in images that denied representation as the only criteria for signification. When exhibited in the same space as conservative figuration, like the quaint seaside village scene painted in Fred H. Brigden’s Bay St. Lawrence [Fig. 11] or the view of Alberta’s prairie farmlands presented in A.Y. Jackson’s October, Twin Butte, Alberta [Fig. 12], modern painting such as Town’s Politician and Cahén’s Rooster would have “stood out like [a] sore thumb” and drawn the ire of its viewers.131 Luke once witnessed a spectator “explode” upon seeing such paintings, and reported that the viewer angrily 129 Kazuo Nakamura File, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 130 Statement issued by the Ontario Institute of Painters for the Points of View show, featuring the Ontario Institute of Painters and Painters Eleven at the Public Library and Art Museum of London, October–March, 1958–59. See William Heine, “Points of View Make a Lively Show,” Weekend Magazine 8:45 (1958): 16–18. 131 Jack Bush, quoted in Nowell, Painters Eleven, 27. 63 exclaimed: “I should like to rip those off the wall and tear them in shreds.”132 Luke, often writing under her married name Margaret McLaughlin, was an ardent, vocal supporter of modern art, and contributed to the print media dialogue directly. As early as 1933, she had written a defense of “the modern school,” against “that group of academicians…who cannot tolerate the change from old to new.”133 Luke addressed the issue again in 1947, declaring that “to the uninformed,…the modern approach is distasteful. To the student of 20th century art it is vital and stimulating, after decades of realistic painting.”134 Not surprisingly, modern art was a hotly opposed issue, often framed as an “us versus them.” This is critical to understanding how Painters Eleven were perceived, which was intertwined with how they perceived of themselves. Their self-identification as “modern” or avant-garde artists is consistent within the discursive positions available to them in Toronto at this time. Within these parameters—where modern art was openly ridiculed with hostile antagonism—Painters Eleven developed a sense of marginalization and, crucially, a sense of opposition against a predominant traditionalism. As a result, Painters Eleven internalized conflict as the primary framework for legitimizing modern art in their world. When the eleven artists finally came together in 1953, they conceptualized their group within this discussion. Painters Eleven formed as a strategic 132 Margaret A. McLaughlin, “A Painters Throws Light on Obscure Modern Art,” unknown source, 18 October 1947, Alexandra Luke file, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 133 Margaret A. McLaughlin, “Defending Modern Art,” letter to the editor, Oshawa Daily Times, n.d., 1933, Alexandra Luke file, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 134 McLaughlin, “A Painters Throws Light on Obscure Modern Art.” 64 enterprise which prioritized the construction of a social unity among similarly marginalized individuals against what Jean-Luc Nancy calls a “common enemy,” here in the form of conservative anti-modernists. It is in this regard that Painters Eleven were able to frame themselves as an avant-garde collective, despite their lack of personal cohesion. As Nancy theorizes in The Inoperative Community, the sense of unity or the “community” within groups is “not innate or essential, but rather historically dependent and contingent upon a shared interest in the dismantling of an enemy—a contingent being-together…that [is] constantly negotiated.”135 In this assessment of “community,” Nancy challenges definitions of collectivity that are dependent upon absolute or natural states of being. Rather, Nancy bases his notion of collectivity on the condition of relationality—what Nancy calls a being-in-common of sociality. Because this concept of community does not rest on presuppositions of a shared, fully defined ideological identity, the state of being-in-common is understood instead to be determined by specific historical conditions out of which any particular collective, forged as a set of relationships between other groupings, can have meaning.136 In 1950s Toronto, Painters Eleven manufactured just such an identity of cohesion and collectivity. Their grouping as English-Canada’s midcentury modernists is not defined as a sum collection of fully identified, innately vanguard 135 Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). See also Beth Hinderliter, William Kaizen, Vered Maimon, Jaleh Mansoor, and Seth McCormick, “Introduction: Communities of Sense,” in Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics, eds. Beth Hinderliter, William Kaizen, Vered Maimon, Jaleh Mansoor, and Seth McCormick (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 2. 136 Nancy, The Inoperative Community. 65 individuals, but rather as a being-in-common contingent upon their surrounding historical and social conditions. The conditions of possibility for Painters Eleven to be established as avant-garde is formed through the discourse which provided for the eleven artists a “common enemy”—the repressive art societies and anti-modern conservatives. Painters Eleven were clear to situate themselves in opposition to predominantly traditional attitudes towards art production in Toronto. An interesting contradiction reveals itself here. While traditional artists like Forbes and Barnes claimed their canvases were being increasingly marginalized in art society exhibitions, conversely, modern and abstract painters argued it was their works which were the targets of jury selection prejudice. According to Jock Macdonald, Painters Eleven’s images “were usually hung in corners, relegated to the small side rooms, dispersed and placed among landscapes, still-lifes and figure paintings.”137 This puts both sides of the modern art debate into perspective. The question arises: to what extent were Painters Eleven or traditional artists truly discriminated against? The rancor against modern painting was in fact limited to public opinion and the press. Forbes, Barnes, Manly MacDonald and Angus Macdonald were right to be concerned about the status of naturalism in the OSA—more and more space was being given to non-illusionistic and abstract art in Society exhibitions as well as other Toronto art events. Although it is impossible to accurately trace the growth of modern painting throughout all of Toronto’s 137 Jock Macdonald, “Statement on the Painters Eleven Group of Toronto, Canada,” in A Canadian Portfolio: The Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts Looks at Art in Canada, September 3–November 3, 1958, ed. Myra C. Livingston (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Contemporary Arts, 1958), n.p. 66 art exhibitions from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, it is clear that the proportion of modern to traditional works was steadily increasing. The OSA’s 1951 exhibition was not the first time that “excursions into the abstract” were given substantial attention in the Society. Their 1945 exhibition dedicated an entire room to “post-dimensional art” and “experimental art, which “aroused considerable controversy.”138 In 1951, approximately one in three accepted canvases represented the “modernistic” trend, and by 1957 full abstraction was the majority of the work represented at the Second Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting.139 Figurative representation was being pushed out, and modern painting was slowly taking its place as the mainstream. However, it must be stressed again that the “modern art” that was so passionately contested in these society exhibitions was, as Roald Nasgaard puts it in his book Abstract Painting in Canada, “a little too restrained and polite to stoke the creative fires of a generation eager to set the world aflame.”140 Cahén’s 138 Pearl McCarthy, “Ontario Society of Artists Encourages New Experiments,” Globe and Mail, March 3, 1945. 139 This is a rough estimate made by consulting the list of exhibited works from the 1951 OSA catalogue. These estimates are conservative. It is impossible to accurately determine how many of the eighty-eight accepted exhibition submissions were “modernist” works. However, out of the thirty-five images which were reproduced in the exhibition catalogue, thirteen might be considered “modern,” or to have a certain level of visual distortion or abstraction by which they were identified as such. The approximation of one in three canvases is drawn from the assumption that the reproductions in the catalogue correspond to the ratio of “modern” to “traditional” art in the full exhibition list. For figures regarding the Biennial Exhibition of Canadian Painting, see McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 16–36. 140 Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, 92. 67 Rooster and Luke’s Interior with Relics, although groundbreaking for some of Toronto’s most conservative art viewers, were “namby-pamby” compared to the extent of abstraction that they, and most other Painters Eleven members were experimenting with. By 1951, both Cahén and Luke were producing fully non-objective artworks, like Still Life, a pastel on board Cahén created in 1950 [Fig. 13], and Untitled, an oil on canvas painted by Luke circa 1951. This is true of many members of Painters Eleven. In this light, the claims being made by modern artists about their marginalization may need to be re-interpreted. Perhaps these artists were not alleging that “modern art” was being dismissed by selection juries, but rather, that non-objective, non-figurative works were being shut out for being too “extreme” in their total abstraction.141 This would explain why “modernists” felt alienated, even though the exhibitions were including more modern paintings. If there were prevailing prejudices against non-figuration, then artists would be left with little choice but to submit only the most tame and representative of their paintings for jury review in order to secure a place in the annual exhibitions. In the debate over which aesthetic had the upper hand in art societies, each side’s argument must be taken with a grain of salt. In an ironic parallel, the mismatch between the neutral tone of the OSA’s minutes and the bitterness of anti-modernist language in the press bears a striking resemblance to the contradictory rhetoric found between Painters Eleven’s private and public statements. As the OSA minutes retained civility and professionalism, so too did Painters Eleven’s public writings—either in the press or in their exhibition or artist statements—take on an air of courtesy and cordiality. Similarly, just as the OSA resignees and other critics used 141 Heine, “Points of View Make a Lively Show,” 16. 68 inflammatory remarks against modern art, so did Painters Eleven make aggressive and spiteful language in their private correspondence. When Painters Eleven finally formed, the exhibition pamphlet for their inaugural exhibition at the Roberts Gallery in 1954 read: “This exhibition is not a compact to agree, but rather the expression of a long repressed desire on the part of eleven painters to disagree harmoniously in terms visually indigenous to this age.”142 In 1955, a similar sentiment is expressed: “There is no manifesto here for the times. There is no jury but time. By now there is little harmony in the noticeable disagreement. But there is a profound regard for the consequences of our complete freedom” [Fig. 14].143 These statements are petitions for civility, a call to “harmony” or respectful consideration among those in disagreement, instead of the hostility that characterized many of the attempts to ridicule and discredit either side of the argument. But the ceremonious language also exudes a hollow, disingenuous air. In their attempt to casually disengage from the debate by requesting tolerance and “complete freedom” in the choice of artistic practice, Painters Eleven instead seemed to be congratulating themselves on taking the moral high road. The statements, which are apparently not to be taken as manifestos, instead employed the rhetoric of courtesy by choosing refined words like “harmony” and “disagreement” to refer to a situation clearly marked by childish insults and belligerence. Two interpretations of this careful phrasing are applicable here. First, it speaks once again to the presence of “British dullness” in Toronto, in contrast to Refus global’s blasphemous passion which expressed “a savage need for liberation”—that 142 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1954), n.p. 143 Painters 11 (Toronto: Roberts Gallery, 1955), n.p. 69 despite the bitterness of the situation, an English civility and stiff upper lip are maintained in the public forum.144 Second, Painters Eleven’s word choice can be understood as a manipulation of public opinion and public relations. In portraying themselves as modest victims of abuse, Painters Eleven could appeal to Toronto’s conservative sensibilities, and serve as a foil to the churlish behavior of Forbes, Barnes, and other anti-modernists. Additionally, in its use of the term “indigenous” when defining modern art as being “visually indigenous to this age,” Painters Eleven’s 1954 statement uses embellished language to align themselves with the philosophically modernist idea that art should represent the spirit and outlook of an artist’s contemporary age.145 For many members of Painters Eleven, their exhibition statements were in fact disingenuous, insincere, and a manipulation of the public. Painters Eleven may have been taking the moral high road in their public rhetoric, but their actual, resentful perspective on the modern art debate in the press and their conservative art society colleagues is evident only in their private correspondence. Resentment and self-righteousness were expressed by Jock Macdonald and William Ronald in particular, belying their plea for “harmonious disagreement” in their 1954 exhibition statement. Their comments could be as nasty as those made by Forbes and Barnes. “Those bastards [at Canadian Art],” Ronald wrote to Bush in 1955, “that lousy book penetrates the U.S., England, and Europe as being Canadian art and in the spring issue I see not a mention of any us… I’m really 144 Borduas, Total Refusal, 39. 145 See Charles Baudelaire, “The Salon of 1846: On the Heroicism of Modern Life,” and “The Painter of Modern Life,” in Francis Frascina, and Charles Harrison, eds., Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology (London: Paul Chapman, The Open University, 1982), 17–19, 23–28. 70 furious about that.”146 Macdonald, writing to Luke about her solo show at the May Gallery in 1955, said: “enjoy your show no matter how much unenlightened creatures like McCarthy pass it off with platitudes. Perhaps she will realise that she has a blind spot when she sees your show?”147 Pearl McCarthy was an art critic for the Globe and Mail whose weekly column “Art and Artists” covered visual art in and around Toronto. McCarthy was a particular source of resentment for Macdonald. “The Globe & Mail ignoring…the ‘PXI’ is interesting,” he wrote to Ronald, “McCarthy is stumped and doesn’t want to risk her neck.”148 It is strange that McCarthy would elicit such derision from Macdonald, since her reviews of Painters Eleven and other abstract shows took on an open-minded, non-judgmental view of modern art and also often encouraged her readers to do the same.149 In fact, Harold Town expressed a sentiment very much opposed to Macdonald’s in a letter to McCarthy in 1957, stating his appreciation for her role in the 146 Correspondence William Ronald to Jack Bush, n.d, Box 5A, File 12, Painters Eleven Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 147 Correspondence Jock Macdonald to Alexandra Luke, 10 January 1955, Box 2, Envelope F, Alexandra Luke Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 148 Correspondence Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 9 May 1955, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 149 As early as 1945, for example, McCarthy had offered placating remarks to her readers to ease the “fear of new-ism,” stating: “It is not merely tolerance but it is admitting that a skilled and successful artist may wisely do some laboratory experiments in art to keep his mind exercised, the OSA has championed a vital principle: the search for truth must be endless, because it is in the search that art derives its life.” See Pearl McCarthy, “Ontario Society of Artists Encourages New Experiments,” The Globe and Mail, March 3, 1945, p. 3. 71 recognition he received.150 What this demonstrates, however, is that some members of Painters Eleven felt more disgruntled than others regarding their status and public image as it was being negotiated and produced through newspapers and Canadian Art, and that these individual verbalizations and opinions are intertwined within, and constitutive of, the overall series of debates and discussions in Toronto. While it would be mistaken to assume that Painters Eleven held unanimous beliefs and opinions about their reception, it is through this particular set of dialogues that it becomes clear that the sense of persecution that Macdonald and Ronald describe—in a rhetoric that suggests a purposeful suppression of the public recognition of their work specifically, that those with authority were “out to get them”—is to become embroiled in the avant-garde standing that they would later attain. As Michael Leja reminds us, “one way of gauging the level of… interest in avant-garde status is to look for the use strategies characteristic of the avant-garde, for example the production of manifestoes, public controversies, and protest exhibitions.”151 Although their 1955 exhibition statement claims that “there is no manifesto here,” their pronouncements nonetheless give expression to an avant-garde ethos which, as Renato Poggioli has theorized, indicate 150 Thanking McCarthy for first encouraging him in 1944 when he was still an art student, Town wrote: “Since then you have mentioned me many times, and I wish to acknowledge the very considerable part your perceptive attention has played in the recognition 1 have received." Correspondence Harold Town to Pearl McCarthy, 26 January 1957, Private Collection. For more on Pearl McCarthy and her impact on the public’s reception on contemporary art of Toronto in the 1950s, see Beth Greenhorn, “An Art Critic at the Ringside: Mapping the Public and Private Lives of Pearl McCarthy,” Master’s Thesis: Carleton University, 1996. 151 Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism, 23. 72 certain “aesthetic and artistic precepts” centered around “an argument of self-assertion or self-defense…against society.”152 For Poggioli, the emergence of avant-garde art is not a natural reality but rather coincides with its conceptualization as a “rationalized alienation.” Regardless of the refusal of the nomenclature “manifesto,” Painters Eleven’s statements act as documents that translate their “noticeable disagreement” or conflict with Toronto’s conservative society into a self-curated avant-garde identity.153 What Poggioli calls “rationalized alienation” here is similar in function to Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of a “being-in-common” against a shared enemy.154 Macdonald was particularly outspoken about his sense of self-righteousness in the face of anti-modern derision. In 1956, when Painters Eleven and abstraction had gained a major foothold in Toronto, Macdonald, Bush, and fellow modern artist Sydney Watson were on the hanging committee for the Canadian Group of Painters (CGP) society exhibition. According to Macdonald, he took the opportunity of this small position of power to spite the Society’s traditional artists by giving his fellow abstract artists and Painters Eleven members the prime spots in the AGT galleries, and shunting the rest off to the sides. Macdonald boasts of this act in a letter to Ronald: “The way Bush, Watson, and I hung the Can. Group of Painters exhibition has sure caused a frothing in the minds of many of the artists of Toronto…Lawren Harris, Town, Mead, Bush, Ronald, Hodgson …Yarwood, myself, Oscar…and other abstractions holding other key positions 152 Renato Poggioli, The Theory of the Avant-Garde, translated by Gerald Fitzgerald (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), 4. 153 Ibid. 154 Nancy, The Inoperable Community. 73 in the South gallery. We relegated the Schaefers, Ogilves, Haworths, Paraskeva Clarks, Rakines, Peppers, and so on to the two side rooms.”155 The extent of his vindictiveness is surprising, and in direct contradiction to Painters Eleven’s petition for “harmonious disagreement.” Macdonald’s personal malice does not stop at exhibition curating. He continues: “We also kept all those [artists] out of the catalogue too so you can imagine the long faces and nasty coldnesses, going on during the opening, in every corner…what can they expect?…pack [Painters Eleven] out on the fringes? Not this time anyway. No sir!”156 It seems that Macdonald considers this move to be one of retribution for previous art society exhibitions where modern art was, from his viewpoint, similarly repressed. Forbes and Barnes’ earlier accusations of favoritism and misconduct in OSA juries—that modern artists were selecting their own, or other modern paintings, for annual exhibitions—would be accurate in this case. Painters Eleven’s written material foregrounds a crucial aspect of the group—contradiction and conflict. Evidently, Painters Eleven took criticisms personally and vindictively, while at the same time their official documents remained consistent in their adherence to the reserved expectations of English-Canadian politeness. This is a constant throughout their lifespan as the group—the conflict between the internal and external dialogues and writings and articulations of the group. Crucial to this study is revealing the impracticality of asking “were Painters Eleven avant-garde?” because of its implication that “avant-gardism” is an essential state of being. Many scholars, such as 155 Correspondence Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 13 November 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 156 Ibid. 74 Kay Woods and Russell Harper, have used Painters Eleven’s claims of persecution, together with the anti-modern antagonism printed in Toronto’s press, as evidence of Painters Eleven’s vanguardism.157 Such approaches, however, yields to what Hal Foster refers to as “the tendency to take the avant-garde rhetoric of rupture at its own word”158—that is, the assumption that the discourse should be taken as truth, rather than as a historically dependent condition of relationality. As Foster also points out, such a misinterpretation of avant-garde texts fails to consider their “deferred temporality of signification,” or that their vanguard identities are a “retroactive effect of countless artistic responses and critical readings.”159 In the case of Painters Eleven, more recent art historians like Ihor Holubizky and Dennis Reid have begun to demythologize the group by highlighting the “retroactive” work done by earlier scholars to construct Painters Eleven’s avant-gardism. As a discursive strategy, Painters Eleven’s use of the language of “harmonious disagreement” to conceptualize themselves as the avant-garde artists was effective in situating the group within the discursive positions available to them in Toronto in the 1950s. 157 Kay Woods, A History of Painters Eleven (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1970), Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa; and Russell Harper, Painting in Canada: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987). 158 Hal Foster, Return of the Real: Art and Theory at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996), 10. 159 Foster, Return of the Real, 8. 75 The Artist, the Layman, and the Nation Although Painters Eleven were not necessarily revolutionary in their aesthetic practice, they did represent a first in Toronto—the first independent group of artists to operate outside of the system of art societies. The foundational purpose of the grouping was to circumvent the restrictions and bureaucratic practices of art academies which they believed discriminated against modern painting. Because art societies controlled the production and exhibition of art in the city, artist-operated and self-curated exhibitions were nearly unheard of in Toronto before Painters Eleven. By 1953, self-assembled groups of artists in Canada were known primarily in Montreal, where the Automatistes and Les Plasticiens held ground. Although independent artist groups were previously unknown, Toronto had been exposed to a few “all-abstract” exhibitions by this point. These unaffiliated shows of contemporary Canadian artists were typically run by the few small gallery owners or art patrons in the city who supported modern and abstract art.160 Commercial galleries were few and far between, with the Roberts Gallery, where Painters Eleven held their 1954 and 1955 exhibitions, being one such rarity.161 A significant part of the discourse surrounding these exhibitions involved the question of the “layman,” which means that the approach was one of education and knowledge about the artistic techniques of modern art in order to influence the tastes of the public towards recognition of its validity as well as its value. Part of the issue for artists in general was getting the 160 See McKaskell, “Changing Academies.” 161 For more on the growth of commercial galleries in Toronto in the 1950s, see Sharon E. Brooks, “Abstracts at Home” Against the Ideals of Nationalism: A Study of Exhibition Practices in Toronto 1940–1953, Master’s thesis: York University, 1992. 76 public interested in Canadian art in the first place, making education part of their dialogue and mission. Karen Finlay has acknowledged that Canadians during this period were surprisingly unaware of contemporary artistic activities, leaving radio producers like George Roberson with the hope that radio’s “most effective role in the art field” would be to heighten public interest in the arts and to expose the public to Canadian art.162 Small galleries and dedicated modern art supporters were responding to this issue of the uninterested and uneducated layman by spearheading exhibitions of all-abstract work in Toronto. One of the earliest of these exhibitions was Excursions in Abstract held at the T. Eaton Fine Art Gallery of Toronto in 1945. The gallery was located in the Eaton’s department store on College Street. Selected artists for the show included a generation of painters from before the Second World War, who represented some of Toronto and Montreal’s earliest abstract practitioners—Fritz Brandtner, Henry Eveleigh, Gordon Webber, Edna Taçon and Lawren Harris—as they experimented with the aesthetic throughout the 1930s. The central purpose of Excursions in Abstract, according to Nasgaard, was to elucidate the processes by which an artist works “from original subject matter to the final graphic abstraction.”163 Each painting in the exhibition was accompanied by an artist statement, which intended to explain to their working methods and diverse approaches to abstraction to the viewing public. In 1950, local artists Albert Franck and R.F. Valkenberg organized the First Annual Exhibition of Unaffiliated Artists, 162 Finlay, The Force of Culture; and George Robertson, “Art and the Radio Audience,” Canadian Art 9:1 (Autumn 1951): 3–5. 163 Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, 92. 77 also held at the T. Eaton Fine Art Gallery, which included works by future Painters Eleven members Town and Cahén.164 The exhibition continued annually through 1951 and 1952, and was a primary venue for unaffiliated artists—or artists who were not elected members of any art society—could show their work. The year of Excursions in Abstract was the same year that the OSA first included “experimental” modern art in their annual show. As expected, both exhibitions were reviewed by art critics in the press. Since a majority of the dialogue being generated in Toronto was being produced in mass media, these reviews were aimed at the general public. As Paul Duval, art editor for the Toronto Telegram and general interest magazine Saturday Night, reported in his article for Canadian Art: “it may be safely stated that the exhibitions [at the T. Eaton Fine Art Gallery] have been responsible for introducing countless citizens of Toronto and visitors to the most recent developments in Canadian art.”165 Excursions in Abstract in particular was geared towards the education of the public, since each artwork was accompanied by a series of comments and explanations regarding the methods of their abstraction.166 Significantly, because the exhibition was meant to demonstrate the process of creative production from “original subject matter to the final graphic abstraction,” these artist statements encouraged the public to better understand non-figuration by suggesting that each painting bore a visual relationship to the natural world at its core. As a venue for the sale of abstract art in addition to this didactic purpose, the exhibition encouraged the everyday public to make a purchase of 164 See ibid., and also Nowell, Painters Eleven, 231. 165 Paul Duval, “Art in the Department Store,” Canadian Art 2:3 (March 1945): 126. 166 Nasgaard, 92. 78 one of the paintings as an investment in living Canadian artists.167 The emphasis on exposing and educating the “layman” to modern art carried through well into 1953. In the Globe and Mail, Pearl McCarthy described the OSA’s 1949 show as “[offering] laymen a prime chance to inform themselves on what [radical] artists are driving at,”168 and Jock Macdonald, in his opening speech for the 1952 YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition in Oshawa, asserts that the “abstract painter is looking and seeing much more than meets the eye of the layman observer.”169 The exhibitions at the T. Eaton Fine Art Gallery bear an interesting parallel to a major development in art-viewing forums in New York which took place just three years earlier. Before he opened his own gallery on 57th Street and Madison Avenue in 1945, Samuel Kootz, art dealer and champion of American Abstract Expressionism was invited to organize an exhibition of contemporary American art at the Macy’s department store in 1942.170 The exhibition of 179 paintings—including those by Abstract Expressionists 167 Similar events advertised as a chance to “proudly” own a Canadian-made artwork include the exhibition put together by the Women’s Committee of the Art Gallery of Toronto. See “Coast to Coast in Art: Do You Own a Canadian Picture?,” Canadian Art 5:3 (Winter 1948): 139; and Joanne Stoddart, “‘Anyone Can Afford Art’ Slogan of Committee,” The Globe and Mail, September 17, 1952, n.p. 168 Pearl McCarthy, “Society’s Exhibit Had Lay Appeal, Arouses Criticism,” Globe and Mail, March 4, 1949, p. 25. 169 Notes on Macdonald’s lecture recorded by Alexandra Luke in her personal notebook, 21 April 1952, Box 3, Envelope B, Alexandra Luke File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 170 The Kootz Gallery was the first gallery outside of Canada to represent a member of Painters Eleven. William Ronald signed with Kootz in November 1956. On Kootz and Macy’s department store, see Malcolm Goldstein, Landscape with Figures: A History of 79 Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, and Mark Rothko—was on display at Macy’s eighth floor galleries for three weeks, and each of the artworks was on offer for purchase. Like the shows at T. Eaton, Macy’s promoted their exhibition as a path towards public exposure to modern art as well as public interest in buying it. The press release declared: “Macy’s presentation of this important exhibition to a larger-than-usual audience, combining the regular gallery visitors with the department store public, constitutes an experiment which may very well determine the future of exhibits of this sort.”171 It also advertised prices ranging from $24.97 to $249. As Serge Guilabut explains, Macy’s commissioning of this exhibition is not just evidence of a growing interest in modern art in New York, but also indicative of a “sharp upturn” in public spending in the United States as a newly affluent middle-class exploded in the nation’s postwar economic boom of consumerism.172 The country, Guilbaut writes, “seemed to have developed an insatiable appetite for the arts,” and it was not the aristocratic collectors, but the middle-class, who were the movers of the new art market.173 In Canada, however, much more work needed to be done to drum up public interest in contemporary Canadian art, since knowledge was severely lacking, and the art itself “virtually ignored.”174 According to Jock Macdonald, “appreciating abstract art” involved delving into cultural competence by attending art exhibitions, reading Art Dealing in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); and also Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 67. 171 Quoted in Goldstein, Landscape with Figures, 240. 172 Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 91–95. 173 Ibid., 91. 174 See Finlay, The Force of Culture; and Robertson, “Art and the Radio Audience,” 3–5. 80 publications on twentieth-century art, and also “by accepting with an open mind the artist statement and by searching deeply…[to find] the clue, not in relation to an object, landscape or model, but in relation to rhythm, form and color.”175 For Pierre Bourdieu, “cultural competence” in art designates the ability to decipher an image based on a mastery of knowledge, or “schemes of perception and appreciation.” A work of art has “meaning and interest,” Bourdieu argues, “only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded.”176 Recognizing that tastes are socially conditioned to demarcate the high from the low, the "legitimate" from the "illegitimate,” Bourdieu’s model apprehends artistic taste as a social rather than a personal function, and one that also reveals one’s educational and class background. When Painters Eleven and other modern art supporters appeal to the “layman,” then, it can be understood as an attempt to redefine the parameters of the cultural code in Toronto in the 1950s, and to discursively shift the scheme of perception within contemporary Canadian art so that modern painting becomes “legitimate.” Framing the problem in this way, Macdonald’s speech on the appreciation of modern art continues through a disarticulation of the code wherein the institutionally valued figurative and landscape painting style held dominance, turning it into a realm of incompetence. Laymen, 175 Notes on Jock Macdonald’s lecture recorded by Alexandra Luke in her personal notebook, 21 April 1952, Box 3, Envelope B, Alexandra Luke File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 176 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987); see also Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in J. Richardson, ed., Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (New York, Greenwood: 1986), 241–258. 81 Macdonald argues, often “make the mistake of saying ‘well I know what I like’ as though that were some very great accomplishment. Even the cattle in the fields know what they like.”177 The need for explication was not just limited to the misguided public. In 1944 Canadian Art, a “high” art journal that catered to a readership with a greater knowledge of art, published two articles on art appreciation for the layman, or the “uninitiated,” tackling “The Problem of Distortion” and whether “Modern ‘Isms’” were art.178 This kind of contribution to the discourse, as an endeavor to mediate between artists and the public, can also be seen in Lawren Harris’ “An Essay on Abstract Painting,” published in Canadian Art in 1949.179 Like Macdonald and Luke, Harris’ attempts to subvert the codes that dictate taste by inscribing the aesthetic with “high art” values against “low” forms of popular culture and mass media. He insists that the “layman” will over time “learn to distinguish between good and mediocre abstract art,” and that currently “his vision is conditioned by advertising and movies and photographs…this connection of the visual language of abstraction to the real/natural world hinders his full appreciation.”180 Harris writes that he is “confident that the public, though at first antagonistic, will catch up with the new style and embrace them.” Crucially, his essay also offers some preliminary 177 Notes on Macdonald’s lecture recorded by Alexandra Luke in her personal notebook, 21 April 1952, Box 3, Envelope B, Alexandra Luke File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 178 “Art: The Problem of Distortion,” Canadian Art 1:4 (April–May 1944): 148–150, 171; and "Are The Modern 'Isms' Art?,” Canadian Art 1:5 (June–July 1944): 197–98, 223. 179 Harris, “An Essay on Abstract Painting.” 180 Ibid. 82 approaches towards this manner of “distinction” by aligning abstraction with cultural elevation, which dovetailed with the larger concerns over “progress” and “modernity” circulating in cultural political discourse at the time. In the decade following the end of World War II, the question of Canadian cultural identity had reached an unprecedented urgency in the minds of cultural critics and intellectual figures throughout the nation. For these critics, the deluge of “progress” in the forms of mass entertainment, mass consumerism, and technologically-driven society had the potential to create a Canadian population of “leisured morons, living by push-button techniques while starving in mind and soul.”181 Postwar Canada was being infiltrated by American culture, and with the introduction of television in Canada in 1952, Canadian commentators were increasingly alarmed by what they saw as vapid and decadent materialism. Lawren Harris, when writing of “advertising and movies and photographs,” also expressed his belief that cultural standards needed to be elevated, and that the masses needed rescue from the “inexhaustible” supply of comic books and slick magazines, “pin-up girls, coca-cola virgins [and] boogie-woogie.”182 Historians L.B. Kuffert, Phillip Massolin, and Damien-Claude Bélanger have all acknowledged that modernization and “modernity” in this sense—characterized by the industrial and technological advancements towards mass culture in the postwar age—was seen as an 181 G.P Gilmour, “Chairman’s Message,” Canada’s Tomorrow Conference, 1953, cited in Kuffert, A Great Duty, 162. 182 Harris, quoted in Kuffert, A Great Duty, 162. 83 imminent crisis for Canadian society, a dangerous threat to the humanities and intellectual rigor in education, high cultural standards, and religion and morality.183 University of Saskatchewan professor Hilda Neatby, in her book So Little for the Mind (1953), offered a critique of a Canadian education system that was slowly prioritizing vocational and technical education—what was called “progressive” education—and letting liberal humanities fall at the wayside.184 For Neatby and others, “progressive” pedagogy was detaching society from its human relationships with nature, and the individual’s relation to the social world of humans around him. Such tendencies in education, argued J.M. Ewing for example, would produce “shallow, unindustrious, pleasure-seeking, aggressive, and un-disciplined people.”185 Another early critic included University of Toronto English professor Marshall McLuhan whose book The Mechanical Bride (1951), was a similarly moralistic consideration of the role of technology and mass advertising in the homogenization of society and corruption of intellectual values.186 McLuhan would later turn away from this moralistic perspective and become one of the foremost media theorists of the twentieth-century in his investigations into the role of media and communication in the structuring of human perceptions and interactions.187 183 See Kuffert, A Great Duty, 2003; Massolin, Canadian Intellectuals, the Tory Tradition, and the Challenge of Modernity; and Bélanger, Prejudice and Pride. 184 Hilda Neatby, So Little for the Mind (Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1953). 185 J.M. Ewing, “Our Progressive Education,” sixth in the series Our Changing Values, broadcast September 15, 1948, cited in Kuffert, 164. 186 McLuhan, Mechanical Bride. 187 See Lance Strate and Edward Wachtel, eds., The Legacy of McLuhan (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2005); Graeme Patterson, History and Communications: Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, the Interpretation of History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 84 In Canada, modernity and technology became increasingly associated with American culture, and the penetration of this culture into Canadian societies was seen by many as a crisis that jeopardized the very future of Canada as a sovereign political entity. “We are indeed fighting for our lives,” Harold Innis declared in his 1952 publication The Strategy of Culture.188 Evoking the gravity of the postwar situation of the nation, Innis’ militarized rhetoric continues: “The pernicious influence of American advertising...[has] been evident in all the ramifications of Canadian life.” This, he writes, “is to strike at the heart of cultural life in Canada....We can only survive by taking persistent action at strategic points against American imperialism in all its attractive guises.”189 As a “footnote” to the Royal Commission on the National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences lead by diplomat Vincent Massey from 1949–51, Innis’s powerful espousal echoed the Report’s warnings of the “very present danger of permanent dependence” on American culture.190 The Massey Report’s findings of cultural impoverishment in Canada and a severe lack of federal support for national broadcasting, art and literature, and university education was an alarming wake-up call for those who had not yet seen the severity of the problem. The fear of American “cultural imperialism” was compounded 1990); and Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (Toronto: Random House, 1989). 188 Harold Innis, The Strategy of Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1952), 52. 189 Ibid. 190 Canada, The Royal Commission on National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1951), 18. 85 by escalating economic and military ties with the United States, which raised further concerns about the loss of sovereignty in Canadian policy.191 For Innis and Massey, however, all was not lost. In spite of the bleakness with which they portrayed Canada’s cultural present, the possibilities for a Canadian cultural resistance were spelled out in both texts as a redoubled effort to define and fortify the sphere of Canadian cultural identity, awakening an optimism within this moment of perceived national crisis that would reverberate throughout the nation’s artistic and intellectual landscapes. In doing so, the official stance on modern art and cultural elevation came to develop along the very same discursive axes as those on the ground—the artists in Toronto who claimed abstraction as the “legitimate” mode of cultural competence. While “modernism” in society was associated with mass consumerist decadence and moral decay, “modernism” in visual art and painting was being aligned with high culture. Just as Macdonald and Harris did in their texts, the Massey Report also attempted to reverse the parameters of the cultural taste in Canada by shifting its code of perception. In the disarticulation of the cultural code where figurative and landscape painting style held dominance, the Massey Report reconfigured abstract painting into the position of the “legitimate” or the realm of the “culturally competent,” and demoted traditional modes of artistic production into the realm of incompetence. In other words, modern art had state-level support by 1951. One of the most crucial excerpts of the 191 See note 27; and also Reg Whitaker and Steve Hewitt, Canada and the Cold War (Toronto: James Lorimer and Company, 2003); and Reg Whitaker and Gary Marcuse, Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945–1957 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994). 86 Massey Report was reprinted in Canadian Art’s special coverage of the Report in the Summer 1951 issue: “Modern painting can no longer exploit the novelty of the Canadian landscape...Our young painters are being judged on exactly the same footing as the abstract painters of other countries.”192 In the United States a similar conversation about raising American public taste was taking place at the level of intellectual art criticism. In his 1947 essay “The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture” published in Horizon, New York art critic Clement Greenberg argued that an American vanguard was the key to battling the culturally degrading effects of mass entertainment.193 Echoing his thoughts on “kitsch” from an earlier essay “Avant-garde and Kitsch” (1939), Greenberg contended that pulp fiction novels, tabloid magazines and advertisements, and Hollywood movies were “vulgarizing” American culture, and that “cultivation” was needed in order to raise “the lowest standards of consumption” among the “American ‘common man.’”194 Like the 192 “The Royal Commission–Excerpts from the Report,” Canadian Art 8:4 (Summer 1951): 177. Also quoted in Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, 92. 193 Clement Greenberg, “The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 2, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 160–170. 194 Ibid., 162–163. See also Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 1, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 5–22. Caroline A. Jones has additionally pointed out that Greenberg’s essays are infused with a misogyny that gendered his definitions of high culture and low culture. Jones argues that Greenberg’s modernism was coded as masculine, rational, and virile, while mass culture was “dangerously female.” See Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 90–91. 87 intellectuals, artists, and cultural critics in Canada, for Greenberg the answer was education of the layman—the middle class—through the arts. Unlike Canada, however, where critics pointed the finger at the United States as the invasive cultural threat, for Greenberg the danger was in Soviet Union and the homogenizing forces of communism.195 By the late 1940s, the fear of communism was becoming a near-hysteria in the United States, as Cold War tensions fueled accusations of “un-American” and undemocratic activities.196 Greenberg’s essays in the 1940s are infused with these larger apprehensions, as one of his major preoccupations during this period was identifying the characteristics of “American” painting. In his “Present Prospects” essay, for example, Greenberg pointed to a number of aspects in the artwork of Jackson Pollock, who he championed as one of the “only” promising prospects for culture, that defined him as “radically American”—a full “assimilation” of French art but “urban” in its violence, intensity, massiveness.197 In an ironic turn of events, Greenberg and Pollock would gain widespread public notice in Life magazine in 1947 and 1948—a publication that Greenberg associated with mass “vulgarization.”198 Additionally, as the 1940s moved into the 1950s, the art market in New York surged, intertwining high art with consumer 195 See Guilbaut, How New York Stole. 196 The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was formed by the United States House of Representatives in 1938 to investigate allegations of disloyalty within the public and the government. 197 Greenberg, “The Present Prospects,” 166. 198 Ibid. See also “Jackson Pollock: Is He The Greatest Living Painter in the United States?,” Life, August 8, 1949, pp. 42–45; and “A Life Round Table on Modern Art,” Life, October 11, 1948, pp. 56–70, 75–80. 88 society through the proliferation of commercial art galleries and dealers which commodified art. Serge Guilbaut has noted that this explosion of the art market was a new shortcut for the rising middle class in the United States to gain cultural capital—a place where it was “possible for the harried buyer to gain in status by being seen as a ‘cultivated man.’”199 In Canada, a separation between the high and low spheres continued to be pushed. Jody Berland has acknowledged that the Massey Report, in staking a claim for abstract painting as a way for Canada’s artistic production to be viewed as on par with, or on “the same footing” as global developments, the Massey Report “placed modernist art discourse at the centre of the country’s new official culture.”200 According to Berland, the Report was “nationalist in rhetoric but internationalist in its proposed aesthetic strategies,” and in this appeal to international interest, the Report aligned itself with a growing cosmopolitan outlook on cultural identity in Canada. Ulrich Beck has defined cosmopolitanism as a worldview that bonds national and international cultural preoccupations together by “situating local cultural affiliations within the context of a universal whole.”201 The Massey Report insisted that the key to cultural elevation in 199 Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 92. See also Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. J. G. Richardson (New York, Greenwood), 241–258. By 1960, Toronto would also experience a tremendous growth in commercial art galleries and dealers. 200 Jody Berland, “Nationalism and the Modernist Legacy: Dialogues with Innis,” in Capital Culture: A Reader on Modernist Legacies, State Institutions, and the Value(s) of Art, eds. Jody Berland and Shelley Hornstein (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000), 25–26. 201 Ulrich Beck, The Cosmopolitan Vision (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006), 247. 89 Canada was not in geographic nationalisms but rather in abstract painting and its particularly international, if not its “universal,” character. In Toronto, Painters Eleven’s cosmopolitan leanings lined up with these official ideas, and were articulated in their early public writings and exhibition statements of 1952 and 1953. Of interest here is Painters Eleven’s awareness of international developments in modern art at midcentury, which contributed to their belief in the transcendental visual language of abstract painting. Two exhibitions of the early 1950s reveal Painters Eleven’s desire to be “up-to-date” with global developments and experiments in abstraction.202 These exhibitions also set into motion the formation of Painters Eleven as an organized group in 1953. The Canadian Abstract Exhibition (1952) and Abstracts at Home (1953) shows, arranged by Alexandra Luke and William Ronald respectively, each contributed significantly to the immediate circumstances out of which Painters Eleven emerged. In the autumn of 1952, the Canadian Abstract Exhibition opened at the Adelaide House Young Women’s Club Association (YWCA) in Oshawa [Fig. 15]. The show was conceived and organized by Luke, who was then a board member of the Oshawa YWCA art committee. Luke considered it to be “the first of its kind in Canada” and “the spring board into general acceptance of abstract art.”203 Inspiration for this YWCA exhibition may have been 202 Ronald, quoted in “Abstract Art Show Will be Intriguing,” The Daily Times-Gazette (Oshawa-Whitby), October 17, 1952. 203 Letter template from Margaret McLaughlin of the Oshawa YWCA to invitees of the 1952 YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition, dated 9 August 1952, Box 3A File D, Alexandra Luke File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 90 catalyzed by Luke’s visit to New York City in 1951 with her friend Martha Jackson, whose New York gallery played a crucial role in developing the abstract art scene in New York after its opening in 1953. Luke and Jackson attended the symposium held in conjunction with exhibition Abstract Painting and Sculpture in America at the Museum of Modern Art in February 1951.204 The symposium is one of the landmark moments in the narrative of American Abstract Expressionism.205 It is where artists Robert Motherwell, Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, and Willem de Kooning read statements about “What Abstract Art Means to Me” in response to the debate about “modern” and “contemporary” art in major cultural centers in the United States.206 In New York, the emergence of Abstract Expressionism was also a contested field of art production in the battle over modern art, among critics and also in the press. In 1951 Life magazine published a story on the “Irascibles”—a group of eighteen abstract artists who issued an open letter to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, protesting 204 File 2, Alexandra Luke File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 205 See Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970); and Michael Auping, ed., Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments (New York: H.N. Abrams in association with Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1987). 206 George L. K. Morris, Willem De Kooning, Alexander Calder, Fritz Glarner, Robert Motherwell, and Stuart Davis, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art 18:3 (Spring 1951): 2–15. See also Meyer, What Was Contemporary Art?. 91 the institution’s discrimination and “notorious hostility to advanced art.”207 The artists—who were given the moniker “Irascible 18” or simply “The Irascibles” by the press—included Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many others who would become firmly associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement. The article on the Irascibles was the latest in a series of previous Life features covering the controversy over modern art in the United States, including a story on Pollock entitled “Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?” in 1949, a clipping of which can be found in Kazuo Nakamura’s press collection.208 In 1948, Life published a roundtable discussion among fifteen art critics who “undertake to clarify the strange art of today” in 1948.209 This “Life Roundtable on Modern Art” featured critics like Greenberg, whose writings on abstract 207 “Open Letter to Roland L. Redmond,” May 20, 1950; “Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show,” Life, January 15, 1951, p. 34; see also “18 Painters Boycott Metropolitan; Charges Hostility to Advanced Art,” The New York Times, May 22, 1950. 208 “Jackson Pollock: Is He The Greatest Living Painter in the United States?,” Life, August 8, 1949, pp. 42–45. For more on Life magazine’s coverage of modern art during this period, see Bradford R. Collins, “Life Magazine and the Abstract Expressionists, 1948–51: A Historiographic Study of a Late Bohemian Enterprise,” The Art Bulletin 73:2 (June 1991): 283–308. Educational articles published by Life include an account of Cubism on May 2, 1949, and an article on Stuart Davis printed in the February 17, 1947 issue. Ibid. 209 “A Life Round Table on Modern Art: Fifteen Distinguished Critics and Connoisseurs Undertake to Clarify the Strange Art of Today,” Life, October 11, 1948, pp. 56–70, 75–80. 92 art played a highly influential role in formalist art criticism.210 This article, which attempted to “explain” modern art to the everyday reader of Life, bears a crucial parallel to the print media battle occurring simultaneously in Toronto. Fought along the same terms, the American debate was also taking shape as a question of artistic conservatism, educating the layman, and elevating society through distinctions between “high” and “low” forms of culture.211 Even in New York, where gestural abstraction was a few years ahead of Toronto, “modern art” still needed to be mediated by an expert. In the roundtable, Greenberg mobilizes a rhetoric of purity to ascribe meaning to abstraction, by insisting that painting’s significance lies in its primacy of the aesthetic experience and the direct visual encounter between image and viewer, instead of in its subject matter or content.212 210 Jones, Eyesight Alone; Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art; Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting; and Frascina and Harrison, eds., Modern art and Modernism. 211 “A Life Round Table on Modern Art,” Life, October 11, 1948, pp. 56–70, 75–80. See also “Why Artists Are Going Abstract: The Case of Stuart Davis,” Life, February 17, 1947. 212 Ibid. In 1960 Greenberg would publish his essay “Modernist Painting” where he elaborated on this idea, coining the term “self-criticality” which he defined as “the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” This notion has come to serve as an essential element in Modernist ideology and its belief in the value of self-sufficiency and autonomy. See Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 85–106. For commentary and critique of Greenberg’s approach, see Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art; Jones, Eyesight Alone; and Francis 93 Where Greenberg might have served as a critical platform for directing this new notion of value or quality in New York, in Toronto there was no comparable figure in critical art-writing to bridge artists with viewers, or to champion their art as the avant-garde. Painters Eleven and other modern artists were constructing the field of discourse themselves in their artist statements and exhibition statements, but in doing so were drawing from their exposure to these debates as it was available to them in Toronto. Nakamura’s collection of print media clippings demonstrates an awareness of more widely distributed, broad-audience publications like Life magazine, but not of the smaller circulation of intelligentsia culture like Partisan Review which were so crucial to the dissemination of Greenberg’s ideas and the development of formal art criticism in New York. Toronto’s art scene also would not have had access to the storm of debate that occurred in 1948 between New York and Boston, when the Institute of Modern Art in Boston changed its name to the Institute of Contemporary Art. In their exposure to certain parallel debates across the border, Painters Eleven would have had greater reason to consider themselves part of a burgeoning Toronto avant-garde. Luke was also aware that abstract artists in the United States had already created their own independent society in the form of the American Abstract Artists (AAA), which was founded in 1936.213 Writing to Lawren P. Harris—son of Lawren Frascina, ed., Pollock and After: The Critical Debate (London and New York: Routledge, 2000). 213 The AAA were formed in much the same way as Painters Eleven—in 1935 four artist friends met in a studio to discuss exhibiting together, and then extended invitations to other artists in their circle to join their group. For a brief documentation of their 94 Harris—Luke considered the possibility of forming a similar “Abstract Canadian Group” in the wake of the success of the Canadian Abstract Exhibition.214 Luke’s exhibition is recognized as the earliest showcase of all-abstract paintings to take place on a national scale, presenting the work of twenty-six artists (out of an invited fifty-six) from Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick, and traveling to galleries throughout southwestern Ontario and other parts of Canada, including Hart House in Toronto. The show contained Painters Eleven “in embryo,” as Joan Murray has described it,215 featuring the work of nine out of the eleven future members of the group, missing only Yarwood, who was invited but did not participate, and Nakamura. Although Luke was, at the time of the exhibition, familiar with a few of these artists, particularly Gordon and Macdonald, it was through the organization of the exhibition that she came to correspond and meet with others, including Hodgson, Cahén, and Bush.216 Here again, one of the primary reasons for an all-abstract exhibition was for public recognition and education. The YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition was beginnings, see Susan C. Larsen, “The American Abstract Artists: A Documentary History 1936–1941,” Archives of American Art Journal 14:1 (1974): 2–7. 214 Correspondence Alexandra Luke to Lawren Harris, 18 November 1952, Box D, Alexandra Luke File, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 215 Joan Murray, Alexandra Luke: Continued Searching (Oshawa: Robert McLaughlin Gallery, 1981), 4. 216 Other invitees included Quebec artists like Borduas, Pellan, and Leon Bellefleur, whose works had also made appearances in Canadian Art, as well as west-coast artists Jack Shadbolt and B.C. Binning, and, in addition to future Painters Eleven members, local Toronto figures Yvonne McKague Housser, Edna Taçon, Sydney Watson, L.A.C. Panton, Lawren Harris, and others. 95 conceived as an opportunity for modern art in Canada to be recognized and evaluated among other like-minded artists, and to bring this approach and understanding to the public. For some artists, however, such an issue was, by 1952, reaching its limits in terms of relevance for the rest of the art world. As Ronald’s statement on his painting Christmas Sensations says: As the ultimate aim of this show is to bring a stronger understanding of modern art to the public, I have submitted this more extreme example, although it is thirty years old, at least in its general conception. There is nothing new in the absence of reference to nature in the visual arts….but now…it is more difficult to get a positive communication with the untrained viewer.217 The discourse of the layman and the problem of taste resurfaces in this dialogue, and with it Ronald expresses his frustration with the situation wherein abstract painters must consistently defend their position against an undecided, “untrained” public. It is a perspective that is consistent in another of Ronald’s articulations in 1952, where he states that “Canadian art today has reached, or is about to reach a turning point….Circumstances challenge us to go further in helping give Canada a more mature 217 YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition (Oshawa: 1952). 96 and broader language in all fields. …not only [for] laymen but [also] many artists.”218 In these statements, Ronald echoes a larger preoccupation with consumerism and “low” forms of visual consumption in the world of cultural politics and art in English-Canada during this period, and makes an appeal to the production of an elevated class of art-goers. The notion that a “turning point” in Canadian art was not only imminent, but also necessary for cultural progress and maturity, was one that infused the critical modernist position taken up by Painters Eleven and other pro-modern supporters. There was, according to Ronald, enough explanation of “modern art’s” within an evaluative framework beyond mimetic logic. It was delineated by the criteria of aesthetic autonomy, the self-sufficiency of the pictorial surface, and emotional coherence for modernism’s universal language to become an integral part of Canadian art’s discursive structure. Each of the artist statements in the catalogue can be read as a bringing forth of these ideas. Hodgson’s artist statement for the 1952 exhibition reads: “You should see these paintings as an esthetic unit of sight sensations, something to stimulate and excite you, without the bothersome effect of all sorts of symbolisms, theories and traditions to confuse you.”219 By asserting that previous conceptions or theories of what art should be or should look like are inconsequential to the process of receiving a painting’s “sight sensations,” Hodgson inscribes the ideology of aesthetic purity and universality, into the Toronto 218 Correspondence from William Ronald to the Canada Foundation for Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Scholarship, 28 October 1952, R2113, Box 52, Ronald Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 219 YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition (Oshawa: 1952), n.p. 97 discourse. As Charles Harrison has argued, modernism’s claims to autonomy are grounded in the assumption that an ideal sensitive observer not only apprehends “what the picture expresses” in isolation from any other information, but also may equate what is observed and felt with what it “expresses.”220 Hodgson’s writings prioritize the self-sufficiency of the pictorial surface and measures the value of a work of art as independent and autonomous from any representative associations with the natural world, or, in correspondence to Greenberg’s assertions in Life—the primacy of the direct aesthetic experience. One year after Luke’s exhibition, William Ronald arranged the Abstracts At Home show [Fig. 16], which took place in October 1953 at the Simpson’s Department Store in Toronto as part of a display of home furnishings and interior decoration. Held on the fifth floor of the Simpson’s Home Furnishings section, Abstracts at Home featured the paintings of seven artists as complementary visual focal points to modern as well as traditional bedroom, living room, and dining room settings. Ronald, then employed as a commercial artist in the display section of the store, described the aim of the show as an attempt “to persuade the general public that this form of contemporary expression in painting was as much at home within surroundings of everyday living as in an art gallery.”221 In one model room, Hodgson’s paintings Close Up (1953) and Blue Lamp (1953) were hung in a living room setting, alongside a “traditional” three-piece sofa set and mahogany coffee table, while in another, Cahén’s Candy Tree is demonstrated to be 220 Michael Baldwin, Charles Harrison and Mel Ramsden, “Art History, Art Criticism and Explanation,” Art History 4:4 (December 1981): 432–456. 221 William Ronald, “Abstracts at Home,” Canadian Art 11:2 (Winter 1954): 52. 98 “at home” in a modern television room, paired with a “Swedish modern rug” and wrought iron chair. Painters Eleven formed on the evening following a publicity photograph for Abstracts at Home [Fig. 17], when the seven artists included in the show gathered at Luke’s cottage studio in Oshawa to discuss the possibility of establishing a group dedicated to the production and exhibition of non-representational paintings. With plans to hold an official meeting on a subsequent week, four more artists Macdonald, Gordon, Town, and Yarwood were extended an invitation to join the company. At this congregation the group decided to name themselves Painters Eleven, a numerically-based designation which, according to Town, was originally suggested in order to “facilitate the addition of new artists and the resignation of original members (if they so wished).”222 This idea of being a transmutable association was quickly abandoned “in favour of remaining small, fluid, autonomous, and in fact nothing more than a mechanism for showing [their] pictures economically without the burden of a charter constitution et al.”223 The Abstracts at Home publicity picture of Painters Eleven in its embryonic stage bears a striking, and not altogether coincidental, similarity to Life magazine’s now-iconic photograph of the Irascibles [Fig. 18]— particularly in the formal staging and professional self-consciousness evident in both images.224 When Life magazine published 222 Harold Town, “Rough drafts of P11 beginnings,” unpublished essay, n.d., MG30 D404, Volume 32, File 4, Harold Town fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 223 Ibid. 224 “Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show,” Life, January 15, 1951; see also Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting. 99 the story on January 15, 1951, it was accompanied by a photograph of the artists taken by Nina Leen. The Irascibles understood the stakes of staging and controlling of their own self-image in the photograph. Dressed in suits and ties, the painters wanted to be photographed as professionals, or “like bankers” as Barnett Newman insisted, in order to counteract the popular image of artists as lackadaisical bohemians or as anarchic rebels.225 In his biography of Mark Rothko, James E. B. Breslin notes that, with their collective glare and stiff, business-like body language, the Irascibles appeared “too respectable to be threateningly avant-garde” yet “too grim and intense to be merely bourgeois,” and thus they projected “an image of respectable individuality which allows them to enter both the middle-class and the mass media without being absorbed by them.”226 In the Abstracts at Home photograph of Painters Eleven, a comparable self-fashioning is at work which speaks to the overlapping concerns, narratives, and discourses surrounding modern art and artists between these two localities. As the Irascibles protested against conservative juries in the Metropolitan’s contemporary art competition in New York, so too were Painters Eleven producing their own “Irascibles moment” in Toronto against arts societies. Within their own stuffy milieu of “Toronto the Good,” Painters Eleven also had a vested interest in an image of respectability, 225 Newman, quoted in Bernard Harper Friedman, “The Irascibles: A Split Second in Art History,” Arts Magazine 53:1 (September 1978): 97. 226 James E.B. Breslin, Mark Rothko: A Biography (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 273. Breslin also recognizes that Life’s readers were primarily middle-class Americans with particular values and mores, and the formal attire in this photograph was an attempt to appeal to these sensibilities. 100 seriousness, and perhaps even maintaining commensurability with “British dullness.” It is tempting to see the positions that each Painters Eleven member has taken around the central ladder as correlating to those struck by the Irascibles, although Painters Eleven are less intimidating and offer more in the way of a friendly demeanor, especially in the smiles of Luke and Nakamura, both sitting on stools. Barrie Hale, in his analysis this photograph, has also recognized the comical awkwardness of this combination of professionalism and congeniality. Hale notes of the objects present in the picture that the artists are “draped with a kind of forced-formal casualness around a couple of props much in vogue at the time as evocation of the ‘artistic’—a multi-directional drafting lamp and a stepladder.”227 At the top of the ladder, Hale continues to observe, Ray Mead clutches a handful of paintbrushes in a manner all too unnatural, as though all the artistry had left him.228 Painters Eleven’s photograph doesn’t match the “grim intensity” or coolness of the Irascibles—it is distilled through the filter of Toronto’s reserved cultural conventions. They are too polished, Hale also argues, and also too self-aware. As Breslin acknowledges about the strategy involved in the Irascibles photograph, crucial to Painters Eleven’s own discursive position was that they promote themselves not as “anarchic rebels,” but as individuals with respectability to allow them to enter into the surrounding dialogue.229 Painters Eleven’s strategy here is not too distant from their New York counterparts. Michael Leja has previously pointed out a certain discrepancy between the “strident, belligerent,” and “not to say pompous” tone of the Abstract 227 Hale, Out of the Park, 33. 228 Ibid. 229 Breslin, Mark Rothko, 273. 101 Expressionists manifestos and writings—in the Irascibles letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for example—and the “conservative” substance of their arguments.230 It is an intriguing reversal of the contradictions within Painters Eleven’s rhetoric and discourse—where the New York artists were verbally antagonistic but reserved in their argument, members of Painters Eleven were reserved in their written articulations but highly antagonistic in their motivations. Both, however, were responding to a perceived discrimination against modern art within their respective institutional systems.231 In another revelation, Bradford R. Collins, in his historiographical analysis of the relationship between Life magazine and the Abstract Expressionists, draws from Leja’s observations to argue that the New York artists were more accommodating of the prevailing cultural values of American bourgeois society in the 1940s and 1950s than previous scholarship has suggested, and vice versa.232 Far from rejecting and creating backlash against these artists, Collins contends, Life magazine’s articles from 1947 to the 1950s reveal “tolerance and support for modern art” by attempting to educate its readers about its foundations and methods.233 In other words, in New York as in Toronto, the extent to which modern and abstract artists could claim to be marginalized must be properly framed within their respective discursive spaces. The self-curation of Painters 230 See Michael Leja, "The Formation of an Avant-Garde in New York,” in Michael Auping, ed., Abstract Expressionism: The Critical Developments (New York: H.N. Abrams in association with Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1987), 13–33. 231 Notably, Roland L. Redmond, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, denied that such discrimination was occurring. 232 Collins, “Life and the Abstract Expressionists.” 233 Ibid., 285. 102 Eleven’s avant-garde radicalism, based on a “rationalized alienation” and being-in-common against a “shared enemy,” is a process that echoed similar developments beyond Toronto. This early coming together of Painters Eleven in Abstract at Home dovetailed well with their self-conceptualization as being in “harmonious disagreement” with the conservatives of the Toronto art world in 1954. In both public image and rhetoric, Painters Eleven crafted a particular identity of avant-gardism that matched the “dull” environment of Toronto, making their stance palatable for their own English-Canadian audiences—even as their internal and private writings reveal a fervor of antagonism and hostility. Although Painters Eleven approached their collaboration as a practical “mechanism” for the purpose of facilitating independent exhibitions, underlying the group’s rhetoric of cool detachment or “harmonious disagreement” were passionate convictions about the value of taste and education, progress and modernity, and national cultural identity. These convictions testify to Painters Eleven’s internalized self-conceptualization as avant-garde artists within the discursive spaces of modern art and nationalism in Toronto. 103 Chapter Three: Internationalizing “Harmonious Disagreement” in New York By 1956, Painters Eleven had gained a significant boost in reputation and public exposure. Their efforts in self-promotion and self-marketing had secured for the group a handful of significant exhibitions that year, including shows at the Roberts Gallery, the Hart House Gallery, and a circulating exhibition which toured the Western Ontario art galleries circuit of nine cities.234 It was in April 1956, however, that Painters Eleven marked a watershed moment in their exhibition history with their first showing outside of Canada. The group was invited to participate as guest artists of the 20th Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artists (AAA) at Riverside Museum in New York City, and exhibited their abstractions alongside works by George L. K. Morris, Ilya 234 William Ronald spearheaded much of these efforts in self-promotion, although it is unclear whether he was assigned this task during a Painters Eleven meeting or if he was working independently. Ronald wrote a number of letters to galleries in Toronto and Montreal, including the Waldorf Galleries and Galerie Agnès Lefort, which inquired into the galleries’ interest in hosting an exhibition of Painters Eleven works. Ronald also wrote to a number of radio stations like CKEY 580 Toronto, CKFH 1400 Toronto, CHUM 1050 Toronto, requesting that they publicize their exhibitions. R2113 Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. The Western Ontario art galleries circuit was operated by the London Art Museum, and was a regular circuit of nine cities of western Ontario. Hart House in Toronto, The Willistead Gallery in Windsor, and to London, Peterborough, Hamilton, Montreal and Sackville, N.B. 104 Bolotowsky, Perle Fine, and Louise Bourgeois.235 Showcasing their paintings in an international art center like New York was a validation of the value and caliber of their work beyond their previous expectations, and for Painters Eleven it was precisely the kind of recognition they had struggled for in their local Toronto. Giddy anticipation over the Riverside Museum show with the AAA had Painters Eleven “all bubbling over with an inner glow,” and “with confidence in their worth.”236 A photograph from the opening night of the exhibition [Fig. 19] features four Painters Eleven members who were able to travel south to attend the celebration, accompanied by the vice consul of the Canadian consulate and the director of the Riverside Museum, Nettie S. Horch, gathered together in front of Tom Hodgson’s Object Detail (1956) and Harold Town’s Tug at One.237 The show also included Hodgson’s It Became Green (1956) [Fig. 20], Jack Bush’s Reflection, Hortense Gordon’s The Derelict, and Jock Macdonald’s White Bark [Fig. 21]. The paintings were carefully selected, as the success of this exhibition would be a crucial step in cementing Painters Eleven’s self-image as avant-garde “rebels” in their national and their potential international reputations.238 235 Exhibition pamphlet, American Abstract Artists: 20th Annual Exhibition with ‘Painters Eleven’ of Canada, April 8–May 20, 1956 (New York: Riverside Museum, 1956), n.p. 236 Correspondence Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, n.d., R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 237 Bob Cowans, photograph of the opening of the 20th Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artists, New York, 1956. From left: Jock Macdonald, M.B. Kesserling (vice consul, Canadian consulate), Nettie S. Horch (director, Riverside Museum, New York), Alexandra Luke, Jack Bush, Helen Ronald, and William Ronald. 238 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” Time Canada, May 7, 1956, p.38. 105 These paintings represented their “highest quality” and most “controversial” abstract artworks, in order to meet the criteria of “good painting” set by AAA president Henry Botkin in accordance with the evaluative standards of the AAA. As their first appearance across international borders, the show was a strategic positioning of the group that involved the marketing and branding of themselves as Toronto’s avant-garde, as well as their specific platform of “harmonious disagreement”—they would not outright condemn conservative painters back in Toronto, but they would use this achievement as evidence of their vanguardism. For all their excitement about an international breakthrough, however, Painters Eleven were on the backfoot of the latest developments in New York. They were unaware of the tensions that had been brewing among different factions of abstract artists in the city since the early 1940s, when artists like Adolph Gottlieb, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko were setting forth new parameters for American art that were expressly against the AAA’s institutionalized style, and when art critics like Clement Greenberg were also unenthusiastic about its stagnating aesthetics.239 Founded in 1936, the AAA were well-established in New York by the time Painters Eleven were invited to join their 1956 exhibition—so much so that by the 1950s the AAA were old hat, and no longer representing the freshest and most relevant artistic experiments of the day. The AAA were being replaced by the Abstract Expressionists who, with no formal arrangement or 239 See Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 75–76; and Clement Greenberg, “Review of Exhibitions of Marc Chagall, the American Abstract Artists, the League of Present Day Artists, and Ivan Mestrovic,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 2, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 143–146. 106 grouping of their own, were being championed by Greenberg as the new avant-garde.240 That Painters Eleven’s “highest quality” work was sought after by the AAA poses a problem to the group’s claims to English-Canadian vanguardism—if their most “controversial” abstractions aligned with New York’s rearguard aesthetics, what exactly was Painters Eleven’s position in an international artworld? Were Painters Eleven’s best artworks still “namby-pamby” in 1956? This chapter explores two sets of contradictions and frictions in Painters Eleven’s group identity as they emerged in association with the Riverside Museum exhibition. By looking closely at the 1956 event, I examine how this exhibition shifted and complicated relationships that Painters Eleven held not just among themselves within the group, but also within the Toronto milieu and the New York scene. I posit that, despite their lack of knowledge of the complexities of the politics of abstract art and “modern art” in New York, the AAA show allowed Painters Eleven to maintain a self-perception of avant-gardism by performing their outward ideology of “harmony” on two primary discursive levels. On one level, introduced in Chapter Two, the idea of “harmony” acted as a manufactured construction of social unity, functioning as the discursive force which originally bound the eleven individuals together and preserving their status as an avant-garde movement during their years of activity and beyond. Second, and intertwined with the first, “harmony” can also be understood as a key component of an aesthetic philosophy which, forged out of twentieth-century modernism’s visual ideology of universality and progress, yields the perception of aesthetic unity and a common modernist vision. Both operations serve to mask the tensions and inconsistencies present 240 Greenberg, “The Present Prospects,” 167. 107 in Painters Eleven’s historiography and painting. By grouping themselves together under the rhetoric of “modernism” and “harmony,” Painters Eleven were the source of their own mythological status in English Canada. The Ideology of Harmonious Disagreement Jock Macdonald described the impact that the New York show had on Painters Eleven’s spirits as a “cheerful zest” that strengthened the bond of the group with “what now appears to be a friendly faith in each other.”241 Macdonald observed that they seemed “much more united than they were two years ago.”242 The implication in this statement is telling—it suggests that their discursively cohesive trait of “harmony” was, despite the confidence of their written rhetoric and non-manifestos, quite tenuous as a socially or artistically binding force. Three years had passed since their initial meeting in 1953. In those years, Painters Eleven maintained their original function as a “practical mechanism.”243 Their activities as a group were limited to formal meetings where discussion focused on business-oriented agenda items, including potential shows and venues, upcoming expenses, shipping logistics, and other administrative details, as well 241 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 10 June 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 242 Ibid. 243 Harold Town, “Rough drafts of P11 beginnings,” n.d., unpublished essay, MG30 D404, Volume 32, File 4, Harold Town fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 108 as group votes on such exhibition-related decisions.244 “We were dispersive, we were not tightly interactionary,”245 Town explains. According to Town, members saw very little of each other outside of group meetings, although “a slight sense of community” was still maintained among them.246 Painters Eleven meetings were frequently the site of clashes between more outspoken members—Bush’s recollection to art historian J. Russell Harper puts forth an example of a “vicious and loud” argument being led by the antagonistic Town, who turns to the “ineffably calm” Nakamura for a contribution only to be met with the simple reply that Nakamura “liked apples”247—who had differing points of view on the direction and tone of their exhibitions. Entries in Luke’s meeting notes suggest that such gatherings were belligerent, with excessive drinking of alcohol and “revolting” swearing and impolite language that “made her sick.”248 One particularly boisterous and rowdy meeting lasted well past 11:15pm, when Luke decided to leave. “Must try and avoid meetings in future,” Luke wrote as a reminder to herself afterwards.249 244 Alexandra Luke’s personal Painters Eleven meeting notes, Box 1, File 1, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 245 Harold Town, interviewed by Joan Murray, February 11, 1979, typed transcript, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada, pg. 17. 246 Ibid. 247 Correspondence from Jack Bush to J. Russell Harper, quoted in Iris Nowell, Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art, 297. Harold Town refers to Nakamura as “ineffibly calm” in a transcribed interview with Joan Murray. Town, interviewed by Joan Murray, February 11, 1979, typed transcript, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada, pg. 17. 248 Alexandra Luke’s personal Painters Eleven meeting notes, 27 February 1958, Box 1, File 1, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 249 Ibid. 109 The Riverside Museum photograph reveals both the excitement and the unease of the group in this important moment, where their achievement was both a galvanizing validation of their work as well as a daunting opportunity to craft and secure their international image as significant artists. Macdonald and Ronald, on either end of the huddle in the picture, adopt personas of composed, self-assured artists as they gaze at the camera with a casual turn of the head and the barest trace of a grin, exuding an air of confident authenticity to match that of the vice consul and museum director, both to the right of Macdonald. Undermining this nonchalance are Luke and Bush, squeezed into the center of the huddle with much less grace. Bush’s unreserved, toothy smile is a marked contrast to Luke’s timid expression as she pulls in her shoulders and grips her handbag while Bush edges his shoulder in front of hers. The way that Bush and Luke are pressed together is noticeable within the awkward framing of the photograph—to Macdonald’s right, in front of Town’s painting, is an empty space big enough for the group to spread out evenly, but Bush and Luke can hardly find space to move. This photograph may be read as representative of the constant tensions between Painters Eleven’s external image and internal relations. While their surface agitations are a commonplace and unremarkable occurrence within such large group dynamics, in the case of Painters Eleven this opens a pathway of inquiry which reveals that incongruity runs deeper in their grouping. Strained oscillations between friction and fellowship, conflict and compatibility form part of a complex series of contradictions and paradoxes which are at the very crux of Painters Eleven’s “harmonious” group identity. This is to say that the foundational concept of “harmony” for Painters Eleven is not a pre-existing essence but rather a manufactured ideology which allows the group to operate under a 110 perceived illusion of togetherness. Unity in this sense is a performance, and one that is being enacted in the Riverside Museum photograph. Their fraught internal dynamics reveal that Painters Eleven are not bound together by a natural or essential harmony but rather that their community is contingent and circumscribed around the overall interest in constructing harmony as an idea or outward projection. One of the contradictions inherent in Painters Eleven’s self-conceptualization is located in their core commitment to “harmonious disagreement.” To unravel the paradox of how Painters Eleven can be simultaneously “harmonious” yet also in “disagreement,” one must acknowledge and situate their inauguration as a primarily socially-driven enterprise, a prioritization of a “shared interest” in the dismantling of an enemy.250 As I argue in Chapter Two, Painters Eleven were clear to situate themselves as a collective in opposition to predominantly traditional attitudes towards art production in Canada. By mobilizing “harmonious disagreement,” Painters Eleven established “harmony” as a force which secured their community, or “contingent being-together,” as Jean-Luc Nancy has called it, and defined this “being-together” against a common enemy.251 As such “harmony” can be understood as an ideological formation which obscures the actuality of Painters Eleven’s internal tensions and often uncooperative interactions. Since ideology in general, as Louis Althusser theorizes, conceals the contradictions by constructing an imaginary coherence of an individual’s relationships to the world, then “harmony,” in 250 Nancy, The Inoperative Community. See also Chapter Two. 251 Ibid. See also Beth Hinderliter, William Kaizen, Vered Maimon, Jaleh Mansoor, and Seth McCormick, “Introduction: Communities of Sense,” in Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics, ed. Beth Hinderliter, et. al., (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 1–30. 111 creating a binding unity between eleven individuals on this socio-historical level, offers just such an illusion, manufacturing for Painters Eleven an identity of cohesion and compatibility.252 This framework is critical for understanding how Painters Eleven, as one such paradoxically produced collective, can be in “harmonious disagreement.” Their grouping as English-Canada’s midcentury modernists is not predicated on their shared, pre-existing nature as vanguard individuals, but rather is contingent upon the exterior circumstances of Toronto’s cultural milieu in the 1950s. The idea of “harmonious disagreement” was born out of Painters Eleven’s position within the context of a Toronto where “conservatives rule the roost,”253 and while its proclamation acknowledges the presence of a social conflict with art academies, Painters Eleven’s non-manifesto continues to maintain the structure of the group’s relationships, allowing for the eleven individuals to operate, however thinly, as a perceived cohesive unit without exposing the contradictions within. This ideology is enacted in the Riverside Museum photograph on the seemingly trivial level of internal social dynamics. For Althusser, ideology is materialized in the social world through its practice and through actions which are performed by individuals to affirm their imaginary relationship to the world.254 In the photograph, “harmony” is 252 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in On Ideology: Radical Thinkers (London: Verso, 1984), 1–60. See also Nicos Hadjinicolaou, “Art History and Class Struggle,” in Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology, eds. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison (London: Paul Chapman, The Open University), 243–248. 253 Lawrence Campbell, “Canadian Painters Eleven,” Art News 55:3 (May 1956): 50. 254 Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” 112 manifested in the appearance of their group unity at the Riverside Museum, concealing the fraught relationships between group members under the ideological umbrella of “harmony.” The ideology of the avant-garde and the grouping of “harmony” serves to naturalize what is actually historically contingent. Within the larger stakes of this dissertation, “harmony” serves as a framework which allows us to explore the ideological and artistic complexities that define midcentury Canadian modernism. Unravelling the threads of “harmony” reveals this modernism to be an attempt to mediate or reconcile the universalizing convictions of international abstraction with the increasingly urgent concern for national specificity in the wake of the Second World War. This approach also facilitates nuanced perspectives on Painters Eleven’s placement within the narrative of twentieth century Canadian art history by opening a critical analysis of the group’s historiography. Uncovering how their self-conceptualization and self-professionalization determined their ideologically coherent identity as made concrete in press reception, what is revealed is that historiographical scholarship is complicit in maintaining the avant-garde identity produced by Painters Eleven themselves. Beyond its function as an ideological construction of avant-garde cohesion, however, “harmony” carries an additional layer of significance for Painters Eleven and Canadian modernism. On this level, the term “harmony” also bears meaning as an artistic philosophy through which the formal and aesthetic concerns of modern art were explored and negotiated by Painters Eleven. Members of the group often appropriated ideas from influential modernist art-critical models which emphasized and prioritized qualities of art that were commensurate with general connotations of the word “harmony”—broadly 113 speaking, “harmony” is often associated with qualities such as balance, wholeness, order, unity, and pleasurability—and integrated these ideas into their practice. What I suggest is that the notion of “harmony” can not only be understood as a key approach to the question of aesthetic expression in this period of modernist art practice and theory, but also that this very approach underscores Painters Eleven’s overall artistic strategies and philosophies, while allowing for the group’s internal tensions between unity and diversity to coexist in contradiction. If Painters Eleven’s group identity cannot be fixed by a social or political homogeneity, but rather must be circumscribed around a certain set of pro-modern attitudes which denounce the regressiveness of figurative art, then the motivations for their distinct individual practices are difficult to account for. “Harmony” as an ideological structure layered with both social and aesthetic significance, however, provides Painters Eleven with the fictitious cohesion necessary in order to maintain their avant-garde collectivity, or being-in-common. An assessment of the parameters of “harmony”—examined as the thread of aesthetic approach and perspective which aids in the production of Painters Eleven’s imagined collectivity—will be carried out in Chapter Five. Operating within this larger framework, “harmony” is an ideological formation which serves to obscure the rather nebulous, unrooted, and idiosyncratic character of Painters Eleven’s assemblage of artistic philosophies. Toronto Abstraction in New York Painters Eleven were careful to feature only the very best of their works in New York. It was, as they understood it, crucial for their self-image as well as their national 114 and potential international reputations to be recognized as successful avant-garde “rebels.”255 It also reveals the contingent nature of their collectivity and being-in-common. Ronald was especially invested in the Riverside exhibition as an opportunity for Painters Eleven to seize the spotlight of abstract art in Canada from Montreal’s Jean-Paul Riopelle and Paul-Emile Borduas, which Ronald makes clear in his correspondence with Bush in the weeks leading up to the show. “Apparently,” Ronald writes, “some of them [members of AAA] are…leery of a Canadian show. With remarks as, ‘If you have a Canadian show, why not Borduas or Riopelle?’… Believe me we don’t have to take any back seat to Riopelle, in my estimation or Borduas.”256 In 1954, Ronald had left Toronto and moved to New York to pursue his artistic career, but was still an active member of Painters Eleven. He had been acting as the point of contact between Painters Eleven and AAA president Henry Botkin. The work of Borduas and Riopelle, which had gained a significant foothold in vital art centers like New York and Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had opened a pathway of transnational transmission out of Canada, and Painters Eleven were keen to enter into the flow of postwar modernism by establishing themselves as the avant-garde of contemporary abstract art from Toronto.257 255 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” Time Canada, May 7, 1956, pp. 38. 256 Correspondence from William Ronald to Jack Bush, n.d., Box 5A, File 12, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 257 For more on Montreal painting during this period, see François-Marc Gagnon, “Québec Painting 1953–56: A Turning Point,” Artscanada (February–March 1973): 48–50; Sandra Paikowsky, “Vivre dans la cité: Quebec Abstract Painting,” and Jody Patterson, “Painting on the Edge: Geometric Abstraction in Montreal, the 1950s,” Master’s Thesis: Concordia University, 2001. 115 The defensive tone in Ronald’s words comes as no surprise—it is consistent with the resentment and frustration that characterized much of Painters Eleven’s “harmonious disagreement” against their reception in Toronto’s stuffy, conservative environment. For Ronald, the comparative remarks made by their American counterparts served as a reminder that international perceptions of Canadian artistic production were being constructed out of an inadequate knowledge of up-to-date, experimental painters. As a mechanism for securing such exhibitions, the group identity of Painters Eleven was crucial to achieving any manner of international reputation. With their first show beyond Canadian borders, however, Painters Eleven also faced their first challenge—whether their social platform of harmony could be sustained, affirmed, and vindicated by the aesthetic character of their painting as judged by what Painters Eleven considered to be a more authoritative position. In New York, the eleven artists now encountered a certain set of expectations and criteria for the quality of their work, and the prospect of evaluative assessment and criticism in a city where abstraction was by the mid 1950s already becoming institutionalized through major art galleries, dealers, and critics. It appears that AAA’s president Botkin was particular about Painters Eleven’s ability to match the strength of the paintings to be exhibited by the AAA. Relaying this message to Bush, Ronald warns that: [Botkin] keeps insisting that it be a show of the highest quality and as controv[ersial] as possible. No watercolours and all abstract. No landscape to the extent of Nak’s [Nakamura’s] stuff in our last show. We must insist on this...Botkin said and as we all know the success of 116 the group show is dependent not only on good painting but contrasting color, proportion etc…258 As the letter continues, Ronald reveals that he himself was concerned not only with keeping up with the caliber of the exhibition but also with matching, in their mental disposition, the highly competitive tenor of New York’s artistic milieu: He [Botkin] felt as this sort of thing has never happened to Canadians before that we should go as far as is financially possible [on the publicity and exhibition statement]. Regarding this I would suggest a lot of thinking. We are not dealing with a Toronto audience here and they can cut you to ribbons if you tend to get precious.259 Botkin’s stipulations are clear in their presupposition that abstract painting’s “quality” is affixed to the full erasure of representational references to real world phenomena—and especially any trace of their national landscape idiom. Part of the visual character of abstract art as defined within a milieu of painting in New York, it seems, included its ability to elicit controversy and discussion, and to play the role of avant-garde radicality through the mobilization of serious inquiries into the self-sufficiency and autonomy of painting. 258 Correspondence from William Ronald to Jack Bush, n.d., Box 5A, File 12, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 259 Ibid. 117 Even so, Botkin’s “quality” here must not be conflated with, or interpreted as, a set of aesthetic standards set by Clement Greenberg’s Abstract Expressionism or Harold Rosenberg’s Action Painting, which is to say, specific readings of modern painting’s “self-critical tendency” and gestural indexicality as canonized by the two respective critics.260 While the categories of gestural and colorfield painting are now authoritative within the critical art history of New York modernism,261 they were by no means constitutive of an exclusive framework of meaning in the 1950s, and nor were they connected to the AAA’s artistic platform, which had been defined as simply “uniting 260 Although Clement Greenberg did not fully theorize the term “self-criticality” until 1960 in his essay “Modernist Painting,” where he uses “self-criticism” to refer to flatness as the “essence of Modernism” which he argues “lies…in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence,” this idea has come to serve as an essential element in Modernist ideology because of its absorption of the concepts of self-sufficiency and autonomy. Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 261 Texts that have addressed, critiqued, and problematized these mythological categories include, for example, David Craven, Abstract Expressionism and the Cultural Logic of Romantic Anti-Capitalism: Dissent during the McCarthy Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art; Guilbaut, ed., Reconstructing Modernism; Nancy Jachec, The Philosophy and Politics of Abstract Expressionism, 1940–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism. 118 abstract artists residing in the United States.”262 At the Riverside exhibition, Painters Eleven’s works were not judged in relation to either classification, and Botkin’s stipulation of “quality” was unaffixed to any specific technique or visual appearance of abstraction. Rather, “quality” could be represented by a diverse range of approaches, providing that they adhered to the defining and exclusive factor of non-figuration. Within the complexities of the developing New York scene, however, the AAA was known for its specifically European aesthetic, a mode of internationalism that followed the lead of abstraction set by European artists like Piet Mondrian and Picasso.263 Internationalism in this sense had to do with relinquishing American specificity, and using the language of French modernism to transcend regionalism and nationalism.264 Greenberg, too, was invested in Cubism, but the art critic argued that contemporary American painters could not just appropriate the style. They needed, according to Greenberg, to “completely assimilate” the lessons of French art, and to assert an originality that makes it their own.265 In his 1947 essay “The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture,” Greenberg argues that Jackson Pollock’s paintings did precisely that.266 262 Preface to the AAA Second Annual Exhibition catalogue, New York, 1938, quoted in “AAA Historical Outline by Esphyr Slobodkina,” American Abstract Artists, 2004–2018, http://americanabstractartists.org/history/aaa-historical-outline-by-esphyr-slobodkina/. 263 See Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 36–37, 56. See also Hubert F. Van den Berg, and Lidia Gluchowska, eds., Transnationality, Internationalism, and Nationhood: European Avant-Garde in the First Half of the Twentieth Century (Leuven, Paris, and Walpole, Mass.: Peeters, 2013). 264 Ibid., 30. 265 Greenberg, “The Present Prospects,” 167. 266 Ibid. 119 Founded in 1936, the AAA was an arts society dedicated to the production and exhibition of abstract art, and whose aim was to provide artists working within a range of styles a space for dialogue and exhibition.267 The fact that Painters Eleven’s first and only group exhibition in the United States was in partnership with an arts society is significant. As a successful grouping of exclusively abstract artists celebrating its twentieth year anniversary in 1956, the AAA was a near perfect foil to the conservative arts societies of Toronto whose disavowal of “modern art” had prompted the very formation of Painters Eleven. These similarities were so compelling that Luke considered the AAA to be the exemplar of the possibilities for growth and development in painting in Canada, and even referenced the AAA as a source of inspiration for group exhibitions of abstract art in her opening speech for the 1952 YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition.268 Luke also pondered the suitability of pursuing an “Abstract Canadian Group” to keep up with the American society.269 From the vantage point of Toronto, where art societies controlled the scene, the existence of an established institution dedicated to abstract painting would have seemed to Painters Eleven like a remarkable, radical feat in itself. In their eyes, the AAA was an organization to admire, because it represented progress for modern art and a 267 Susan C. Larsen, “The American Abstract Artists: A Documentary History 1936–1941,” Archives of American Art Journal 14:1 (1974): 2–7. 268 Transcript of notes from Alexandra Luke’s speech for the opening of the Canadian Abstract Exhibition at the Sackville Art Association, 23 March 1953, Box 3A, File D, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. See also Chapter Two. 269 Correspondence from Alexandra Luke to Lawren P. Harris, 18 November 1952, Box 3A, File D, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 120 great step forward that had not yet taken place in their own stuffy city. However, Painters Eleven were quite unaware that in the complicated milieu of New York painting, the AAA did not represent the latest developments in abstraction. Much like Painters Eleven, the AAA had been formed in order to affirm and exhibit abstract painting in the United States. The necessity for artists to self-organize around the commonality of non-figuration was thus not a circumstance confined only to Toronto, or even Canada. Just as Painters Eleven felt that all-abstract exhibitions—where the principal visual facets, as well as the possible differences in technique and application, of abstraction could be clearly observed—were a key mode of educating the layman, so too did the AAA assert that part of their purpose was “to bring before the public their individual works, and in every possible way foster public appreciation for this direction in painting and sculpture.”270 While it has been suggested that the AAA “established a suitable climate for the formation of Abstract Expressionism” during its “heyday” from 1936 to 1942,271 the diversity of techniques present in the 1956 Riverside Museum exhibition is a testament to the AAA’s mission of uniting abstraction’s range of styles. According to Ilene Susan Fort, the members of AAA usually worked in geometric, 270 Preface to the AAA Second Annual Exhibition catalogue, New York, 1938, quoted in “AAA Historical Outline by Esphyr Slobodkina.” 271 This has been suggested by Ilene Susan Fort in “American Abstract Artists,” in The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, Volume 1, ed. Joan M. Marter (Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 2011), 89; and by Susan C. Larsen, in “The American Abstract Artists.” The connection between AAA and Abstract Expressionism, however, is severely lacking in study, and an inquiry into these claims are beyond the scope of this dissertation. For more on the AAA’s history, see G. McNeil, “American Abstractionists Venerable at Twenty,” Art News 3 (1956) 34–35, 64–66. 121 Cubist-derived aesthetics with hard-edged forms and flat planes of colors, similar to the Abstraction-Création group of artists formed in Paris in 1931. Although its members tended towards geometric abstraction and even the neo-plasticism of Mondrian, officially, the only requirement for AAA paintings is that the mode abstraction be “distinguished from those efforts characterized by expressionism, realistic representation, surrealism, etc.”272—that is, there must be a rejection of all forms of figuration, free even from early-twentieth-century distortions of representational imagery. The AAA laid claim to New York’s avant-garde in the 1930s, and thought of themselves as avant-garde in 1940, when they picketed the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to protest their exclusion—or at least what they perceived to be their exclusion—from its exhibitions, claiming that the MoMA’s April 1940 program Italian Masters, which featured seventeenth-century painters like Caravaggio and Bronzino, was a betrayal of the institution’s commitment to modern art.273 By the mid 1940s, however, the AAA’s dedication to European internationalism was growing tiresome for art critics like Greenberg, who felt that the AAA, in their pastiches of the French and Dutch styles of Cubism and Neoplasticism lacked a intensity or unique qualities of their own. In his review of the AAA’s 1947 exhibition, Greenberg wrote: “Here the hand of the past descends more heavily because none of the thirty-seven artists represented can quite boast a temperament. Some of them have an abundance of vitality, at least of a mechanical kind, but nowhere does it break through the canonical modes of the School of 272 Preface to the AAA Second Annual Exhibition catalogue, New York, 1938, quoted in “AAA Historical Outline by Esphyr Slobodkina.” 273 See Richard Meyer, What Was Contemporary Art?, 181–182. 122 Paris to assert a new independent personality—or an idea.”274 For Greenberg, even the French masters who had innovated these groundbreaking styles of art in the 1910s were experiencing a “decline” in the quality of their work, including Picasso, Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, and Marc Chagall.275 Greenberg’s essay, “The Decline of Cubism,” printed in Partisan Review in March 1948, was rebutted by George L. K. Morris, who was also a writer for Partisan Review and, as an abstract artist himself, served as president of the AAA for a number of years in the 1940s.276 It was in this essay, as well as in the “The Situation at the Moment,” that Greenberg made the “bombshell” declaration that art in New York had not just challenged, but had overtaken the cultural supremacy of France, supplanting Paris as the new center of Western art and culture.277 By the time Painters Eleven were invited to exhibit with them in 1956, the AAA no longer represented a significant part of the advancements in abstract painting in New York. As their exposure to contemporary experiments outside of Canada were mostly filtered through the pages of Life and Canadian Art, with the occasional in-person visits to the city, Painters Eleven had little knowledge of the nuances and complexities involved in the scene. Still, the Riverside Museum opportunity warranted careful consideration by the group, since it coincided very closely with a number of additional Painters Eleven 274 Greenberg, “Review of Exhibitions of Marc Chagall,” 143–146. 275 Ibid., see also Greenberg, “The Decline of Cubism,” in O’Brian, Clement Greenberg, Volume 2, 211–215. 276 See Greenberg, “The Decline of Cubism,” and Greenberg, “Reply to George L. K. Morris,” in O’Brian, Clement Greenberg, Volume 2, 242–248. For an account of the exchange between Greenberg and Morris, see Jones, Eyesight Alone, 71–75. 277 Guilbaut, How New York Stole, 172. 123 exhibitions being held in Canada that year. Small Pictures by Painters 11 opened at the Roberts Gallery, Toronto from February to March and featured works in watercolor, print, collage, and ink on paper, all “abstract in technique to be uniform with [their] other shows.”278 Another show, Painters Eleven at the Hart House Gallery, Toronto opened on March 4, 1956.279 This required Painters Eleven to finalize their selection decisions for the Riverside show by February of 1956, and Nakamura, after viewing the Hart House show, comments in a letter to Ronald dated February 28 that, although the Hart House paintings were “well hung” and “look[ed] quite impressive,” “we all” in Toronto “agree that paintings going to New York are much better.”280 In their minds, this meant that their images were on par with New York painting as they had encountered and understood it from Toronto. Based on this limited exposure, Painters Eleven might have assumed that all New York painting was of an Abstract Expressionist aesthetic, while being unaware that the AAA’s membered tended towards more geometric abstraction tendencies. As a result, they would have felt that their paintings for the Riverside Museum were “much better” because they were up to scratch with the formal openness, aggressiveness, and scale of Abstract Expressionism, while the paintings and watercolors exhibited in Toronto remained on the reserved, small side. Bush later recalled that it had taken Painters Eleven years to be “bold enough” to consider “that Kline, de Kooning, Pollock were even closer” 278 Correspondence from Kazuo Nakamura to William Ronald, 19 February 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 279 Woods, A History of Painters Eleven. 280 Correspondence from Kazuo Nakamura to William Ronald, 28 February 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 124 to their mode of aesthetic expression than they previously thought.281 For Bush, the exhibition with the AAA forged a real connection between the two sets of artists, even though the AAA were definitively not on the same artistic plane as Kline, de Kooning, or Pollock. Bush considered the New York show to be: “the first physical contact with kindred spirits outside our own parish, or country, for that matter. This sparked the possibility that we lowly Canadians somehow had a real challenge, and a job to do as artists not at all like the local pattern so prevalent for so many years.”282 Provincial anxiety surfaces in Bush’s comments, a reminder that for Painters Eleven, New York held the cultural authority over Toronto, and by that marker alone, the Riverside exhibition was viewed as a successful validation of their work. The size disparity between typical Toronto abstractions and New York Abstract Expressionist canvases was one of the major differences between the two cities’ artistic production. This came to light during the Riverside exhibition. For instance, in Ronald's Drumbeat, at 47 x 50in, and Hodgson's tall but narrow It Became Green, at 96 x 40in, were among the largest canvases to be exhibited, and even so they were both notably smaller than the canvases of many Abstract Expressionists, including for example Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm (Number 30) (1950), with dimensions of 105 x 207in, and Franz Kline's Mahoning (1956), 80 x 100.5in. Before 1955, Painters Eleven’s artworks did not often exceed 50 inches in width or length. This difference in scale did not go unnoticed by Ronald, who noted that “actually none of us paint large by N.Y. 281 Correspondence from Jack Bush to Russell Harper, c. 1966, quoted in McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 28. 282 Ibid. 125 standards as some of their stuff fills a whole wall.”283 Part of the reason for this contrast were practical, a result of size restrictions imposed by Canada’s modest exhibition venues in contrast to New York’s large gallery spaces. The difference in scale, however, is a point of crucial difference in the subjective or formal content of the painting. As McKaskell has argued, size “determines the nature of the painter’s mark on the canvas, a crucial element for understanding the content of gestural painting.”284 When AAA’s president Botkin stipulated “quality,” however, it probably did not refer to Abstract Expressionism specifically, but I venture that Painters Eleven would have considered their work to be bold, assertive, and large enough to match its energy. It is also unclear whether Ronald’s advisory regarding “quality,” which was in correspondence with Bush, was relayed to the rest of Painters Eleven, and even less clear is how much weight this message might have carried when deciding which of their paintings to include in the exhibition. This is evident in the Riverside exhibition pamphlet [Fig. 22], where Kazuo Nakamura’s White Landscape (1953) [Fig. 23] is listed, despite Ronald’s “insistence” that “no landscape to the extent of Nak’s stuff in our last show”285 be included in New York. Ronald’s attempt to curate Painters Eleven’s show is indicative once again of the Painters Eleven’s lack of cohesion, as their process of selection and curation, and whether final decisions were typically determined individually or in group or studio consultations, remains ambiguous. However, this insertion of selection criteria 283 Correspondence from William Ronald to Jack Bush, quoted in McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 27. 284 McKaskell, “Changing Academies,” 27. 285 Correspondence from William Ronald to Jack Bush, n.d., c.1956, Box 5A, File 12, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 126 for the Riverside Museum show was highly unusual. As a practical mechanism, Painters Eleven was “just a vehicle for planning exhibitions,” as Nakamura put it—Painters Eleven was not a bohemian artistic community where individuals shared and discussed their techniques or artworks.286 According to Hodgson, offering critiques or opinions about each other’s works was simply not a part of Painters Eleven’s program. Hodgson has stated that each member acted independently, and concerned themselves with their own painting—“it was their business what they did and no one ever say anything about anybody else’s work.”287 Each member of Painters Eleven sent two works to New York. The range of approaches to abstraction represented by Painters Eleven—from the biomorphic, cellular-like structures which crowd the canvas in Tom Hodgson’s It Became Green (1956) [Fig. 20], to the explosive, kinetic brushwork and intensified red, black, and white palette of Ronald’s Drumbeat (1956) [Fig. 24] and Central Black (1956) [Fig. 25], to the fluid 286 Nakamura was especially “indifferent” about “the whole grouping process,” remarking in a 1979 interview with Joan Murray that he “didn’t feel anything about the meetings, [whether] they were exciting or helpful, just a vehicle for planning exhibitions.” Kazuo Nakamura, interviewed by Joan Murray, 12 June 1979, typed transcript, Kazuo Nakamura File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 287 Tom Hodgson, in conversation with Joan Murray, 11 September 1990, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, typed transcript, Tom Hodgson File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Canada. The lack of internal critique was true for Painters Eleven as a whole, since the eleven artists were not personally connected, although for particular pairings—like Macdonald and Ronald, for example, whose mentor-student relationship gave them a more intimate connection, or Town and Cahén, who were close friends—studio visits may have been more common. 127 manipulations of black ink and negative space which produce a spatial field akin to landscape in Nakamura’s White Landscape—were a match for a similar range of aesthetics represented by the AAA’s paintings. A diverse set of artworks were put forth by the American painters—for instance, Perle Fine’s Thundering Rhythms, George L. K. Morris’ Space Recession, and Ilya Bolotowsky’s Grey Diamond [Figs. 26–28]. The contributions made by Fine, Morris, and Bolotowsky confirm that Botkin’s notion of “quality” did not require an adherence to any explicit or distinct practice, technique, or school of abstraction as a New York standard, but rather referred to a non-objectivity based around structured composition of basic geometric explorations. Holubizky has previously noted that most of Painters Eleven’s exhibitions received little critical attention, and the Riverside Museum was no exception.288 Art News and Time Canada published brief, single-column notices of the show, but with minimal significant or knowledgeable content. This is due in part to their independence and separation from the Toronto art community as well as their belated or delayed entry into the international world of modernism, as by 1956 their abstractions hardly registered as the “shock of the new” in either Toronto or New York. In fact, both Art News and Time Canada merely reproduce Painters Eleven’s own self-conceptualized perspective and their self-produced mythology of marginalization and alienation. In Art News, Lawrence Campbell writes that “the conservatives rule the roost” in Toronto, and that “the public and press climate for modern art is about like that in the United States when the American Abstract Artists were founded twenty years ago”289—a conclusion that Campbell does not 288 Holubizky, 1953, 19. 289 Lawrence Campbell, “Canadian Painters Eleven,” Art News 55:3 (May 1956): 50. 128 come to on his own but rather receives from an interview with Jock Macdonald.290 Painters Eleven’s anti-conservative rhetoric is also replicated in Time Canada’s article, which refers to “their [Painters Eleven] own brand of advance-guarde art” against “massive indifference.”291 Once again, the success of Painters Eleven’s self-promotion strategy here is situated in their ability to manipulate their position in print media. Again, the mythology of Painters Eleven as “advance-guarde” is supplied by the group’s own words, and their self-constructed being-in-common identity is printed without question—and sometimes without an awareness of the proper terminology “avant-garde”—in press reviews. This level of public exposure, both through the Riverside exhibition and in print media, matched the ambitious plan that Painters Eleven, in seeking success in a “mainstream of modern art,” had set for themselves when they first formed.292 With only one international exhibition realized, Bush maintained his air of grandiosity, saying, “we are launched now in big league circles and the rest will be up to us [Painters Eleven] to paint good, and that’s all we need worry about.”293 Adding to this 290 Macdonald mentions this meeting with Lawrence Campbell in a letter to William Ronald dated February 17, 1956. In this correspondence, Macdonald incorrectly identifies Campbell as “Leonard Campbell” and refers to him as “associated editor or something with Art News,” and an “unbiased critic” who was interested in Painters Eleven. Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 17 February 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 291 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” Time Canada, May 7, 1956. 292 Barrie Hale, Toronto Painting: 1953–1965 (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1972), 11. 293 Correspondence from Jack Bush to William Ronald, 17 June 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 129 self-congratulatory boasting against “sour grapes”294 in Toronto, Macdonald also adds prematurely that they were “now known very well all across the country” and accepted as “the most important group of painters in the country.”295 These statements reveal a lack of humility among some members which, however unbecoming, is crucial to their avant-garde formulation, as it is the very process of self-inflation that is concealed by their constructed rhetoric and ideology of “harmonious disagreement.” Their boastful attitude is in contradiction with the modest tone so evident in their exhibition materials.296 For Painters Eleven, the Riverside Museum exhibition was proof that their abstractions were not merely provincial imitations, but rather were distinctive and noteworthy on their own, with a quality on par with the most up-to-date New York painting. What they did not know, however, was that their hosts, the AAA, were not the vanguard but the establishment, and that their invitation to participate in the exhibition in 1956 was not necessarily an indication of Painters Eleven’s avant-garde quality. Compatible Effects The successful insertion of Painters Eleven’s work into a New York setting was not determined by any Abstract Expressionist or Action Painting qualification, since such a criteria did not exist in the context of their exhibition with the AAA. However, this is not to say that Painters Eleven’s abstractions at the Riverside Museum did not share a 294 Ibid. 295 Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 10 June 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 296 See also Chapter Two. 130 visual vocabulary with Abstract Expressionism. In other words, it is not my intention to dismiss Painters Eleven’s 1956 artworks, or to label them as “namby-pamby” because of their involvement with the AAA.297 On the contrary, I argue that the paintings exhibited by Painters Eleven in 1956 demonstrate a remarkable advancement in formal articulation and compositional structuring since their inaugural showcase at the Roberts Gallery in 1954. If in the early 1950s Painters Eleven were “namby-pamby,” by 1956 they had critically expanded their aesthetic practice in ways that were in fact comparable to New York abstraction. In these developments, Painters Eleven’s visual vocabularies reveal a shared critical history of abstraction and an intellectual engagement with the formal characteristics and artistic philosophies strongly affiliated with Abstract Expressionism as well as modern British art, which therefore allowed critics to generate meaning for their painting through these established frameworks. What adjacent or overlapping critical dialogues are at play at this intersection of Toronto and New York abstraction, and is it possible to disentangle Painters Eleven from these competing frameworks? It is difficult and perhaps impossible to position Painters Eleven neatly within a distinct category of visual practice, not only because of their internal disparities—which are smoothed over by the ideological work of “harmony”—but also because such an act of classification produces an external matrix of meaning which, and here I borrow from art historian 297 York Wilson, quoted in “Art May Test Diplomacy of Lord Alexander,” Montreal Daily Star, March 10, 1951. See also Chapter Two. 131 Charles Harrison, superficially assembles together “genealogically disparate endeavors [which have] empirically compatible effects.”298 Because Painters Eleven maintained a set of aesthetic interests and philosophies which yielded abstract paintings with a comparable visual effect to what is called New York Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting, their work has been readily subsumed and blanketed under these frameworks. These “compatible effects” are constituted by way of certain surface articulations and compositional strategies, such as visibly expressive, gestural, or thick impasto brushwork, and the uniform treatment of forms across the canvas or the denial of pictorial hierarchies and fixed viewpoints, which activate an optical similitude between Toronto and New York painting. I propose that Painters Eleven are entangled at a cultural-historical intersection of competing modern painting discourses, rooted in ideas circulated by a network of figures from Harold Rosenberg to Graham Sutherland to Herbert Read, all of which inform the different interpretations of their aesthetic meaning, and all of which are also held in tension with each other without 298 I borrow this phrase from Charles Harrison’s discussion of the transatlantic dialogue of modern painting between New York, Paris, and London, and in particular his analysis of the confusion of terminology and vocabulary used in London to designate different modes of abstraction. Here Harrison references the 1956 exhibition at the Redfern Gallery “Metavisual, Abstract, Tachiste,” a title that, according to Harrison, “testifies to the anxiety with which artists and critics sought a vocabulary to organise genealogically disparate endeavours having empirically compatible effects,” citing for example the similar effects produced by Pierre Soulage’s work of the 1950s with Franz Kline’s, and Georges Matthieu’s work of the mid 1940s with Jackson Pollock’s. See Charles Harrison, “Modernism and the ‘Transatlantic Dialogue’” in Pollock and After: The Critical Debate, ed. Francis Frascina (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 224. 132 resolution. In other words, no single figure or theory can wholly define our understanding of Painters Eleven’s visual practices. An intersection of dialogues between American, European, and British ideas are suspended together in Painters Eleven’s compositions as commensurate but competing texts—a network of harmonious contradictions. These paintings may be comprehended as intertextual, allowing the viewer to discover not a core origin or meaning hidden within a cultural document, but rather a layered and textured relation of meanings which exist and move within a “network of textual relations.”299 At the Riverside exhibition in 1956, for example, Tom Hodgson’s It Became Green and William Ronald’s Drumbeat offered two very different inquiries into non-figuration by Painters Eleven, and yet both paintings produced visual effects “compatible” with Abstract Expressionism and Action Painting while also bearing traces of philosophical and artistic consonance with British modernisms. Hodgson’s It Became Green is a complete overhaul of the reserved style exhibited by Hodgson’s Hydrant [Fig. 29] at the Roberts Gallery in 1954. It Became Green is a large, 95 x 40 inch oil on canvas which features a field of greens and blues of adjacent shades and tones, fragmented into circular and ovoid forms and the thick contours that enclose them, which are packed tightly and uniformly across the painted surface. This is a careful, controlled composition, structured predominantly by a bounded, oblong-shape motif which, although appearing in 299 Graham Allen, Intertextuality: The New Critical Idiom (London: Routledge, 2000). See also Julia Kristeva in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980) and Roland Barthes, “Theory of the Text,” in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge, 2006), 31–47. 133 various degrees of rotundity and fullness, recur side-by-side in comparable scale, texture, and hue to achieve an overall optical cohesion throughout an otherwise fractured picture plane. While some forms have not been fully contained or encircled—such as the length of darkened teal on the mid-to-bottom left of the canvas, or the stretch of white at bottom right whose upper portion has only just been partitioned—each shape, encircled by black or deep blue boundaries, occupies its own planar space without overlapping, thus producing a sense of two-dimensionality and impeding any illusion of depth. The flatness of the painting is further underscored not only by the vertical orientation of many of the ovoids, which echoes the rectangular shape of the canvas and reproduces its upward directionality, but also by the extension of the field to the very edges of the canvas, where the incomplete forms suggest their lateral continuation beyond the picture’s visible limits. It Became Green yields an aesthetic proximity, or “compatible effect,” to certain tendencies often attributed to Abstract Expressionism. Because of the consistent density of its visual field and its decentralized composition, which offers no focal point or emphasis, may be referred to as an “all-over picture,” a term defined by Greenberg in 1948 as a uniform, anti-hierarchical distribution of forms across the canvas and the denial of visual distinctions or spatial relationships such a figure-ground.300 Hodgson’s careful 300 I refer here to the term “all-over picture” established by Clement Greenberg in his 1948 essay in The Nation, “The Crisis of the Easel Picture,” which defines a composition that is uniform across the surface of a painted canvas, that refuses a hierarchy of figure-ground relationships, refuses also to provide hierarchy by providing any dominant point of interest, or any indication of the canvas’ directional orientation—or, as Greenberg writes, where “uniformity, this dissolution of the picture into sheer texture, sheer sensation, into the accumulation of similar units of sensation… corresponds perhaps to 134 organization of the ovoid motif levels Hodgson’s painting onto its vertical plane as an “all-over” composition. It is this articulation of flatness, which stresses the canvas as a repository for the material presence of paint as surface, that also resonates with another of Greenberg’s ideas—that of the integrity of the picture plane in modernist painting. Although Greenberg does not coin the term “all-over picture” until 1960, the concept of “integrity” as “the enduring presence of flatness” which makes the viewer “aware of the flatness” of a painting before the viewer becomes “aware of what the flatness contains.” As a distinctly contrasting technique, fellow Painters Eleven William Ronald’s Drumbeat [Fig. 24] is not a careful composition of motifs, but rather is more compatible with the aggressive brushwork and surface articulation of Action Painting. Ronald’s usage of the brush to imprint a sense of movement and kinesis in a dramatic, almost explosive directionality hints strongly at the idea, defined by Rosenberg, that the canvas in Action Painting is “an arena in which to act,” an event rather than a picture.301 In Drumbeat, a central, black pyramidal form appears as a rupture, and the slashes of paint achieve an overall effect of explosive outward expansion against a passive white field, which orients the picture around a spatial configuration of tension between areas of action and reaction, instigation and reception. Drumbeat produces an aesthetic the feeling that all hierarchical distinctions have been exhausted, that no area or order of expertise is either intrinsically or relatively superior to any other.” See Greenberg, “The Crisis of the Easel Picture,” in O’Brian, Clement Greenberg: Volume 2, 221–225. 301 “Action-painting” is a term coined by Harold Rosenberg in “The American Action Painters,” originally published in ArtNews 51:8 (December 1952). See also Rosenberg, "The American Action Painters,” in Tradition of the New (New York: Rizon Press, 1959), 23–39. 135 consonance with certain gestural techniques associated with New York artists such as Franz Kline, Sam Francis, and Joan Mitchell, in its semblance of spontaneity and impulse. The correlation between Ronald’s expressive quality and Rosenberg’s idea of gesture as improvisation was so strongly appended that both Canadian and American critics saw fit to insert Ronald unproblematically into the two dominant American modern painting discourses. One Canadian critic would later write: “we were quick to identify Ronald in those days as something like ‘our Action Painter in New York’…[and] American critics...for the most part lumped Ronald with the horde of second-generation Abstract Expressionists and left it at that.”302 While It Became Green and Drumbeat carry these comparable impressions or concerns with Abstract Expressionism or Action Painting, they also echo another set of philosophies, discursively and historically adjacent but genealogically distinct from New York, which emerge from spheres of English modernist thought. In particular, what is held in tension with the former in It Became Green are English artistic and critical interest in the expression of an organic order, which had reached Canada by the 1950s through increased exhibition and publicity of British artists such as Graham Sutherland, and the wide circulation of texts by the influential critic Herbert Read.303 The foremost 302 Barrie Hale, “From Crisis to Crisis with William Ronald,” Saturday Night 90:3 (July–August 1975): 21–26. 303 Karen A. Finlay, “Identifying with Nature: Graham Sutherland and Canadian Art, 1939–1955,” RACAR: revue d'art canadienne/Canadian Art Review 21:1–2 (1994): 43–59. See also Leslie Dawn, “The Britishness of Canadian Art,” in Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art, eds. John O’Brian and Peter White, 193–201 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007). 136 advocate of English modern and abstract art, Read’s influence after 1945 had spread worldwide as he lectured throughout Europe and the United States, and having established friendships with Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson, all of whom were admired by Painters Eleven members as foremost experimental contemporary artists. Jock Macdonald, for example, saved Eric Newton’s article “The Paintings of Graham Sutherland” printed in the Spring 1952 issue of Canadian Art and made a note to himself on the clipping: “Sutherland is probably the only living artist who can be said to have enriched our imaginative perception of nature.”304 On a number of occasions, Nakamura expressed his admiration for British artists Ben Nicholson for his design, Matthew Smith for his use of color, and Paul Nash, for his draughtsmanship.305 Ray Mead attended The Slade school of art in London, and was taught by Sutherland before moving to Canada in 1946, and also expressed his interest in Nicholson and Moore.306 304 Cited in Joyce Zemans, Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1981), 162. See also Eric Newton “The Paintings of Graham Sutherland,” Canadian Art (Spring 1952), 116–21. 305 Kazuo Nakamura, interviewed by Joan Murray, n.d., transcript of notes from phone interview; and Nakamura, interviewed by Murray, 12 June 1979, typed transcript, Kazuo Nakamura File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 306 Ray Mead, interviewed by Joan Murray, 4 September 1977, Blythe Farm, Fenelon Falls, typed transcript, Ray Mead File, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 137 Read’s writings not only dominated British art theory and criticisms during the 1940s, but was also widely read and well-known in Canada.307 He authored a number of books where he advocated for abstraction through the philosophies of Carl Jung as well as anarchism, including Art and Society (1939), The Meaning of Art (1951), Contemporary British Art (1951), and The Philosophy of Modern Art (1952).308 In 1958, Canadian Art published Read’s essay “Recent Tendencies in Abstract Painting,” where Read introduces a psychoanalytic approach to the interpretation of abstract painting, citing Jung’s ideas about how the visual imagination of the unconscious psyche is outwardly manifested to explain the aesthetic forms of abstract painting.309 The essay generated a two-part response against Read’s ideas by artist Joseph Plaskett in the 307 Finlay, “Identifying with Nature,” 43. 308 For further analysis of Herbert Read’s politics in relation to his art-writing, see Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism 1900–1939 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); David Goodway, ed., Herbert Read Reassessed (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998); Catherine M. Nutting, "Art and Organicism: Sensuous Awareness and Subjective Imagination in Herbert Read’s Anarchist Aesthetics," Studies in the Literary Imagination 45:2 (2012): 81–94; and Ben Cranfield, ‘‘A stimulation to greater effort of living’: The Importance of Henry Moore’s ‘credible compromise’ to Herbert Read’s Aesthetics and Politics,” in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity (London: Tate Research Publication, 2015), http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/ben-cranfield-a-stimulation-to-greater-effort-of-living-the-importance-of-henry-moores-r1151301 (accessed September 10, 2016). 309 Sir Herbert Read, “Recent Tendencies in Abstract Painting,” Canadian Art 15:3 (Summer 1958): 192–203. 138 Summer and Autumn 1959 issues of Canadian Art.310 Plaskett, who was himself a modern artist and close friends with Jock Macdonald and his wife Barbara, later recalled that his reaction to Read made him an veritable outcast in the Toronto scene, costing him not only his ability to sell his paintings but also his relationship with the Macdonalds, who he never saw again.311 For the Macdonalds, it seems, Read’s ideas were important enough to sever a friendship over. Alexandra Luke was particularly taken with Read’s 1939 Art and Society, and lifted passages from Read’s book to include in the lectures she frequently gave in Toronto. Compare, for example, the following passage from Read’s publication and a draft of essay written by Luke, respectively. Read’s Art and Society states: Many of the critics of abstract art…dismiss it…as completely devoid of social actuality…[But] the same criticism may be made of higher mathematics, but no one is so superficial as to assert that higher mathematics is a useless and anti-social activity; instead it is freely admitted that many of the greatest advances in civilization (for example, wireless telegraphy and aeronautics) are dependent on the 310 Joseph Plaskett, “The Reactionaries: A Reply to Sir Herbert Read, Part I,” Canadian Art 65 (Summer 1959): 192–197; and Plaskett, “The Reactionaries: A Reply to Sir Herbert Read, Part II,” Canadian Art, 66 (Autumn 1959): 232–239. 311 Roger H. Boulet, Joseph Plaskett: Reflections and Shadows (Penticton: Penticton Art Gallery, 1994). 139 services of pure mathematicians. The function of abstract art must be envisaged in a similar way.312 In her essay, Luke writes: …abstract art is like high mathematics and cannot be explained away in a few breezy paragraphs. Similarly, even as high mathematics is fascinating to the mathematician in comparison to school arithmetic, so we find abstract art satisfies the alert 20th century artist rather than realism. But unlike higher mathematics, abstract painting may be a stimulating experience to the spectator as well as the artist.313 Although the text used by Luke in this particular case does not represent Read’s philosophical theories on modern art and abstraction, it suggests that Luke, and perhaps other Painters Eleven members, were closely following Read’s writings. In another distillation of politicized art criticism, however, Read’s associations with anarchism did filter through into Painters Eleven’s interests. Read was interested in the origins of art and its function in evolutionary development of human civilization. His theorizations of art and modern art revolved around the specific creative relationships between nature and artist, and investigated a 312 Herbert Read, Art and Society (London: Faber and Faber, 1945), 125–126. 313 Handwritten draft of an essay written by Alexandra Luke, Box 3, Envelope B, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 140 “vital organicist” approach to art-making, a concept with no strict definition but that encompasses a collection of Read’s ideas about art’s harnessing of the biological structures and material properties of the natural world to “create microcosms which reflect the macrocosm” of the universe.314 Together with the palette of botanic moss greens and marine-like blues, Hodgson’s painting, with its predominant ovoid theme, produces a visual effect that is markedly connected to this vital organicism. In It Became Green, the configuration of forms appears as a cluster of biologic matter, a mass of homologous cellular mutations which, as their contoured membranes press or meld together, are animated in a living process of transfiguration or growth. It Became Green operates in visual dialogue with the organicism of Sutherland’s Thorn Trees (1946) [Fig. 30] as well as Cahén’s Candy Tree (1952) [Fig. 2], both of which favor natural models of vegetative “germinal forces” and “dim analogues of roots, of larvae, of knots” in affirmation of their creative power.315 This English discourse, represented heavily in Canada through Read’s writings and Sutherland’s paintings, was circulated among Painters Eleven and were especially impactful on Cahén and Luke.316 It offered a different perspective on abstraction by prioritizing nature as the root of artistic creativity, the power of the natural organism to stimulate aesthetic imagination and materialization of visual form. As such, an image such as It Became Green articulates a layered, 314 Article from the London Bulletin, quoted in David Thistlewood, “Herbert Read’s Organic Aesthetic [I]: 1918–1950,” in Herbert Read Reassessed, ed. David Goodway (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998), 222. See also Read, Art and Society, 259–60. 315 Herbert Read, The Tenth Muse: Essays in Criticism (Routledge, New York: 1957). 316 Finlay, “Identifying with Nature.” 141 intertextual network of ideas, and evokes different understandings of “expression” that come together as competing dialogues in tension in the image. In its “all-over” flatness, Hodgson’s It Became Green still offers a compositional quality that transmits the idea of “expression” as a creative relationship inspired by nature and reproduced by the artist. Perhaps for this same reason Ronald would resist association with any established classification or “school,” rejecting the term “abstract expressionism” and preferring the more generalized “creative painting.”317 The genealogical and aesthetic distinctions between these two modalities of "expression" —one that, rooted in European theorizations of abstraction, refers to the formal articulation of nature's creative vitality and the other which, powered by American dialogues on modern art, defines expression through the painted mark of action and gesture as the indexical trace of the artist's identity—are suspended in images like Hodgson’s It Became Green or Cahén’s Candy Tree. According to Karen Finlay, the vestiges of organic matter present in paintings such as these emerge out of a strong resonation with English art and sensibilities. In her 1994 article “Identifying with Nature: Graham Sutherland and Canadian Art, 1939–1955,” Finlay offers an analysis of the cultural and political circumstances under which Canadians were exposed to such British Art. Finlay argues that exhibition trends in national institutions like the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) and the AGT in the 1940s and early 1950s demonstrated a preference for British over American models of art.318 In the 1930s, the NGC and AGT hosted the 317 Correspondence from William Ronald to unknown recipient, 20 March 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 318 Finlay, “Identifying with Nature,” 47. 142 British Council’s first major international exhibitions, from 1939–40 a survey of twentieth-century British art which was put together for the New York World’s Fair toured Canada, and in 1947 the British Contemporary Painters exhibition was featured at the AGT. Following the return of Vincent Massey, who was Canada’s High Commissioner to Great Britain from 1935 to 1946, from England with a sizeable collection of British art, the NGC would go on to purchase a number of artworks by Sutherland.319 In contrast, the Contemporary Painting from Great Britain, the United States, and France exhibition at the AGT in 1949 was one of the “astonishingly” few shows of contemporary American painting shown in Canada.320 Additionally, Canadian Art magazine often published articles on modern British art, frequently reproduced paintings by Sutherland, including Horned Forms and Two Standing Forms Against a Palisade.321 The political and cultural contexts that predisposed Canada to pay attention to modern British art, and Sutherland in particular, were tied to the strength of modern English art’s international and critical reputation after the Second World War, thanks to the art-writings of Herbert Read.322 In conjunction with anti-Americanism, the Massey Report and other cultural commentators like Harold A. Innis proposed to create more robust English connections to contribute to Canadian cultural elevation and education. A number of articles in Canadian Art were published on the topic, including Kathleen Fenwick’s “Revival of British Painting” in the May 1947 issue.323 319 Ibid. 320 Ibid. 321 Ibid. 322 Ibid., 43. 323 Kathleen Fenwick, “Revival of British Painting” Canadian Art 4:3 (May 1947). 143 As a point of difference, where the abstractions emerging from English artists were being promoted by the Massey Report and entering into the artistic milieu of Toronto, and where they fit into English-Canada’s reserved environment, the American Abstract Expressionist paintings were not as well-received. From Canada’s midcentury point of view, the large-scale abstract paintings of the United States were linked to an American ideology characterized by an aggressive spirit of expression that was not in keeping with a European, English-oriented sensibility of Canadian art. Reception of American Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s were informed by the tense Cold War cultural politics of the period, as critics in Canada described such American paintings in terms of a national spirit of excess. Cathedral (1947) [Fig. 31] was the only work by Jackson Pollock to be exhibited in Toronto before the formation of Painters Eleven, and was shown alongside works such as William Baziotes' Night Landscape (1947), Willem de Kooning's Painting (1947), Stuart Davis' Ursine Park (1942), Robert Motherwell's Emperor of China (1948), and Max Weber's Three Literary Gentleman (1945) in the AGT's 1949–50 exhibition Contemporary Paintings from Great Britain, the United States and France.324 Art critic Beatrice Koerner uses choice adjectives to describe the spirit and consciousness behind American art, describing the "elements of the American consciousness" as "aggressiveness, cockiness and taste for experiment, ” and the "only tradition Americans share" as "the belief in unlimited self-expression."325 Globe and Mail 324 Contemporary Paintings from Great Britain, the United States and France (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1949). 325 Beatrice Koerner, “Unlimited Self-Expression: A Comment on Some Recent Paintings from the United States,” Canadian Art 7:3 (Spring 1950): 110–113. 144 critic Pearl McCarthy shared this perspective, writing: “sheer horror given reign, as if the country could afford plenty of everything, including both talent and neuroses…In all the whole exhibition is rather terrifying.”326 This is where the differences in scale between Toronto and New York painting emerge as a critical point of distinction. Ronald noticed this size disparity when he observed that “actually none of us paint large by N.Y. standards as some of their stuff fills a whole wall”—the “unlimited self-expression” of American painting was manifested in its massive scale, a “terrifying” monumentalization of uninhibited individual expression.327 As a consequence of this difference, while the visual effects of each of their abstractions may be comparable, whether in brushwork technique, or commitment to the integrity of flatness, the genealogical and subjective content of Toronto and New York painting are distinct and cannot be conflated. Such an explicit discomfort with American abstraction stems from a growing anti-American discourse in Canada in the 1950s. This anti-Americanism permeates Canada’s early reception of Abstract Expressionism, whose disapproving perspective on the aggressive character and content of large-scale gestural expression resonates with Guilbaut’s assertion that, in the context of the Cold War, the practice was mobilized as an “expression of freedom…symbolized by action painting, by the unbridled expressionism 326 Pearl McCarthy, “Great Modern Exhibition has Terrifying Aspects,” The Globe and Mail, November 12, 1949, p.9. 327 Correspondence from William Ronald to Jack Bush, quoted in Robert McKaskell, “Changing Academies: The Rise of Abstraction in Canadian Painting,” in Achieving the Modern: Canadian Abstract Painting and Design in the 1950s, eds. Robert McKaskell, Sandra Paikowsky, Virginia Wright, and Allan Collier (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1993), 27. 145 of artists completely without fetters.”328 While this approach to American Abstract Expressionism has been criticized as a monolithic inscription of Cold War ideology onto artistic intent and meaning, it is significant here that, at the cultural intersection of Canada and the United States in the postwar era, these discourses overlap. In Canada, the idea that Abstract Expressionism was being wielded as an ideological “weapon” of American cultural imperialism was no exaggeration. For Canadian cultural intellectuals like Vincent Massey and Harold Innis, it was not just a cultural offensive against Soviet communism and social realism but also an insidious cultural infiltration into Canada. Regardless of its stylistic designation, It Became Green, Drumbeat, and the rest of Painters Eleven’s pictures were able to engage in the critical discourses surrounding abstract painting in New York, placing the two cities in aesthetic dialogue at the Riverside Museum. What allowed Painters Eleven to succeed in this specific international context was the intersectional character of their assemblaged modernist artistic philosophies which, by offering a similar set of concerns regarding the visual cohesion of an abstract image through non-figuration, the treatment of paint and textured brushwork, and the construction of non-illusionistic pictorial space, was comprehensible within the framework of “quality” established by AAA’s president. The “compatible effects” produced by the artworks have resulted in the common designation “Canadian Abstract Expressionists,”329 when in reality no single artistic philosophy can wholly define our 328 Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 201. 329 See Paul Duval, Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and Their Contemporaries, 1930–1970. (Toronto: Clarke Irwin & Co. Ltd., 1972); R. H. Hubbard, The Development of Canadian Art (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1966); Gerta 146 understanding of Painters Eleven’s visual practices, which are entangled in an unresolved network of competing frameworks and evident in the distinct techniques—Hodgson’s motif composition in contrast to Ronald’s gestural quality—that are articulated in their images. Now confident and validated in their quest for international recognition, Painters Eleven found that their strategy of “harmony” was a success. It was not only able to consolidate their individual and distinct techniques and abstract aesthetics as a structure commensurate with the American Abstract Artists’ own model, but it was also able to facilitate an artistic and cultural negotiation of overlapping modernist formal concerns by drawing from, and demonstrating compatibility with, a range of American and European art-critical modernisms. All the while, the harmonious relationship mediated by this breakthrough moment maintains contradiction and conflict, as Painters Eleven mobilized the New York show to reproduce and reaffirm their marginalization in Toronto. “Harmony,” which allows for the group’s internal tensions and frictions between individual members to coexist in contradiction, provides Painters Eleven with a fictitious cohesion under the banner of avant-garde collectivity. Moray, Harold Town: Life and Work (Toronto: Art Canada Institute, 2014); and also Fenton, Terry, and Karen Wilkin. Modern Painting in Canada: Major Movements in Twentieth Century Canadian Art (Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1978); Barry Lord, The History of Painting in Canada: Towards a People’s Art. (Toronto, New Canada Publications, 1977). 147 Chapter Four: The Failure of Cosmopolitanism in Paris The year of their success in New York is a critical moment in the history of Painters Eleven, but not simply because of the Riverside Museum exhibition with the AAA. It was also the year of their biggest and perhaps most jarring failure. While many scholars have readily established 1956 as a “watershed” year in the group’s narrative and have marked the exhibition as an event of international breakthrough, the failure is consistently ignored, even though it offers a vital glimpse into Painters Eleven’s internal structure, ideological contradictions, and relationship to the midcentury Canadian cultural project of nationalism and cosmopolitanism. In April 1956, while Painters Eleven were celebrating and posing for photographs at the opening of the Riverside Museum show in New York, they were also on the cusp of a catastrophe—the cancellation and rejection of an exhibition in Paris. The group had, just nine months prior to the AAA show, received news that they were going, with "certainty,"330 to have an exhibition at the Petit Palais Musée des Beaux Arts, to be organized by Michel Tapié, the influential French art critic and curator, as well as the First Secretary for Cultural Affairs at the Canadian Embassy René Garneau. This was going to be the year of Painters Eleven’s overwhelming victory as a group—the triumph and achievement of their international modern art vision in the face of their persecution and repression in Toronto. By the end of 1956, however, something had gone horribly wrong. Letters from Tapié and Garneau had abruptly stopped arriving. Paris had 330 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Painters Eleven, 25 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 148 suddenly, and without notice or explanation, abandoned any and all intention of staging the exhibition. Bewildered and wounded by this turn of events, Painters Eleven feared that larger forces were at work to sabotage their success abroad. In fact, they suspected, bitterly, that the cultural authorities of their very own nation—Canada—and its cultural political institutions were the culprits. It is this crucial juncture that reveals all too clearly the tensions between the political liberal cosmopolitan ideology being promoted by official English-Canadian cultural channels such as the National Gallery of Canada and the Massey Report, and the internationalist aspirations of individuals like Painters Eleven. As actors operating within the same worldview as the Massey Report’s official cultural outlook, Painters Eleven found themselves in material and practical conflict with national institutions and state interests despite their common goal—the mobilization of modern art towards the cultural progress of Canada in the context of an international world order. While it might appear on the surface that Painters Eleven entered seamlessly (or perhaps “harmoniously”) into the fabric of official Canadian culture at this midcentury moment, primarily because their cosmopolitan approach towards abstraction dovetails all too smoothly with the Massey Report’s insistence that “modern painting can no longer exploit the novelty of the Canadian landscape,”331 there exists in actuality a tension between artistic and official discourse that complicates the cultural dynamic between individual and state. This moment of failure for Painters Eleven allows us to investigate the ambivalence of both positions occupied by Painters Eleven as social actors and by institutions like the NGC or 331 Canada, Royal Commission on National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1951), 18. 149 their representatives as state authorities, in order to examine the complex entanglement of competing social and political interests and desires in midcentury Canadian cultural politics. “We Sink or Swim On Our Own Worth” In late August of 1955, Painters Eleven received electrifying news: they had secured a group exhibition in Paris. Member Jock Macdonald, while traveling in France and England on a Canadian Government fellowship,332 had been promoting Painters Eleven by proposing exhibitions to galleries such as Gimpel Fils in London and Rive Droîte gallery in Paris. Macdonald’s reasoning for doing so was that abstraction was “the only idiom that will go over”333 in Europe. Gimpel Fils had expressed great interest in Painters Eleven, despite initially showing none at all in regards to Canadian art. 332 In 1952, acting upon the Massey Report’s recommendation to establish overseas Canadian cultural programmes, Ottawa established the Canadian Government Overseas Awards, which funded year-long residences in France for an estimated thirty Canadian artists and students annually. In an effort towards Canada-France cultural diplomacy, the Canada Council awarded fellowships for French students and academics to study in Canada, establishing a programme for Canadian universities to host foreign professors. David Meren, With Friends Like These: Entangled Nationalisms in the Canada-Quebec-France Triangle, 1945–1970 (Vancouver, UBC Press, 2012), 73. See also David Meren, “‘Plus que jamais nécessaires’: Cultural Relations, Nationalism and the State in the Canada-Québec-France Triangle, 1945–1960,” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association 19:1 (2008): 287–288. 333 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 19 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 150 Macdonald was incredibly frustrated by London’s lack of knowledge about current developments in abstraction in Canada, which fed back into his disdain for the art establishment in Toronto. In a letter to Ronald, Macdonald wrote: I asked George Gimpel who he knew about in Canadian Art. I was somewhat floored by his reply as the names went as follows—Binning, Comfort, Ogilvie…and of course Riopelle, plus Buchanan of the National Gallery. He said that the Canadian Art magazine gave him a knowledge of what was happening in Canada. I told him that neither the magazine nor Buchanan could give him an idea of what was being done in Canada and if he cared I could show him coloured slides today of creative artists who wouldn’t be discovered in the Can. Art. Mag. nor mentioned by Buchanan.334 When Macdonald presented the slides, Gimpel took down the names of all members of Painters Eleven, and was especially intrigued by the caliber of Hodgson’s paintings. Apparently, Hodgson’s abilities as a painter took Gimpel by surprise. Gimpel knew of Hodgson only as an athlete—he competed in two Summer Olympic games for Canada in sprint canoeing. Macdonald sensed that Gimpel was thinking about hosting a Painters 334 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 28 September 1954, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 151 Eleven show, but there would be no follow up from the gallery, and no exhibition would come of it. Gimpel’s silence was not a huge blow to morale, because a bigger, better prospect had arrived on Painters Eleven’s doorstep. The potential of Macdonald’s exchange with London was compelling news, but thoughts of London were almost immediately displaced by the possibility of exhibiting in Paris. In August 1955, after seeing slides of their work, the unnamed “authorities” at Rive Droîte—who met their artwork with “distinct and surprised pleasure”—were going to begin planning a Painters Eleven show, perhaps to be exhibited at the esteemed Petit Palais Musée des Beaux Arts, and hosted in coordination with Cultural Affairs at the Canadian Embassy.335 According to Macdonald, he was told by René Garneau, First Secretary of Cultural Affairs that “the French will certainly accept this,” and, “there isn’t an artist in the group who is unworthy of exhibiting in Paris.”336 The news sent a wave of excitement through Painters Eleven, who were now on the cusp of not just one, but two international exhibitions in major artistic capitals, as the Riverside Museum show was set to open in April 1956 in New York. With Gimpel Fils also in the air, the possibility of a “3-way show” between New York, 335 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 19 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 336 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Painters Eleven, 25 August 1955; and Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 19 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. For more on Canada-France diplomatic relations in the immediate postwar period, see Meren, With Friends Like These. 152 London, and Paris seemed to be within their grasp.337 Letters fluttered back and forth between Macdonald, who was still in Paris, and Painters Eleven, who now needed to consider canvas selection to send to France for review. Macdonald explains: "We must be unselfish in the selection and send the six finest in the opinion of our members… [and additionally,] we must immediately make sure that several of our best works must be held back from the Ontario Show [original emphasis]."338 The message was clear—Painters Eleven's top works must be reserved for prominent, international exhibitions, and local exhibitions were not deserving of the same privilege. By early 1956, Painters Eleven were confident that their international success was imminent. The upcoming exhibitions confirmed their self-envisioning as the avant-garde in Toronto, since they were now able to position themselves within an institutionalized context for modern art—within an ideology of “harmony.” Harold Town was so convinced that the group would be propelled into international spotlight that he wrote to the director of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Theodore Heindrich, to offer the Museum a chance to host Painters Eleven’s last local exhibition before their supposedly skyrocketing careers gave them the pick of any number of high-profile venues. “At a recent meeting of Painters 11,” Town writes to Heindrich, “it was decided to have only one more exhibition of paintings in Toronto before confining our activities to national and international shows. We plan as in the recent Riverside Museum exhibition in New York 337 Correspondence from Jack Bush to William Ronald, n.d., R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 338 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Painters Eleven, 25 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 153 to show one canvas of major size by each member of the group.”339 The smugness is unmistakeable in Town’s words, and consistent with Bush’s self-important “big league circles” remark which, as an added point, seems likely to have been drawn from the same Painters Eleven discussion mentioned by Town, since Bush goes on in his letter to say that he “agree[s]…that a Toronto show only is useless” for the group’s reputation.340 Once again, however, Painters Eleven’s grasp on the art scene in Paris was lacking. It is unclear who Macdonald spoke to at the Rive Droîte, but it is telling that he cited comments from René Garneau, and that the show was to be held at the Petit Palais. Garneau was no art critic, and the Petit Palais was not exactly known for promoting the latest in avant-garde French art. Garneau was a Canadian diplomat from Quebec, a journalist and a literary figure who had worked for the Massey Commission in the late 339 Correspondence from Harold Town to Theodore Heindrich, n.d., MG30, D404, Volume 13, Files 12–13, Harold Town fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Thanks to Jaleen Grove for acquiring this archival data. 340 It should be noted here that members of Painters Eleven also continued to be committed and active members of various arts societies, including not only the OSA and RCA, but also the Canadian Group of Painters, Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, and the Society of Graphic Arts, during the period of Painters Eleven’s activities. Many were not only members of these societies but also served as elected executive committee officers for one or more society, while simultaneously taking part in Painters Eleven exhibitions and meetings. As such, Bush’s remark offers yet another contradiction between the rhetoric of Painters Eleven and their actions, as some of them continued to rely on art societies to gain visibility as solo artists. Bush’s haughty threat, however, was briefly realized in 1958, when all eleven Painters boycotted the OSA’s annual exhibition, refusing to submit artworks to the jury selection. See The 86th Annual Exhibition of the Ontario Society of Artists (Toronto: Ontario Society of Artists, 1958). 154 1940s. Before the Second World War, Garneau had called for strengthened links between French Canada and France.341 As the First Secretary of Cultural Affairs at the Canadian Embassy, Garneau was tasked with developing and fostering cultural relationships between France and Canada as a part of the Massey Report’s mandate to “promote the knowledge of Canada abroad.”342 This resulted in what David Meren calls a “Canada-Quebec-France triangle” of cultural diplomacy in the 1940s and 1950s, which reflected urgent concerns about “Americanization” and American cultural influence among nationalists in all three places.343 As Meren argues, this triangle led to both conflict and cooperation, as the relationships within the Canada-Quebec-France sphere were shaped by an intersection of domestic circumstances and postwar international realities, as well as the broader evolution of transnational exchanges and interdependence that emerged after the war.344 France was particularly keen to forge intercultural affairs. “Paris,” Meren writes, “attached even greater importance to cultural diplomacy after 1945 as a means to compensate for its diminished geo-political stature and to raise a French voice in a world dominated by superpowers.”345 341 Meren, “‘Plus que jamais nécessaires,’” 287–288. 342 Canada, The Royal Commission on National Development of the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (Ottawa: Edmond Cloutier, 1951), 253–254. 343 Meren, “‘Plus que jamais nécessaires,’” 285. 344 Ibid. 345 Meren, “‘Plus que jamais nécessaires,’” 285. 155 In a rattled postwar France, the Parisian milieu was perhaps even more complex than in New York.346 Paris in the midst of what French critic Georges Duthuit called a “universal puzzlement,” where a number of abstract as well as figurative painting styles emerged along with their supporters—each vying to renew or reclaim the country’s artistic and cultural image.347 While Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning were being championed in the United States by Clement Greenberg as the new superior painting, praised for their raw technique and unfinished style, in France, there was little agreement about what direction Parisian art should take. Within the French palate of refinement and sophistication, the School of Paris was understood to refer to a lineage of a French modern tradition, the institutionalization of the achievements of Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso as a form of nationalistic identity.348 There were those in Paris who supported continuing the modern tradition of the School, but others renounced it. By 1950, a number of critics came forward with their own idea for French art. Degand promoted geometric abstraction, Charles Estienne called for an expressive tachism rooted in the French automatic surrealist tradition, and Michel Tapié moved towards a broader sense of abstraction—something he called art informel or art autre. Grappling with its own postwar artistic identity and struggling to re-establish its cultural preeminence, 346 See Adamson, Painting, Politics, and the Struggle for the École de Paris; Serge Guilbaut and Manuel J. Borja-Villel, eds., Be-Bomb: The Transatlantic War of Images and All That Jazz, 1946–1956 (Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2007); and Guilbaut, Reconstructing Modernism. 347 Georges Duthuit, "Painting in Paris Today," Listener (July 1953): 188. See also Adamson. 348 Adamson, Painting, Politics, and the Struggle for the École de Paris. 156 French art was “stuck between tradition and revolution," and the renewed presence of foreign-born artists such as Karel Appel, Ellsworth Kelly, Sam Francis, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joan Mitchell, Kumi Sugaï and Zao Wou-Ki, were further complicating the scene.349 In the 1950s Michel Tapié was a leading art critic, supervising the Rive Droîte and Galerie Stadler. Even though Macdonald showed his slides to “authorities” at the Rive Droîte, it seems that at this stage Tapié was not involved in the communications. Both the Rive Droîte and Galerie Stadler were leading private galleries of avant-garde and modern art in Paris. The Petit Palais, however, did not have such a reputation. It was an established conservative, academic institution, having featured exhibitions such as Les maîtres de l’art indépendent 1895–1937 in 1937 and Un Siècle d’art Français in 1955. The proposed Painters Eleven exhibition at the Petit Palais by Garneau should have signaled to the Toronto group that something was amiss—that they were not dealing not with the Rive Droîte itself, but with a cultural diplomat who was invested in promoting Canada-France artistic relations. In June and July 1956, nearly a year after initial contact with Garneau in August 1955, Macdonald was still in early negotiations with the Secretary of Cultural Affairs. On July 16, Macdonald reported that Garneau had 349 Serge Guilbaut, “Disdain for the Stain: Abstract Expressionism and Tachism,” in Abstract Expressionism: The International Context, ed. Joan Marter (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2007), 29–50. See also Natalie Adamson, Painting, Politics, and the Struggle for the École de Paris, 73–114; and Michael Plante, “Fashioning Nationality: Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, and American Expatriate Artists in Paris in the 1950s,” in Out of Context: American Artists Abroad, eds. Laura Felleman Fattal and Carol Salus, 135–147 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004). 157 confirmed the Paris show for the Fall but suggested a change in location, from the Petit Palais to Jacquemart André Museum on the Boulevard Haussmann—another elite and academically-geared institution.350 Either in their ignorance of Paris’ institutions and internal artistic politics, or in their excitement, Painters Eleven failed to notice that they were being positioned in a conservative venue. Meanwhile, Painters Eleven believed that they had finally achieved international success. They felt that by exhibiting in New York, and now to be shown in Paris, they had also dislodged the eminence of Montreal’s presence in the artistic centers of the world. This much is made clear in the May 1956 Art News article about the group’s showing at Riverside, where Lawrence Campbell divulges that the “tensions” between Montreal and Toronto “prevents any solidarity or contact between their respective artists.”351 Campbell’s review also accounts for their differences in influence, contending that “the French group in Montreal thinks of itself as an offshoot of Paris; the Torontonians are closer to New York emotionally as well as in geography.”352 As mentioned in Chapter Three, Campbell’s short article may appear to be an unbiased third-party observation of the cultural stakes of Painters Eleven’s situation—he writes: “there has never been a Canadian style…although landscapists may have gone in…for snow, pinetrees, northern skies”353—but the Art News critic was relying heavily on the information and perspective provided him by Macdonald, who had met Campbell for an interview about the group in 350 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 16 July 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 351 Campbell, “Canadian Painters Eleven,” 50. 352 Ibid. 353 Ibid. 158 February earlier that year.354 The rhetoric of alienation and marginalization in Campbell’s article is without a doubt reiteration of Painters Eleven’s—and here perhaps more specifically Macdonald’s—own anxieties over the what they considered to be the purposeful suppression of abstraction in favor of conservative landscape paintings within Toronto arts academies. Similarly, the review published in Time Canada entitled “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” approaches the subject from the point of view of quoted interviewee Jack Bush, evident in statements such as “they [Painters Eleven] have had to contend with the public’s massive indifference, and with critics whose attitudes ranged from boredom to outrage,”355 which carries the same tone of resentment as Painters Eleven’s self-authored exhibition materials. After his interview with Time Canada for the article, Bush recounts to Ronald how he “shrugged” when asked, “you guys know you’re good painters—why the silence [from Canada]?,” and that “Time was very interested in my account of the speeches at the opening, the quotes I had and general reaction of Americans.”356 What Bush perceived to be a corroboration and substantiation of their perspective, a confirmation of Painters Eleven’s modern "up-to-dateness" with the international art world as evident in the interest expressed by significant press outlets— Time Canada, a publication that targeted broad audiences beyond the limited art sphere, and the internationally distributed Art News—was in reality an uncritical retelling of Bush’s own narrative. Important to note 354 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 17 February 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 355 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” Time Canada, May 7, 1956, p. 58. 356 Correspondence from Jack Bush to William Ronald, n.d., R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 159 here is that, as told by Bush, Time’s question is not framed as an external attesting of Painters Eleven’s superiority from international sources, not that the world “knows” they are “good painters,” but rather a parroted affirmation of their already internalized self-appraisal—“you guys know you’re good painters [emphasis added].”357 For Bush, however, it is authentication by a witness. “It’s funny,” he continues, “how the whole bitter truth of the cold shoulder accorded us on all sides in Canada becomes so obvious.” Bush was convinced that the Time Canada article would “blow the top off something” in Toronto, finally shaking the city out of its stupor of traditionalism and into realizing the truth of Painters Eleven’s modernist convictions, which they “have been waiting for so long.”358 It is imperative not to conflate Painters Eleven’s state of being-in-common,359 or indeed any part of “Canadian modernism,” with internal ideological cohesion, or externally validated construction. It must be made clear that the term “ideology” here does not denote a systematic aesthetic program rigidly grounded in a narrow political project. Rather, I use the term here to designate a body of ideas, beliefs, and assumptions about the world which are bound up in the production of meaning and values in social life, and which structure representation and discourse.360 This body of perspectives, 357 “Canadians Abroad: Rebels in Manhattan,” 58. 358 Correspondence from Jack Bush to William Ronald, n.d., R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 359 Nancy, The Inoperable Community. See also Chapter Two. 360 Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” in On Ideology: Radical Thinkers (London: Verso, 1984), 1–60. See also James Kavanaugh, “Ideology,” 160 which are historically and socially contingent, becomes ideological when it is naturalized and elevated to an eternal truth. Ideology provides a relatively cohesive framework of beliefs which are reaffirmed, through modes of discourse and cultural production, to be essential and true.361 In the absence of traditional criteria for evaluating modernist works of art, individual artists, and Painters Eleven’s innovative uses of language and form, become self-validating standards of aesthetic value.362 Painters Eleven’s success in New York served to naturalize and reaffirm their own cultural and aesthetic position, which was that of the internationalizing and universalizing power of abstract painting. “International” and “universal” in this sense referring to Painters Eleven’s belief in their ability to connect Canada with the rest of the world through abstraction’s non-representational form, and through a shared experimentation of the visual language among artists around the globe. As Mark Cheetham notes, the ideology of abstraction relies on “the appeal to and the appeals of universality and ‘purity.’”363 The interesting in Critical Terms for Literary Study, ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). 361Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” See also Preben Mortensen, Art in the Social Order: The Making of the Modern Conception of Art (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 180; and Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). 362 See Tyrus Miller, “Politics,” in A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture, eds. David Bradshaw and Kevin J. H. Dettmar (Maiden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 32–33. 363 Mark A. Cheetham, “The Nationalities of Abstraction: From Universal Language to Placed Expression,” in Josée Bélisle and Mark A. Cheetham, La question de l’abstraction (Montreal: Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, 2013), 82. See also Cheetham, The Rhetoric of Purity. 161 trajectory of Painters Eleven’s exhibitionary history, from the local to international, then seemingly backwards to the national but cosmopolitan, appears to naturalize or “recapitulate” the ideals of abstract art as a universalizing form.364 Leveraging their New York success to push for bigger reputations and major venues in Canada, however, appears to have only been a tactic of mixed and limited effectiveness, which then lasted only for a short few years before another failure—the disbanding of Painters Eleven in 1959. Painters Eleven’s strategy to accept only national or international shows yielded results that were less than ideal, as they would not secure another international exhibition as an exclusive group during the existence of their organization.365 They were included in part in the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Arts’ large-scale survey exhibition A Canadian Portfolio in 1958, where Painters Eleven were already being inserted into a narrative of “national” Canadian art.366 Feature exhibitions 364 I borrow here from Cheetham, who makes a similar argument about Borduas in “The Nationalities of Abstraction,” 84. 365 As mentioned in the previous note, Painters Eleven continued to exhibit as individuals, featuring in solo, two-man, or four-man shows in Ontario. Kazuo Nakamura signed with the new commercial Greenwich Gallery of Contemporary in Toronto run by Av Isaacs. During this time, William Ronald became the most successful in establishing an international reputation. In 1957 Ronald signed with the Sam Kootz Gallery in New York, and also won that year’s International Guggenheim Award for his painting In Dawn the Heart (1954), which would also be the first painting of Painters Eleven bought by the Art Gallery of Toronto in 1956. Ronald, still living in New York during this period, resigned from Painters Eleven shortly thereafter following a major disagreement with those in Toronto over the handling of 1957 Park Gallery exhibition catalogue. 366 A Canadian Portfolio: The Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts Looks at Art in Canada, September 3–November 3, 1958, ed. Myra C. Livingston (Dallas, Texas: Dallas 162 also took place at the Park Gallery in Toronto in 1957 and 1958, at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal in 1958, and at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ Stable Gallery in 1960.367 While the ROM did not pick up the exhibition proposed by Town, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) did, organizing a circulating Painters Eleven exhibition which travelled across Canada to cities such as Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver in 1958–1959.368 The NGC’s exhibition seemed to have been the national institutional acceptance that they were seeking, as it represented a validation of abstract and non-figurative painting by official channels of cultural regulation. From the perspective written by Jock Macdonald in the “Statement of the Painters Eleven Group of Toronto, Canada,” a catalogue essay for the Dallas Museum’s A Canadian Portfolio, the NGC’s support has “established the fact that the Painters XI may now be considered a group of artists who are contributing to the historical development of art in Canada….something of worth to Museum of Contemporary Arts, 1958). Included in this catalogue were the essays “The Story of the Group of Seven,” by Lawren Harris, “A Statement on the Painters Eleven Group of Toronto, Canada,” by Jock Macdonald, “Contemporary Art in the Maritimes,” provided by the NGC, “Painters of Montreal,” by Jean-René Ostiguy, “Painting in Ontario” by William S. A. Dale, “Painting in Canada’s Prairie Provinces Today” by George Swinton, and “Painting in British Columbia,” by Doris Shadbolt. Curator Myra C. Livingston’s essay, “Art in Canada,” tackles the question of “Canadian Art” and nationalism. 367 Painters Eleven also participated in the Points of View with Ontario Institute of Painters & Painters Eleven exhibition at the Public Library and Art Museum of London, organized by Clare Bice, curator, in 1958. William Heine, “Points of View Make a Lively Show,” Weekend Magazine 8:45 (1958): 16–18. 368 Woods, A History of Painters Eleven. 163 the cultural assets of our country”369—a statement laden with the general anxieties surrounding the character and nature of “Canadian art” and nationhood during this period. It was their ambition, after all, to destabilize definitions of “Canadian art” that were firmly rooted, through their institutionalization as such in art societies and at the NGC in particular,370 in the geographic regionalisms of the Group of Seven. The cooptation of Painters Eleven by the NGC and the lack of any serious international exhibition of Painters Eleven after 1956 was a fate foreshadowed by the failed Paris exhibition. During the initial stages of planning, while letters crossed back and forth between Jock Macdonald (who was still in Paris) and Painters Eleven in Toronto throughout the late months of 1955 and early months of 1956, concerns began to emerge over possible interference by authorities in Canada with political and cultural agendas that were incommensurate with their own. By February 1956, these fears seemed to be coming to realization. Paris had become quiet in their correspondence about the 369 Jock Macdonald, “A Statement on the Painters Eleven Group of Toronto, Canada,” in A Canadian Portfolio: The Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts Looks at Art in Canada, September 3 –November 3, 1958, ed. Myra C. Livingston (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Contemporary Arts, 1958), n.p. 370 For an informative discussion of the role of the National Gallery of Canada in the cultural nationalization of the Group of Seven, see Anne Whitelaw, “‘Whiffs of Balsam, Pine, and Spruce’: Art Museums and the Production of a Canadian Aesthetic,” in Capital Culture: A Reader on Modernist Legacies, State Institutions, and the Value(s) of Art, eds. Jody Berland and Shelley Hornstein (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000), 127–137; and Anne Whitelaw, "Writing National Art Histories in Canadian Museums,” in Museum Practice: Critical Debates in the Contemporary Museum, International Handbook of Museum Studies Vol. 4, ed. Conal McCarthy (Oxford: Blackwell, 2015), 401–429. 164 show. Letters to Paris were not receiving timely responses. Macdonald believed “that politics, Canadian, [had] nosed into [their] showing in Paris,” that “either the National Gallery, or the Governor General [Vincent] Massey has either tried to spike the show or else said that others should be asked to exhibit with us.”371 It is significant that, despite having similar goals for Canadian abstract painting abroad, Vincent Massey and Painters Eleven were not in communication, in alliance, or in agreement about how the task was to be carried out—in fact, Massey appears to be an antagonist in the situation. Macdonald’s report of “skull-duggery entering to destroy our plans” was disastrous news. While Macdonald had discovered that the modernism of Painters Eleven was much more readily accepted in Paris and London than in their home city of Toronto, it seemed that even an overseas exhibition would be hindered by the nationalist interests of the Canadian milieu. It was precisely what Macdonald had made demands against, having categorically stated to Garneau that Painters Eleven would “sink or swim” without asking for the help of Donald Buchanan at the NGC, and certainly without the inclusion of any other artists from Canada.372 By June 1956, as the Riverside exhibition in New York was stimulating the self-inflated, boastful remarks being made by Bush and Town, Painters Eleven were simultaneously beginning to lose hope for the Paris show, as correspondence from Garneau dwindled. Positive news perked very briefly in September, when they received a letter from Michel Jaoul, suggesting that Michel Tapié was working 371 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 17 February 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 372 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Jack Bush, 25 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 165 on possibilities for hosting them at Galerie Stadler.373 On a separate occasion, member Oscar Cahén seemed to be in negotiations with a gallery in Germany regarding an additional Painters Eleven show.374 Progress on both fronts, however, were not to regain momentum. Jaoul’s letter was last substantial word that Painters Eleven would receive from Paris. As a final insult, Alan Jarvis, Director of the NGC, failed to appear at the Riverside exhibition to give a scheduled lecture. Although Jarvis had been caught up in a meeting with the Federal Cabinet Minister at the time and sent Jean Ostiguy in his place, Jock Macdonald considered it to be a purposeful, malicious rejection.375 In Ronald’s last letter to Tapié, dated October 15, 1956, Ronald makes a last plea for any expression of interest in a Painters Eleven show. They had not heard from the “Canadian Government” about negotiations for following through with the exhibition with the Embassy’s financial support. “Nevertheless,” Ronald writes, “it is the earnest desire of Painters Eleven to organize a Paris exhibition if at all possible”—would Tapié be willing to arrange an exhibition, and what would be the cost, without the financial assistance of the government?376 The correspondence was met with silence. In all 373 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 12 September 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 374 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 16 July 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 375 In reality, Jarvis was caught up with the Federal Cabinet Minister as part of his NGC duties and had sent Ostiguy in his place. Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 29 April 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 376 Correspondence from William Ronald to Michel Tapié, 15 October 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 166 probability, Tapié was likely uninterested in Painters Eleven’s work because of his interest in American Abstract Expressionism and Montreal art. Tapié already had a Canadian champion in Quebec artist Jean-Paul Riopelle. Riopelle embodied what Tapié called art autre, or art informel, an abstraction that, regardless of nationality, counteracted the rigid order of geometric abstraction emerging from the remains of the School of Paris.377 What mattered for Tapié was not a matter of national ideology but individual expressivity and freedom from classification—the meaning of art autre, “an other art,” signified the acceptance of any style “other” than the coldness of geometric abstraction. Art autre supported the works of Riopelle, Pollock, de Kooning, and American-expatriate Sam Francis. Working with the artist Georges Mathieu, Tapié would be the first to exhibit the works of Pollock in Paris in 1951 alongside these artists in the exhibition Véhémences confrontées.378 Tapié supported Pollock, and organized his first solo exhibition in Paris at Studio Paul Facchetti in 1952. Staging the context in which he brought American abstraction together with Parisian abstraction in Véhémences confrontées as a “confrontation,” Tapié fully acknowledged the tensions around these nations and their artistic styles, but also embraced the opportunity to show how individuals from America and France could embody the attitude of freedom and individuality. 377 Serge Guilbaut, “Brushes, Sticks and Stains: Addressing some Cultural Issues in New York and Paris after World War II,” in Be-Bomb: The Transatlantic War of Images and All That Jazz, 1946–1956, eds. Serge Guilbaut and Manuel J. Borja-Villel (Barcelona: Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2007), 15–63. See also Adamson, Painting, Politics, and the Struggle for the École de Paris. 378 Ibid. 167 But it was not a one-way decision to abandon the Paris show. Throughout the summer of 1956, on Toronto’s end, Painters Eleven were beginning to come apart at the seams. There was a sudden swing in opinion about Paris. After hearing about the withdrawal of monetary support from the Embassy, Painters Eleven learned that they would have to finance the exhibition themselves. Faced with the possibility of paying out of pocket, every member but Macdonald, Luke, and Bush was now against the Paris show. Bush was “flabbergasted at a complete switch in thinking” that was expressed in the recent Painters Eleven meeting and, amidst the “disappointing reversal” of their interest, Bush was surprised when Town, Nakamura, Hodgson, Yarwood, and Mead all revealed that they had upcoming one-man shows in Toronto around the same time as a Painters Eleven exhibition.379 Once again, “harmony” for Painters Eleven only exists to the extent that it is advantageous for them to mobilize the ideology as a group, but internal conflict and belligerence remains a constant among them. Five of the eleven artists had secured solo exhibitions without the knowledge of the rest of the group—further evidence of their incohesion and lack of involvement in each other’s affairs. Despite his disappointment in this news, Bush understood that Painters Eleven was not meant for such personal intervention. “However,” he wrote, in an enactment of English-Canadian courtesy, “it’s my job to keep out of it.”380 379 Correspondence from Jack Bush to William Ronald, n.d., R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa. 380 Ibid. 168 Aesthetic Internationalism and the Transnational Cultural Outlook What is to be made of this failed Paris exhibition? In just over a year, from August 1955 to October 1956, Painters Eleven’s prospects for an overseas exhibition, which would boost their international reputation, were raised and dashed. While Macdonald speculates that the administrative or diplomatic conspiracies between Paris and Ottawa—whose cultural officials did not represent Painters Eleven’s interests—were the sources of sabotage, it is unknown what exactly caused the Paris exhibition to fall through. There is no real evidence of “skull-duggery” being carried out by any Canadian institutional authority, whether by Buchanan, Massey, or Jarvis. Letters from Garneau and Tapié, however, convey a lack of enthusiasm or perhaps disinterest for the project, as a seeming disorganization led to frequent changes in date and venue. The slow tapering of this correspondence from June to October suggests that Paris had simply lost enthusiasm, since no formal word was sent that might have notified Painters Eleven of the venture’s termination. Regardless, this incident is useful to mention here because it reveals two significant facets of Painters Eleven. First, it sheds light on Jack Bush, Jock Macdonald, and Harold Town’s dismissal of pursuing local Toronto shows during that year. With an exhibition in New York in progress and one in Paris forthcoming, they were prematurely confident that Painters Eleven were on the cusp of international breakthrough. Second, it exposes yet another contradiction embedded within the group’s character. While Painters Eleven were happy to accept an exhibition at the NGC in 1958 as institutional acceptance by regulators of national culture because it served their own interests, they were simultaneously hostile to, and distrustful of, these very same channels of cultural 169 administration. Despite their common transnational cultural ideology, as Barbara Jenkins has called it,381 and their shared goal—national art practices that resonated in a cosmopolitan context and provided Canadians with an image of themselves as part of an international world order—it appears that Painters Eleven remained suspicious of state motives and institutions that had previously shown little interest in supporting Canadian modernism. It is once again conflict under the guise of harmony that constituted this intersection of state discourse and individual actor. The appearance of harmony here operates as a parallel set of cosmopolitan values articulated by both Painters Eleven and the Massey Report, a document which promotes the nationalization of culture in Canada on a federal level. Both parties appear to align their cultural aims under what Barbara Jenkins calls a “transnational cultural ideology,” or an “outlook centred on the unique and restorative role of art and culture in ‘improving’ individuals and society,” a prioritization of culture in the constitution of the nation of Canada as a member of an international liberal order.382 Transnational cultural ideology in Canada relies on the principle of an international standard of cultural consciousness, created through the careful cultivation of a transnational bourgeoisie who share a similar high culture taste383 oriented around the aesthetic and cultural traditions of Western 381 Barbara Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy and the International Liberal Order,” in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, eds. Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 114–129. 382 Ibid., 120. 383 Here, both Jenkins and I refer to Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, translated by Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 170 civilization. As Jenkins argues, this particular ideology is indispensable to the Massey Report, which insists on the need for urgent government intervention in the arts and humanities in Canada in order to not only elevate the nation’s intellectual environment up to Western European high cultural standards of refinement, but to also defend against the dangerous encroachment of American, and low cultural, forms of consumerism and vapidity.384 The Massey Report’s transnational cultural outlook, articulated in its findings and recommendations, thus encompasses a two-part approach, where the institutionalization of culture in Canada would create two simultaneous effects—first on an internal level, it would build a nation of refined individuals with a common internationalist worldview by shifting the priorities of cultural institutions away from local or regionalistic expressions of national identity, and second, as an external effect, it would initiate the recognition of Canada as a member of a transnational order or, as the Massey Report calls it, “the partnership of modern nations.”385 Painters Eleven hinged their own success upon this same transnational cultural ideology, rooted in the same cultural politics and discourses of midcentury Canada, and articulated in their specific aesthetic internationalism, which they believed was the key to the breakthrough of their abstract paintings in New York, Paris, and potentially beyond. They envisioned themselves as part of a postwar international modernism in art, and also oriented their perspective around the significance of abstraction for the cultural progress 1987); see also Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in J. Richardson, ed., Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (New York, Greenwood: 1986), 241–258. 384 See Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy,” 114–129. 385 Canada, Royal Commission, 18; and Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy,” 120. 171 of Canada as a nation. As such it is their cosmopolitan mode of thinking which is an essential element of Painters Eleven’s aesthetic internationalism and self-perception. As Jenkins explains, transnational cultural ideology is very close to, and relies upon, the ideology of cosmopolitanism, which links the national to the transnational or international by providing a worldview, or a “conduit” through which national intellectuals can situate their own cultural affiliations precisely by taking a reflective distance from these same affiliations and evaluating them within the context of a universal humanity.386 According to Jenkins, understanding this aspect of cosmopolitanism, where the part cannot be understood without reference to the whole, is “the key that unlocks the paradox” in the relationship between nationalism and internationalism—that the two “do not contradict, but are predicated upon, each other.”387 Ulrich Beck has similarly defined cosmopolitanism as “a non-linear, dialectical process in which the universal and the particular, the similar and the dissimilar, the global and the local are to be conceived, not as cultural polarities, but as interconnected and reciprocally interpenetrating principles.”388 Painters Eleven members would, time and again, express their frustration with old modes of nationalistic expression and “the saturation” of “adoration for the Group VII [sic].”389 While the Riverside exhibition was a great achievement for art in Canada, according to William Ronald, “something Canada should be proud of,” it was also 386 Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy,” 124. 387 Ibid. 388 Ulrich Beck, The Cosmopolitan Vision (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006), 247. 389 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 20 June 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 172 important that cosmopolitanism, which is to say, evaluating any national cultural affiliation from a distance, with one eye on its relationship to an international condition, be maintained as an essential part of Painters Eleven’s identity. Ronald writes: I believe nationalism in any form is narrow, provincial, and dangerous in any field or endeavor. Whether it be art, politics or religion…We in Painters 11, and all other painters like us, are not and cannot be nationalistic. To me, true art in any form is universal. This, and the fact that the world we now live in is not a nationalistic world but a universal one, and in two or three decades I believe will be in interplanetary world and eventually ‘outerspace’ contact will be made.390 Ronald’s outlook here is incautiously optimistic, moving beyond the cosmopolitanism of the world and to the truly universal, encompassing the extraterrestrial into his vision of humanity’s future cosmos. However, his words resonate with the transnational cultural ideology of the Massey Report. Just as Ronald emphasizes the importance of developing a common cultural, abstract visual language in giving Canada “a more mature and broader language in all fields,”391 so too does the Massey Report assert that “modern 390 Correspondence William Ronald to Jock Macdonald, 18 September 1956, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 391 Correspondence William Ronald to the Canada Foundation for Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Scholarship, 28 October 1952, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 173 painting can no longer exploit the novelty of the Canadian landscape…Our young painters are being judged on exactly the same footing as the abstract painters of other countries.”392 Just as the Massey Report relies on a dual process of internal cultural elevation and external international recognition, Painters Eleven also maintain a cosmopolitan desire to produce both an “improved” national cultural repertoire of refinement, to turn the layman into a transnational bourgeoisie of “taste” by disarticulating a cultural code where figurative and landscape painting style held dominance,393 and an outward projection of an aesthetic internationalism on par with universal standards. In their role as cultural intellectuals and artistic producers, Painters Eleven envisioned themselves as public educators as well as international actors. Thus the transnational cultural outlook that permeates the discourse of Painters Eleven’s aesthetic internationalism is also the same ideology behind Canada’s midcentury project to mobilize culture as a key component of nation-building within the realm of international cultural politics. Indeed, I would argue that Painters Eleven’s exhibition in New York was an event that enacted this very project, as it performed the internationalizing work of a modernized Canadian art practice that had been outlined in the Massey Report. Through the lens of the Massey Report, Painters Eleven’s acceptance into the fabric of an international milieu of artistic modernism bolstered the idea that abstract painting in Canada would elevate and cultivate a national high culture to join 392 “The Royal Commission—Excerpts from the Report,” Canadian Art 8:4 (Summer 1951): 177. Also quoted in Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007), 92. 393 See Bourdieu, Distinction; and Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” 241–258. 174 “the partnership of modern nations.”394 As Jenkins argues, the Massey Report’s promotion of abstract painting against figurative landscape was a promotion of “national art practices that resonated in a cosmopolitan context”—that is, Massey considered art and culture to be part of the process of producing a common cultural ideology, through the creation of a refined, transnational bourgeoisie with similar tastes, throughout the globe.395 While Massey wanted to defend Canada as a sovereign nation, Jenkins continues, he did not do so by insisting upon a vision of culture that was uniquely, or regionally Canadian, but rather by urging a culture of aesthetic internationalism based on the art traditions of Western Europe and, ultimately, “civilization.” For Jenkins, the cultural ideology that supports the idea of civilization is linked to the production of an international liberal order based on the cosmopolitan ideal of universal humanity and harmony.396 The Riverside exhibition in 1956 proved that contemporary Canadian abstraction was able to circulate autonomously within the cultural capital of the high art world of modern art, and thus that it possessed the potential to participate, both in discourse and in practice, in the production of a transnational cultural order. However, it is apparent that while the cosmopolitan ideologies of the Massey Report and Painters Eleven were aligned in parallel at this historical juncture, their paths had yet to meet. While both events and ideas coincide within the same historical sphere of cultural-political transformation in Canada and reflect changing perceptions of the role and identity of the nation on an international stage, the success of Painters Eleven in New 394 Canada, Royal Commission, 18; and Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy,” 120. 395 Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy,” 124. 396 Ibid. 175 York should not be understood as an institutionally-facilitated, direct practical implementation of the Massey Report or its transcultural principles. The Riverside exhibition was self-funded and self-organized and, from the group’s perspective, the nonappearance of NGC Director Alan Jarvis for his scheduled lecture at the show opening was indicative of the indifference that cultural authorities had towards them in 1956. And although Painters Eleven sought the recognition and support of the Canadian government for their actions, they were in defiance of the art institutions that had spurned them and abstract painting for so long. They outright refused to seek the assistance of the NGC for the Paris exhibition, insisting to “sink or swim on [their] own worth.”397 Thus despite their shared transnational ideology, Painters Eleven and the Massey Report conflicted on the matter of its practical implementation. The Massey Report’s recommendations to strengthen Canadian exports prioritized federal-level policies that often did not include the NGC or individual artists, such as the proposed mandate to spread knowledge of Canadian cultural achievements abroad through diplomatic missions, which would involve the purchasing of works of art “on a generous scale…by the Federal Government to be used as gifts to institutions abroad.”398 While “facilitating personal exchanges” across nations was also an aim listed in the Report, this is primarily directed towards the financing of Canadian artists to study abroad and return with broader cultural knowledge. Regardless, Painters Eleven thought it a threat to their operational 397 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Jack Bush, 25 August 1955, R2113, Volume 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 398 This would become the Canada Council for the Arts in 1957. Canada, Royal Commission, 266. 176 autonomy to rely on institutional authorities in order to reach their own cosmopolitan aspirations. Although it was a watershed moment for Painters Eleven, the Riverside exhibition was not without conflict. The stakes were high—it was not only the first step in achieving their international vision, it was also a vindication of their avant-garde rhetoric, a compensation for their alienation and marginalization in Toronto, proof of the competitive quality of their work and, finally, the recognition of their work independent of institutionalized cultural authority within the narrative of national artistic production in Canada. Within the larger cultural politics of the period, this concern for the nationalization of abstraction is infused with even greater anxieties surrounding the issue of Canadian cultural sovereignty. By gathering select ideas from a range of textual and visual European and American threads of artistic modernism and reformulating these strands into their own specific arrangements of modernism, Painters Eleven formulated the complexities of their own Canadian modernism, which was directed towards the legitimization of abstraction as both national and international visual language in Canada in the 1940s and 1950s. Successfully forging this connection in New York finally provided Painters Eleven with a common frame of reference for “modernism” by inaugurating themselves as the radical pioneers of the movement of abstraction and non-representation as manifest in English Canada. 177 Chapter Five: Creating the Space of Modernism “Push and pull” was a dictum that Hortense Gordon repeated so often to her art students at the Hamilton Technical Institute that it earned her the nickname “the push and pull lady.”399 “Push and pull” was a compositional principle borrowed from the German-born Abstract Expressionist painter Hans Hofmann, who used the phrase to describe the dynamic relationships between each of the formal elements and optical forces of a painting. As Hofmann explains, the intersection of these elements and forces activates the visual surface with a tension between the painting’s “three-dimensional effect” and the preservation of the “essential two-dimensionality of the picture plane.”400 Gordon was a regular attendee of the renowned Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts in Provincetown, and was registered as a student there in the summers of 1946, 1949, 1952 and 1954. Hofmann’s teachings made a significant impact on Gordon, who began incorporating their methods, techniques, and terminology in her own painting practice and teaching. “Hortense,” recalls a former student, “couldn’t say three sentences without saying ‘push and pull.’ She’d tap her finger on the table 30 or 40 times and say ‘You must remember to push and pull.’”401 Gordon was the eldest member of Painters Eleven and had been an 399 Jeff Mahoney, “The Push and Pull of Hortense Gordon,” The Spectator, June 21, 1994, n.p., Hortense Gordon Folder, Joan Murray Artist Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 400 Hans Hofmann, “Search for the Real in the Visual Arts,” in Search for the Real and Other Essays, ed. Sarah T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr. (Andover, Mass: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1948), 44. 401 Mahoney, “The Push and Pull of Hortense Gordon,” n.p. 178 instructor of art and design at the Hamilton Technical Institute, Ontario, formally the Hamilton Art School, since 1918. For many of her students, “push and pull” was a ubiquitous saying in class but also “a blanket term which no one could really explain,” a “confusing” yet fundamental guiding doctrine at the heart of Gordon’s artistic philosophy.402 While “push and pull” was a cryptic idea to some of her students, Gordon understood that Hofmann’s principle attempted to answer some of the fundamental questions of abstract painting —how does non-figurative representation bear visual meaning or expression? What is the nature of aesthetic expression and the visual encounter with art, and what is the relationship between image-making and the world? For Hofmann, “push and pull” forged a visual relationship between the three-dimensional space of the world and the two-dimensional plane of the canvas. In his 1932 essay “Search for the Real in the Visual Arts,” Hofmann defines “push and pull” as the “expanding and contracting forces which are activated by carriers in visual motion. Planes are the most important carriers…The forces of push and pull function three dimensionally without destroying other forces functioning two dimensionally.”403 Hofmann insisted that every formal element of a painting—whether color, shape, line, or, plane—carries a different visual weight, effect, or even emotional potency. On a two-dimensional surface, the “expanding and contracting forces” of each of these elements 402 Gordon Perrier, quoted in Mahoney, n.p.; and Shirley McBride, quoted in Grace Inglis, “Hortense Gordon, ARCA,” Journal of Canadian Studies 29:3 (Fall 1994), n.p. 403 Hofmann, Search for the Real, 50. See also Cynthia Goodman, Hans Hofmann (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1990). 179 interacts in a counteracting effect to every other element, and in doing so an optical effect of mass, depth, and volume is produced. A “spatial effect” results when pictorial planes are arranged oppositionally on the canvas and their movement is activated along a lateral or vertical axis. In other words, rather than defining three-dimensionality as an illusionistic reproduction of objects in a fictitious space, “pull and pull” attempted the “transference” of the three-dimensional “experience,” or the effect of mass and volume onto a two-dimensional surface, and through this transference, “nature is embodied in terms of the qualities of the expression medium.”404 According to Hofmann, in order to emulate the vigor of nature, the space of a painting “must be vital and active—a force impelled pictorial space” generated through the two-dimensional medium of paint. For Hortense Gordon, “push and pull” was a phrase that allowed her to understand how the pictorial space of the canvas might act autonomously from the figurative representation. Most significantly, "push and pull" opened the connection between abstract painting and the lived world by offering a metaphysical understanding of nature, and by essentializing the cosmos into intangible states of being—such as energy, force, or vitality—rather than states of substance. Gordon, as well as many Painters Eleven members, could claim that abstraction produced a “different plane” of aesthetic experience which transcended physical knowledges and entered into the unknown realms of space and consciousness. In making such assertions, Painters Eleven were not simply musing on the poetics of the metaphysical or mystical, but rather were appealing to radical contemporary events that transformed scientific perspectives on the laws of the 404 Hofmann calls this transference of the three-dimensional experience into two dimensions “plasticity.” Hofmann, Search for the Real, 78. 180 natural world. By the mid-1950s, major scientific and technological advancements had ushered in a brave new world of technological imagination. The dramatic unveiling of the atomic bomb in 1945, the invention of the field ion microscope in 1951, the inauguration of commercial television broadcasting in 1947, and the earliest accomplishments of aeronautical space exploration, together hailed the dawning of a new era in human history.405 The “Atomic Age” and the “Space Age,” with their shared motifs of orbs and ellipses coincided as interlinking themes of major popular culture and mass media imagery. Invisible particles zooming around did not just form the entire structure of Earth and the cosmic microwave background, they also transmitted images from a camera onto a television screen through wire and generated electricity to power homes. These milestones in human achievement were understood by Painters Eleven to have ruptured previously held assumptions about the physical boundaries and knowable limitations of the world, opening all of humanity to the possibility of transcendental and immaterial experiences of life through both the microscopic and the macrocosmic. As Alexandra Luke asserts in the artist statement for her painting Space Computer: “Thus the artist has 405 The atomic bomb also began a Cold War based on nuclear physics. The field ion microscope was invented by Edwin Muller. Commercial television broadcasting began in 1947 in the United States and in Canada. In 1944 the V-2 Rocket, produced by Nazi Germany, was the first man-made object to cross the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space; in 1946 the United States launched the first space research flight with its own V-2 rocket and took the first pictures of Earth from beyond Earth’s atmosphere. In 1951 the USSR put the first dogs in space. In 1950 work began on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station rocket launch site in Florida to propel the first rocket into outerspace. 181 through creative painting suggested man’s thrust into the unknown, beyond the planet earth, which is a mere beginning into the unprobed dimensions of the mind.”406 For Painters Eleven, regionalist landscape painting or localized national specificity was irrelevant in their age of human achievement. As Jock Macdonald remarked in 1948 while expressing disbelief and astonishment that critics were unable—or unwilling—to connect twentieth-century aesthetic innovations with corresponding scientific and technological inventions: “Nobody seemed to relate the space dynamics of modern art to the new 20th century concept of space in science, architecture, or anything else. How they cannot see parallel concepts in all forms of creative works seems amazing.”407 For Macdonald, the revolutionary consequences of science on human knowledge of metaphysical and cosmic space are directly and indispensably correlated to aesthetic developments in pictorial space. Macdonald in particular believed that abstract painting’s radical treatment of the picture plane was reflective of technology’s impact on humanity’s “new form of consciousness,”408 loosely defined as an awareness of the natural world’s limitless boundaries. As such Painters Eleven's philosophies—like those of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and other Abstract Expressionists in addition to 406 Typewritten notes by Alexandra Luke, n.d., Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. 407 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to Marion Nicoll, cited in Joyce Zemans, Jock Macdonald: The Inner Landscape, A Retrospective Exhibition (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1981), 155. 408 In his artist statement for the Canadian Abstract Exhibition at the YWCA in Oshawa, Macdonald writes: “Our concepts about nature, space, and time have brought into being a new form of consciousness.” Canadian Abstract Exhibition, Oshawa YWCA, October 1952. 182 Hans Hofmann—were infused with the possibilities of the universal. “Universal” is a term that gains another layer of meaning for Painters Eleven in this context. In the postwar technological age, the universal may refer to the geopolitically global or international, to the aesthetic of abstraction which transcends representational particularity, or to the literal, infinite realms of outerspace—the invisible forces that govern the universe, from the atomic to the cosmic. Jock Macdonald's statement confirms that the overlapping of these significations is not coincidental or trivial. They are each interconnected through the concept of space, the meaning of which undergoes re-evaluation, negotiation, and redefinition in the discourse of art and culture in Canada. This additional understanding of the universal once again puts Painters Eleven at odds with nationalistic outlooks. For Painters Eleven, the idea of abstraction is not restricted to its artistic definition as a non-figurative form of visual representation, but is also linked to a theoretical conceptualization of a new metaphysical spatial dimension which literally transcends physical matter and thus links the entirety of humanity, beyond nationalities or politics, to the insubstantial energies of nature and the universe. Yet, this particular spatio-temporal locale was characterized simultaneously—and paradoxically—by a postwar drive to solidify a national identity in Canada, a discourse of cultural politics and nationalism that Painters Eleven were also participants of.409 The tensions between the new scientific-technological outlook towards the universal and metaphysical against the drive to define the national offer another layer of insight into Painters Eleven’s complex web of dialectics, woven out of their attempts to mediate and resolve conflicting ideas, identities, and desires. Thus, although Hans Hofmann’s “push and pull” 409 See Chapter Four for a longer discussion. 183 was primarily an artistic doctrine to guide pictorial composition, the confrontational rhetoric and oppositional mechanism that is built into the phrase—presented as a contest between contradictory physical actions which require force—serves as an apt metaphor for Painters Eleven’s discursive state. Aimed at producing a perpetual, but ultimately balanced, pictorial oscillation amongst oppositional planes, shapes, and colors, the internal principle of “push and pull” parallels that of Painters Eleven and their ideological condition of “harmonious disagreement,”410 as well as their interest in bridging national and international identities and spaces. This chapter probes “harmony” as a framework for exploring the complexities that characterize Painters Eleven’s desire to reconcile the universalizing convictions of international abstraction with the increasingly urgent concern for national specificity in the wake of World War II. In Chapters Two and Three, this approach exposed the ideological work performed by the idea of “harmony”—and in their anti-manifesto of “harmonious disagreement”—which obscured Painters Eleven’s internal social tensions and disparate aesthetic practices under the guise of avant-garde collectivity and cohesion. Following from this, “harmony” also describes Painters Eleven’s assemblage of modernist artistic strategies and philosophies and how they used the idea of “space.” As these modernist ideas are appropriated, digested, and articulated within a larger cultural dialogue of postwar nationalism and internationalism, they form a seemingly smooth transition from the language of regional materiality to that of universal transcendentality. The link between art and nature is constructed through a shared conceptualization of the transcendentality of “space.” By binding together the concepts of pictorial space and the 410 See Chapter Three for a longer discussion of “harmony” as ideology. 184 scientific-technologically defined realms of metaphysical space, Painters Eleven believed they were bridging the discourses of modernist artistic philosophy and cultural identity in Canada. Pivotal for Painters Eleven in this “harmonizing” project is that abstract painting be imbued with a communicative function—that is, for non-figurative visual forms to communicate the world’s new understanding of space and nature, and the calling for a heightened consciousness of a new spatial dimension that may even enter into the realm of the spiritual. In order to construct and establish this idea, Painters Eleven rely on existing twentieth-century modernist theorizations which define abstract painting as a vehicle of creative transmission engaged in a process of transferring the invisible forces and energies of nature to the viewer through the artist’s aesthetic impulse and formal creation. This approach offers a crucial insight into the specific strategies—such as “push and pull” —appropriated by certain members of Painters Eleven, regardless of how incoherent and cherry-picked these strategies may be. From this perspective of “space,” Hofmann’s technique is mobilized by Hortense Gordon to connect non-figurative painting and metaphysical understandings of nature. Because “push and pull” attempts to create a “force impelled pictorial space” by transmitting energy and “vitality”411—the immaterial and intangible states of nature—Gordon used the dictum to contextualize her work within own spatio-temporal location, and to appeal to a more universal mode of aesthetic expression for art in Toronto and English Canada. What follows will highlight a handful Painters Eleven members as exemplars of how “space” was negotiated through European philosophies and into their own practice in 1950s Toronto. Since the group was 411 Hofmann, Search for the Real, 49. 185 without a unified aesthetic program, their practices are highly individual, which makes a cohesive narrative of Painters Eleven impossible. As such while this chapter focuses on the work of Hortense Gordon, Alexandra Luke, Kazuo Nakamura, and Jock Macdonald, brief mention of other members will appear where their possible Abstraction in Hamilton: Rising Above the Material A brief look at one of Hortense Gordon’s paintings, Orange and Yellows Bound in Space (1952) [Fig. 32], reveals Gordon’s commitment to “push and pull” and its emphasis on the juxtapositional relationships between plane and color. Orange and Yellows in particular is structured around the dynamics of plane, evident in the painting’s rigid configuration of rectangles, some of which act as fields of color and others of which behave as blocky lines or fragmented borders. The overall effect of this composition is a geometric uniformity,412 a homogeneity secured by Gordon’s consistent handling and texturing of dry brushwork application throughout. It is typical of Gordon’s canvases, where she attempts to deploy color, direction, and shape in counteractionary dynamics. For example, the strong presence of orange along the central axis of the picture is paired against its complementary opposite—purple—along the outer edges. Direction and shape are similarly structured in counterbalance, as the vertical, rectilinear orientation of the 412 Charles Harrison has noted that Hofmann’s insistence on “the creation of the illusion of depth not through the modelling of forms in fictitious spaces, but through the mere location and juxtaposition of different planes of colour…imposed a kind of consistent and restricting geometry” in his paintings. Charles Harrison, Modernism (Movements in Modern Art) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 55. 186 composition is offset by two circular roundels and a purple diagonal line which cuts downward across the picture from the left, as two arrow formations curve around the outside of each circle, pointing in opposite directions. The result is a rather schematic, stiff image. In her pursuit of spatial activation, Gordon carries out the “push and pull” technique with such meticulous discipline that she generates formulaic rigidity. Despite this, Gordon achieves a degree of spatial depth or “three-dimensional effect” in areas where contrasts in light and dark values create a semblance of form and ground, or of modeled shapes against empty surroundings. Gordon’s paintings maintain this characteristic use of plane and color throughout the 1950s, as seen for example in Figure in Solution (1956) [Fig. 33]. Occasionally, Gordon incorporates some formal influences from other members of Painters Eleven, such as Harold Town’s compact, tightly bundled lines, apparent in Time Bound In Space (1957) [Fig. 34]. Gordon was using Hofmann’s terminology and concepts to inform both her teaching and her practice, grappling with his ideas and re-articulating them in her work and discourse. The success of this adoption is questionable: Gordon’s re-articulation may not have been very clear to her students, since many of her students at the Hamilton Technical Institute found the dictum “push and pull” impenetrable, and many of her paintings appear too rigidly dedicated to adopting Hofmann’s visual vocabulary. Despite these shortfalls, her attempts to instill the lessons of Hofmann’s spatial dynamics in her students, as well as her deliberate appropriation of his model of modernist thinking, is significant. Gordon’s is a clear example of how members of Painters Eleven integrated existing modernist concepts into their own understandings of modern art and their individual practices of abstraction, giving them the ability to place their work within the 187 discourses surrounding the larger world of abstract painting and the nature of aesthetic expression. In the continuous implementation of "push and pull" throughout her professional teaching career, Gordon set out to achieve a cultural awakening in Hamilton, where industry and manufacturing dominated her economic and social surroundings. Locked into Hamilton Technical Institute’s push for advanced commercial and trade education and application, Gordon fused the autonomy of pictorial space in “push and pull” with the idea of the liberation of Hamilton’s cultural space from its socio-economic dependence on the value of tangible resources, physical materials, and consumable products. Hortense Gordon was a formidable figure in the greater Toronto area. At sixty-six years of age in 1952, she was already an established member of the Ontario art community, having built a nearly thirty-year long teaching career as an instructor of art and design at the Hamilton Technical Institute.413 In 1924, she had been one of the first of the members of the Hamilton Technical Institute’s art department to write an article, entitled “Design and Applied Art Essential to Industry,” for the Hamilton Spectator.414 Gordon’s exhibition history is similar to other Painters Eleven members who were obliged to exhibit within the academically-regulated system of art societies, submitting their artworks for annual jury selection at the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), the Royal Canadian Academy (RCA), or the Canadian Group of Painters (CGP). Her work was 413 In the 1910s the Hamilton Art School transitioned into the field of “art and technical science” education and was renamed the Hamilton Technical and Art School. In 1923 it was renamed once more, as the Hamilton Technical Institute. 414 See Inglis, “Hortense M. Gordon,” n.p. 188 consistently accepted into the OSA shows from 1945 to 1952, her painting Space, Form and Tension (c.1947) was included in the RCA exhibition of 1948. In 1950, her work Vertical Arrangement was included in the Exhibition of Contemporary Canadian Arts, which was a joint showcase of over 300 artworks from ten different art societies—including the OSA and RCA, as well as the Royal Architectural Institute and The Canadian Handicrafts Guild—hosted at the Art Gallery of Toronto (AGT). As it was for other members of Painters Eleven, the Oshawa YWCA Canadian Abstract Exhibition in 1952 organized by Alexandra Luke was simply another group show for Hortense Gordon. Gordon was also one of the few Painters Eleven members who had been given international solo shows by the time of the group’s 1953 formation.415 As the eldest member, Gordon could boast a number of achievements as a painter of abstraction from Hamilton—in 1952 there were five solo shows of her work outside of Ontario, including one at the Creative Gallery in New York and another at the Phillips Gallery at Detroit Flint Institute of Arts. Her work was also included in the exhibition Canadian Women Artists at Riverside Museum, New York, in 1952. Because of these successes, Gordon was as frustrated as any other member of the group by the lack of critical recognition abstract painting received in Ontario, and expressed the same feeling of marginalization and alienation that is characteristic of Painters Eleven’s writing. Anticipating the conservative Ontario community’s response to her show at Agnes Lefort's gallery, Gordon writes to a friend: "I suppose what L. [Lawren] Harris calls my 'exciting color' etc. will greatly (?) 'shock' some of the RCAs [Royal Canadian Academy] who will be 415 Of the eleven, only Oscar Cahén and Jock Macdonald had achieved the same status by 1953. 189 obliged to attend at 1028 Sherbrook E.[sic] — Lefort Gallery."416 In this statement, the primary characteristics of Painters Eleven’s avant-gardist rhetoric of oppression are all present—the notion of a radical or trailblazing usage of paint, the idea that such techniques produce a “shock” of the new in the face of academic conservatism, and a language that constructs controversy and antagonism. Indeed it is nearly identical in sentiment and rhetoric as, for example, Jock Macdonald’s later boasts that “there will be lots of upsets amongst the artists in town,” that they “never saw anything more exciting in this city,” and that “there is plenty seething around,” made in 1955 and 1956.417 Gordon’s statements from 1952 attest to her own individual “interest in avant-garde status,” as Michael Leja has described it,418 as well as her long-standing sensitivity to the issue of abstract and modern painting in Ontario long before her collaboration with Painters Eleven. In October 1952, following her string of successful exhibitions in New York and Montreal, Gordon also wrote to Dr. Harry McCurry, director of the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) to inquire about showing her work in Ottawa. In her letter, Gordon is exasperated with conservatism in Hamilton, where resistance to modern art stemmed not only from art societies and their academic traditionalism but also, according to Gordon, from pragmatic sensibilities which, forged out of an economic and social environment 416 Gordon, quoted in Inglis, “Hortense M. Gordon,” n.p. 417 Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 29 January 1955; and Correspondence from Jock Macdonald to William Ronald, 4 March 1956, R2113, Box 52, William Ronald fonds, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 418 Michael Leja, Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 23. See also Chapter Two. 190 built by steel and electric industries, found little import in metaphysical or introspective cultural production. She writes to McCurry: "It has been a long 'up - hill' effort on my part to try to put progressive art in its right place in Hamilton. There are those, especially in a manufacturing city, who cannot rise above the MATERIAL [emphasis original] and try to make any efforts toward a different plane, rather difficult, especially for a woman.”419 Here, Gordon’s remarks reveal a keen perception of her own historical and gendered condition as an older woman artist in 1940s and 1950s Hamilton. As the capital of steel and electronic activity in Canada, Hamilton’s life, economy and physical environment were dominated by industrial giants like The Steel Company of Canada (Stelco), Dominion Steel Casting Company (Dofasco), and The Dominion Power and Transmission Company, which brought hydroelectric power to the town. Hamilton was representative of Ontario’s industrial economy. Gordon’s “up-hill” battle for the validation of abstract art was thus fought in a city whose identity was circumscribed around an industrial economy and, with nicknames such as “Steeltown” and the “Home of the Manufacturer,”420 where the vigor of hard and durable material production held sway. Gordon recognizes that her particular temporal-geographic location in a booming manufacturing capital, as well as her socio-historical position as a woman artist in her sixties, created a unique challenge for her ambitions. In her letter to McCurry, Gordon considers part of her role in Hamilton’s society to be one of awakening—to mobilize 419 Hortense M. Gordon to H.O. McCurry, 24 October 1952, quoted in Inglis, “Hortense M. Gordon,” n.p. 420 See John Weaver, Hamilton: An Illustrated History (Toronto: Lorimer, 1982). 191 abstract art’s access into a “different plane” beyond sense experience, to enrich and elevate one’s encounter with the natural world beyond a phenomenological knowledge of the world. Abstraction transcended the visual encounter with art into the realm of space and intangibility, and also allowed the viewer to access the metaphysical. What Gordon further suggests is that figurative painting and illusionistic representation, which fabricates the corporeality of objects and other observable phenomena by remaining faithful to their tactile qualities, serve an ideological purpose in the fabric of Hamilton’s heavily industrialized society. For Gordon, what is embedded within the aesthetic conservatism of the city—and perhaps within even that of the greater Toronto or Southern Ontario region and its art societies—is not only an artistic ideology rooted in a belief in the value of skill and tradition, the eternal truths of nature and beauty, but also a socioeconomic framework of meaning based on the stability and plentitude of material resource generation and management. In other words, within this structure of signification, where cultural production is complicit in the discursive affirmation of economic security and social identity, visual representation of the world’s physical permanence reinforce and re-asserts the fundamentality of matter, the socioeconomic value of material, and thus the durability of Canada’s industrial and extractive geographies.421 Abstraction’s claim to autonomy and its abandonment of the domain of tangibility was a major threat to this ideology, a refusal to guarantee the economic and existential stability of a society dependent on material resources and manufacturing. It added a layer of disavowal that intensified the discomfort with abstraction’s rejection of 421 See Marilyn J. McKay, Picturing the Land: Narrating Territories in Canadian Landscape Art, 1500–1950 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011). 192 the referential relationship between world and image. Hortense Gordon’s remarks on Hamilton’s inability to “rise above the MATERIAL” is thus an astute critique of the ideological underpinnings of “anti-modern” attitudes that are present in the greater Toronto area. While Gordon's statement is aimed at the local, region-specific socioeconomic conditions of Hamilton, it is by no means an isolated dialogue. Her concern that Hamilton's ideological investment in a narrowly-defined industrial economy impedes and restricts access to broader, more open-minded, or even metaphysical cultural perspectives echoes a larger postwar dialectic between national cultural specificity and international or cosmopolitan outlooks. In particular, Gordon's rhetoric of awakening and elevation, as well as her desire to "put progressive art in its right place" resonates with the transnational cultural ideology that is underpinning, and threaded through, Painters Eleven's idea of "harmony" and the Massey Report's appeal to the nationalization of culture. As discussed in Chapter Four, a “transnational cultural ideology” is defined by Barbara Jenkins as an “outlook centred on the unique and restorative role of art and culture in ‘improving’ individuals and society,” which in midcentury Canada manifests as a prioritization of ‘high’ cultural refinement in order to insert the nation into membership of an international standard of cultural consciousness.422 As Jenkins argues, this particular ideology relies upon the ideology of cosmopolitanism, which “unlocks the paradox” between nationalism and internationalism by providing a lens through which 422 Barbara Jenkins, “National Cultural Policy and the International Liberal Order,” in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, eds. Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 120. 193 national intellectuals can situate their own cultural affiliations by evaluating them from an exterior position—that of a universal humanity. Following Jenkins, I argued that the transnational cultural outlook permeates Painters Eleven’s discourse of aesthetic internationalism, and that it is also crucial to their ideology of “harmony” because it promises to transcend paradox and resolve conflicting ideas. Here, Gordon’s rhetoric continues to carry out the ideological work of the transnational cultural outlook, and does so specifically by inserting a dialectic between the realms of the physical and the metaphysical, between material and space, into the ideological structure. To “rise above the MATERIAL” and “make efforts towards a different plane” was to lift Hamilton’s cultural consciousness out of its industrial economy and into the cosmopolitan realm of universality by elevating the city’s aesthetic taste423 out of the figurative, geographic, and permanent understandings of nature and space and into the abstract, intangible, and immaterial. The overlap between “progressive” painting and an awakened cultural perception or perspective is clear, highlighting the ways in which the distinct discourses of artistic modernism and postwar cultural politics in Canada intersect and become entangled in this midcentury moment. Returning to “push and pull” as a metaphor for the tensions underlying Painters Eleven’s “harmonious” ideology, or a pushing and pulling of contradictory ideas, identities, and desires, Hortense Gordon’s situation can be understood as representative of Painters Eleven’s attempts to mediate the conflict between the national and the international, transnational, or universal. 423 Bourdieu, Distinction, and Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” 241–258. 194 Operating in tandem with the transnational cultural outlook, Gordon’s perspective also reveals an appropriation, perhaps through Hans Hofmann's teachings and philosophies, of modernist answers to the question of how abstraction carries visual meaning, as well as how the process of image-making relates to the lived world—in other words, the process of creative artistic production. It serves as an example of how Painters Eleven’s thinking was permeated with circulating modernist ideas, sources, and influences, all of which grappled with abstraction. Gordon’s rhetoric articulates two particular principles of twentieth-century artistic modernist discourse—empathy and expression. While Gordon does not employ these terms herself, and nor does she attempt to contribute to its theorization, I argue that her understanding of abstraction is infused with these modes of thought. Empathy refers to the idea that abstraction attempts to communicate an artist’s creative intuition and understanding of the natural world, and expression is the notion that the artist’s understanding of the natural world is visually channeled or transmitted onto the ideal individual observer through the arrangement of the painting’s formal qualities. Both aspects in turn rely on the principle of aesthetic autonomy, which asserts the formal self-sufficiency of the picture as independent from mimetic imagery or figurative references to real-world phenomena. This is to say that Gordon, like her fellow Painters Eleven members, subscribed to the idea that abstract painting facilitated a “transference”424 of the picture’s creative content through the visual experience of shape, line, color, and composition. As such Gordon believed that her artwork, which captured the mid-twentieth-century understanding of nature’s intangible and universal vitality through “push and pull,” could “transfer” and stimulate this new 424 Hofmann, Search for the Real. 195 level of comprehension onto the local observer, thus lifting the Hamiltonian out of its material and industrial consciousness. One of the fundamental issues for abstract painting during this time was the problem of the relationship between form and meaning, between image-making and the world. Artists and theorists who addressed the issue in the early-to-mid twentieth century often articulated the idea that non-representational painting acts as a vehicle of creative transmission between the artist and viewer—that by eliminating the element of figuration, the image allows for a spiritual connection to be forged during the moment of visual encounter between the individual observer and the painting. One such figure was the well-known English critic Herbert Read, who was an influential figure in Canada.425 In his 1951 publication The Meaning of Art, Read explores expression as the final stage of a process of visual perception whereby “emotion or feeling” is channeled through the arrangement of a work of art’s material qualities—colours, shapes, patterns—into a “pleasurable” composition. Expression, according to Read, is thus “the variable element in art,” meaning that the art observer comes to any given emotional reaction based upon his or her individual understanding of these perceived impressions. It is that which is elicited by form, which is the instinctive image produced by another process—one in 425 Karen A. Finlay, "Identifying with Nature: Graham Sutherland and Canadian Art, 1939–1955," RACAR: revue d'art canadienne/Canadian Art Review (1994): 43–59. See also Chapter Three. 196 which the artist’s own spiritual senses is “directed and defined” into a specific appearance.426 In other words, form and expression can be conceived as connected dual processes of artistic production and visual reception. At the same time that the art image takes a form which communicates—or to borrow from Read, “liberates”427—the artists’ own inner emotional or personal character, it simultaneously offers to the viewer an aesthetic event whose expressive content may be restrained by the forms produced by the artist but in the end is also determined by the viewer’s own stimulated experience of the painting. This notion is at the heart of an aesthetics of empathy which, drawn from the idea that sensory apprehension of an object is formed through the spectator’s unconscious projection of emotional content onto that object—“emotional transference”—attempts to describe and explain the relationship between the work of art and the subjective spectator.428 It was summarized succinctly by German philosopher Johannes Volkelt in 426 Read also refers to this as the “will to form”—a purely instinctual activity driven by an artist’s desire to produce either a balanced image or pattern, or “a “symbol for his inner feelings.” Read, The Meaning of Art, 24–25. 427 Read, The Meaning of Art, 39. 428 Significant writings on the aesthetics of empathy include Robert Vischer, Harry Francis Mallgrave, and Eleftherios Ikonomou, eds. Empathy, Form, and Space: Problems in German Aesthetics, 1873–1893 (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1994); David Morgan, “The Enchantment of Art: Abstraction and Empathy from German Romanticism to Expressionism,” Journal of the History of Ideas 57:2 (April 1996), 317–42; and Heinrich Wofflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, trans. MD Hottinger (New York: Dover, 1950). 197 1895, who made a connection between “the inner life of the artist, as objectified in the work of art, and with it the inner life of the viewer, objectified anew with every fresh contemplation of the work.”429 Such a theorization of the relationship between form and expression is the groundwork upon which modernism’s claims to autonomy are founded. As Charles Harrison has noted, it is the assumption that an ideal sensitive observer decides “what the picture expresses” based on an emotional response to the manner (or form) in which the image was made.430 This modernist position, which elevates the self-sufficiency of the picture and the value of non-figurative, expressive, or emotional coherence, is one that Painters Eleven enthusiastically explored in their writings as an intellectual engagement with contemporary dialogues regarding the problems of autonomy, expression, and form. Like Gordon, William Ronald also found many of these ideas captivating, and especially those which were published by Allen Leepa in The Challenge of Modern Art (1949), from which Ronald took copious notes.431 In 1952 Ronald produced a three-page type-written document dated December 20th which consists of phrases and sentences gathered from Leepa’s book and stitched together into a continuous text, revealing Ronald’s priorities when it comes to abstraction and its signifying processes: 429 Johannes Volkelt, quoted in Joseph Imorde & Richard George Elliott, “Empathy” in Art History, Art in Translation, 6:4 (Taylor and Francis, Routledge, 2014): 377–397. 430 Michael Baldwin, Charles Harrison and Mel Ramsden, “Art History, Art Criticism and Explanation,” Art History 4:4 (December 1981): 432–456 and reprinted in Pollock and After: The Critical Debate, ed. Francis Frascina (New York: Harper and Row, 1985), 197. 431 Allan Leepa, The Challenge of Modern Art (Beechhurst Press, 1949). 198 During the process of painting from nature every creative artist reorganizes nature according to his feelings and ideas….art is mainly the repository of sensory and emotional stimuli….Abstract art appears abstruse when realism is looked for; but its meaning becomes clear when some of the felt forces comprising the work of art are experienced. Abstract work might then be considered very "concrete," for it deals with deep and mature creative experiencing in and through a medium.432 What this passage makes clear is that both Leepa and Ronald are interested in how the autonomy of a painting is maintained via emotional coherence, as well as how inherent meaning is located in the process of production. The notion that there is not only an expressive essence that is being transferred from artist in creative process to the surface of the canvas, but also that this essence can be observed, transmitted, and revealed to the perceptive viewer, is consistent with the idea of “transmission” articulated by Hans Hofmann and Hortense Gordon, and also with Herbert Read’s concept of expression in The Meaning of Art. In Ronald’s passage one also finds the insistence that abstract art is not an outright rejection of the natural world, but rather drawn from it as the very source of the creative process, addressing the problem of non-figurative art’s relationship to the 432 Ronald, unpublished notes, 20 December 1952, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa. Ronald quotes extensively from Leepa, The Challenge of Modern Art, 34. 199 real world with another modernist concept, empathy—the dynamic between nature and the creative impulse of the artist.433 Was abstract painting expressing something of the world? What was its meaning, what cause did it have for signification? For modernists like Read and Leepa, the answer was yes, and non-representational art maintained an empathic link to the natural realm. While empathy was not a term frequently utilized by Painters Eleven, the modernist ideas that define the term were most certainly internalized by the group. Broadly speaking, empathy refers to the intuitive—or emotive—engagement of an artwork with the forces of the physical, natural world. Painters Eleven’s comprehension of the value of empathy as a visual quality of painting operates within the sphere of art-critical discourse arising again out of Herbert Read’s texts. For Read, empathy refers to the notion that art is produced out of a creative relationship between nature and the artist, and thus art is not just a result of its dependency on nature but is also the product of art and nature’s complete fusion and permeation.434 The concept relies on the idea of expression, that 433 For more about Read on empathy, see Ben Cranfield, ‘‘A stimulation to greater effort of living’: The Importance of Henry Moore’s ‘credible compromise’ to Herbert Read’s Aesthetics and Politics,’” in Henry Moore: Sculptural Process and Public Identity (London: Tate Research Publication, 2015), http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/henry-moore/ben-cranfield-a-stimulation-to-greater-effort-of-living-the-importance-of-henry-moores-r1151301 (accessed September 10, 2016). 434 Read himself is also drawing from Wilhelm Worringer’s Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, translated from German in 1908. See David Thistlewood, Herbert Read: Formlessness and Form: An Introduction to His Aesthetics (Routledge & K. Paul, 1984); and David Thistlewood, “Herbert Read’s Organic Aesthetic . See also ibid. 200 observers are able to project their own emotional response onto works of art, but empathy further posits that such responses are possible because the viewer is able to perceive in the work the underlying life forces inherent in the natural world. For Read, to produce this empathic reaction is the very purpose of art. Crucially for Read, as scholar David Thistlewood has pointed out, it was possible that abstracted works of art, by “emphasizing the vital forces of nature through exaggeration or distortion” and extracting from nature its “essential formal potencies,” could elicit such an empathic response.435 As Thistlewood explains, Read was sure that art “intuitively avoids an exact observation of the laws of natural morphology” but rather that art produces a “passage from perception to intuition, and carrying with it a heightened mode of consciousness,” meaning that for Read, empathy was to be measured by “the degree to which the artist interpenetrated his work with the laws of the natural world.”436 Nature, which Read calls “absolute and universal”437 thus became the criteria and principle for all art, it is the artist in particular who carries the impulse to transmit, by the creation of form, the natural realm into the artwork. Not surprisingly, another voice in this discourse of empathy was that of Hans Hofmann. The impact of Hofmann’s own teachings and views on modern art and abstract painting, from the moment of his arrival in the United States, cannot be overstated—although scholars routinely acknowledge Hofmann’s importance in the development of 435 Thistlewood, “Herbert Read’s Organic Aesthetic [I], 228; and Thistlewood, Herbert Read, 44. 436 Thistlewood, Herbert Read: Formlessness and Form, 48. 437 Herbert Read, “Art and Crisis” (1944) republished in Read, The Grass Roots of Art (London: Lindsay Drummond, 1947), 77–78. 201 American Abstract Expressionism, Hofmann’s theorizations about the flatness of the picture plane, the integrity of the two-dimensional surface, and the self-criticality of the medium, are too often credited absolutely to the art critic Clement Greenberg.438 Hofmann elaborated on his particular interpretation of empathy in his publication Search for the Real (1948), where the term is used to describe: “the gift of discerning the mystery of each thing through its own intrinsic life.” In this life, Hofmann continues, “an intuitive artist discovers the emotive and vital substance which makes a work of art.”439 Like Read, Hofmann emphasizes “vitality” as the life force of the natural world—“the source of all inspiration…[and] creative impulses”—which is transposed into painting as a configuration of qualities of formal and spatial relations, and Hofmann claims that the “artist’s power of empathy” is “to feel the intrinsic qualities of the medium of expression” in order to bring the medium “to life.”440 The claim to aesthetic autonomy is evident in his words: “The work of art is firmly established as an independent object; this makes it a picture. Outside of it is the outer world. Inside of it, the world of an artist.”441 Empathy 438 In 1945 Greenberg recognized the debt he owed to Hofmann’s 1938–39 lectures on modern art. Charles Harrison has pointed out that Greenberg’s own formulations were in part drawn from the teachings and writings of Hofmann, who in the 1940s argued that the “three-dimensional effect” in painting is possible “without destroying [the] flat surface…[and] the preservation of two-dimensionality.” This Greenberg would come to call “the integrity of the picture plane” in his 1960 essay “Modernist Painting.” See Harrison, Modernism (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 55; and Greenberg, “Modernist Painting.” 439 Hofmann, Search for the Real, 54. 440 Ibid., 52. 441 Ibid., 49. 202 therefore is the artist’s ability to perceive the vital and often hidden forces of the natural world, as well as his or her creative impulse to capture, communicate, and express these essential forces through form. It also endows the artist with a mystical faculty of metaphysical perception, transcendental awareness, and intuitive creativity. A complex network of critical terms and concepts are at play here, all of which feed into and permeate Painters Eleven’s modernist discourse. This is evident in the case of Gordon, who believes that modern, “progressive” art is charged with the task of elevating the cultural tastes and social values of her local Hamilton. Embedded into her articulations are a series of modernist assumptions about the communicative and expressive powers of abstracted forms in painting, and these assumptions or principles can be linked to contemporary ideas and philosophies that were circulating within mid-century artistic and critical discourse through influential figures such as Read and Hofmann. Gordon’s participation in this discourse can best be understood as a layering of each principle, beginning with the visual mechanisms of empathy and expression which connect the artist to the natural world and to the viewer through the faculties of perception and creation. Since Gordon’s mid-century view of nature was from a metaphysical perspective, she employed the technique of “push and pull” to empathically communicate the transcendental properties of the universe into the non-figurative picture. However, the transmission of this new awareness is contingent upon the presence of an ideal spectator who, in a modernist framework, is a disembodied gaze, an observing eye lifted out of the specificities of time, history, and place.442 The problem facing Gordon 442 See Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). 203 were the inadequate, uncooperative spectators of “Steeltown” Hamilton, who were so entrenched in the “MATERIAL” realm—in precisely the socio-economic particularities of their time, history, and place—that the mechanism linking aesthetic form to viewer’s consciousness could not be realized. As such her complaint rests upon the assumption of the ideal modernist spectator whose disembodied eye would receive, from her abstract painting, a dematerialized consciousness of nature and the universe. Additionally, Gordon further observes that in Hamilton’s manufacturing socio-economic matrix, the city’s social identity is also shaped by the masculinized character of industrial work, creating a gendered discursive structure within which the battle for “progressive” art is framed by Gordon’s position as an older woman artist. In an environment built upon the unyielding austerity of steelwork and the vigor of manufacturing labor, Gordon notices that materiality and mass-production is inscribed with the qualities of masculinity, physical exertion, and durability. The frustration that Gordon expresses in her letter to McCurry, then, is also directed towards her own socio-historical condition as a woman in a place tied to a framework of industry—a condition which, Gordon suggests, is weighted with certain assumptions or attitudes regarding her gender. Gordon faced these “up-hill” challenges despite her nearly thirty-year career at the Hamilton Technical Institute, a school for art and technical science education that was an administrative amalgamation of the Hamilton Art School and the Board of Education’s technical school that took place in the 1910s. While Gordon is not specific about the nature or extent of her experience with any discriminatory barriers or hindrances, it is clear that she feels that the reach of her artistic ambition has been constrained by the male-dominated, industry-oriented forces around her. Indeed, Gordon’s professional 204 career was locked into Hamilton’s push for development in technical and trade education. Gordon joined the Hamilton Art School at the cusp of its conversion into a technical institution, where art programs were subsequently aimed at commercial application and practice, and where Gordon taught courses in principles of design for students who were training for work in textile, ceramic, print, and woodworking industries. This is not to claim or speculate that Gordon was discontent or resentful of her teaching position, but rather to consider the extent to which Hamilton’s identity as a manufacturing city determined Gordon’s environment and thus informed her remarks about the battle for abstraction. Nor, however, does this suggest that Gordon’s social environment changed dramatically when she joined Painters Eleven. It must be acknowledged that while she found support for her artistic crusade in her abstract-painting peers, Gordon’s struggle for a professional artist identity was not necessarily resolved by proxy in the wake of Painters Eleven’s successes, and indeed her under-recognition persisted in spite of her involvement with the group. Like fellow woman-artist member Alexandra Luke, it is likely that Gordon’s social position as a married, wealthy older woman overshadowed her professional status as an internationally-exhibited artist, even among Painters Eleven. It would be mistaken and misguided to assume that the coming together and collaboration of the group presupposed an equal regard among all eleven members, or that their formation somehow neutralized any social, cultural, or gendered biases that might have affected their internal relationships. Later interviews with Tom Hodgson and William Ronald would reveal that Hortense Gordon may not have been taken seriously by certain members due to her age and gender. When asked to comment on Gordon on two separate 205 occasions, once in 1979, and another in 1990, Hodgson simply and dismissively stated: “Hortense—A grand old lady,” and “I thought Hortense Gordon was .... a really nice old lady,”443 respectively. Ronald in 1977 referred to Gordon as “a funky old painter who always used to remind me of a chandelier,” adding, “you know she was Singer sewing machine money.”444 While the latter claim regarding her family lineage is unconfirmed, and while it is also unclear what Ronald means by his “chandelier” attribution, there is an evident connotation—that in Ronald’s eyes, Gordon was a wealthy old woman with a certain eccentric style that perhaps bordered on the gaudy. On the other hand, Ray Mead and Harold Town have offered more thoughtful and personal assertions of Gordon’s serious contributions to abstract painting in Canada. Ray Mead was closest to Gordon, the two having met in 1949. Mead makes the case for Gordon’s sincere generosity and commitment to sharing her knowledge with other artists in Hamilton and Toronto. He states: [Gordon] showed me ways of thinking that hadn’t occurred to me...she was a marvelous person…she got very little reward out of it, but she believed in what she did….[H]er whole house was full of…[books], good Japanese prints...You could just sit at the table and go through 443 Tom Hodgson, interviewed by Joan Murray, 29 January 1979, typed transcript, Tom Hodgson File, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 444 This claim regarding Gordon’s family background is unconfirmed. William Ronald, interviewed by Joan Murray, 31 May 1977, typed transcript, William Ronald File, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 206 books you weren’t able to afford to buy....She was the one who got me to send to [the Canadian National Exhibition] show…And that sort of established me with other people that I got to know there, [like Harold Town and Walter Yarwood].445 Harold Town, in his catalogue introduction to Gordon’s last solo exhibition at Toronto’s Gallery Moos in February 1961, also describes her as a pioneer of abstract painting in Canada.446 In his memorial tribute to Gordon after her death in 1963, Town characterizes Gordon’s cultural achievement with a political weightiness and forceful strength that subverts the narrative of the soft and passive “nice old lady.” Town writes: “she saw herself as the official opposition, never as the government, but like most opposition parties in parliament she lived to see the government adopt many of her beliefs….Hortense Gordon was for doing things and she did them.”447 These competing social and professional identities reveal once again the internal frictions and incohesions within Painters Eleven’s intra-relationships. Thus although Painters Eleven offered a zone of mutual respect for each other as individuals with the same goal for abstract painting, their formation did not necessarily or automatically create an equal social or professional footing for all eleven members. 445 Ray Mead, interviewed by Joan Murray, 4 September 1977, typed transcript, Ray Mead File, Joan Murray Artists Files, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 446 Harold Town, Hortense Gordon Exhibition (Toronto: Gallery Moos, 1961), n.p. 447 Town, quoted in Inglis, “Hortense M. Gordon,” n.p. 207 What bound Painters Eleven together was not a natural cohesion but rather their shared desire to validate abstraction in Toronto, and as such they sought out ideas that asserted its meaning and relevance while also contextualizing these ideas within their spatio-temporal condition. Gordon’s appropriation of Hans Hofmann’s “push and pull,” as well as the modernist ideologies regarding autonomy, elevation, and transcendence attached to it, is one such example. When she argued that abstraction was a “different plane” of aesthetic encounter that bridged the pictorial and metaphysical realms of space, she was drawing from Hofmann’s concept of transmission—the transmission of nature’s immaterial, intangible “vitality”—as well as the underlying theorizations of pictorial meaning through empathy and expression circulating modern art discourse, thus inserting Hofmann's European-American modernist discourse into the socio-economic framework of “Steeltown” Hamilton and the greater Ontario area. She expressly considered her role in Hamilton’s manufacturing society to be one of cultural elevation and progressive awakening through abstract art. Her professional career as a teacher at Hamilton Technical Institute was one avenue through which she attempted to achieve this goal by trying to instill the lessons of Hofmann’s spatial dynamics onto her students. Hers was a push (and pull) for an ideological aesthetic liberation, an untethering from the figurative representation and affirmation of Canada’s industrial geographies, and an opening up to the universalism and metaphysicality of space. The Space of Canadian Modernism Space—and its relationship to humans and nature—was one of the major preoccupations of Hortense Gordon, Alexandra Luke, Kazuo Nakamura, and Jock 208 Macdonald. As in the case of Gordon, the idea of “space” was entangled within a network of significations. This network is one of the linchpins of Painters Eleven’s Canadian modernism. Constructed out of an amalgamation of modernist principles, scientific-technological knowledges, and transnational cultural ideologies, this particular modernist matrix revolves around the universalized “space” of aesthetic, cultural, and spiritual elevation. Here, the most important kind of “space” is the pictorial space of abstract painting because it alone bears the burden of bridging together the transformative outlooks of mid-century science and culture by transmitting these new perspectives onto the individual viewer. Within the framework of this dissertation, this positions “space” as another discursive strategy of “harmony.” “Harmony” brings together the dialogues of modernist artistic philosophy and cultural identity in mid-century Canada by connecting the transcendental properties of abstracted pictorial space to the elevated awareness of nature’s metaphysical and universal spaces beyond national borders. Crucially, this particular understanding of nature’s unseen and intangible forces is situated in a belief that mystical truths are hidden in both the innermost, microscopic secrets of matter and life on earth—the cellular and the atomic—and the outermost mysteries of an infinite universe—the celestial and the cosmic. Here, the links between art, human consciousness, and nature are constructed once again by Painters Eleven’s rhetoric as it weaves a network of meanings, all of which share a certain conceptualization of “space.” This idea of “space” is seen as a way of transcending visible reality to simultaneously access the unknown realms of the microscopic and the macrocosmic. Hortense Gordon’s fusion of Hans Hofmann’s ideas into her own practice and philosophy is an example of how Painters Eleven’s perspective was permeated with 209 circulating modernist ideas, sources, and influences. Alexandra Luke was another Painters Eleven member who drew heavily from Hofmann’s teachings and attempted their application in her painting. Both Jock Macdonald and Alexandra Luke had also attended the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, Macdonald once in 1949, and Luke a number of times between 1947 and 1952. Luke especially held Hofmann’s words and critiques in high regard. Her notebooks from the time she spent at the school are filled with extensive quotations and notes from class. The content of her notes range from lessons in formal composition to Hofmann’s critiques on her painting, from teachings in the philosophies of modern art masters like Piet Mondrian to broad modernist approaches to art. In one entry from 1949, for example, Luke scrawled: “[Hofmann said]—need more imagination. be free, still a little too stiff. break up color, too flat.” In another, she jotted down phrases such as “modern artist is so extremely conscious of the space,” and “every work should…carry mystery of creation.”448 Just as Gordon drew from Hofmann’s “push and pull” to essentialize the world into intangible states of nature—like vitality and energy—rather than states of substance, so too did Alexandra Luke draw from the idea that abstract art reveals nature’s transcendental realities, or what Hofmann referred to as its “mystery of creation.” Luke also forged the connection between non-figurative forms of abstract painting and the cosmic discoveries of contemporary science and technology, and she often drew from the teachings and writings of Hofmann and other early-twentieth-century modern artists to do so. In an undated description of the painting Space Computer, likely written for an 448 Alexandra Luke, notes from the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, 1948–1952, Notebook #2, Digital Archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery Archives, Oshawa, Canada. 210 exhibition catalogue, Luke prepared the following statements about her work, and in it summed up the very foundation of “space” as intertwined with art, science, and nature: The…abstract paintings by Alexandra Luke indicate the artist’s interest in the stupendous developments and discoveries in the many fields of science today... In “SPACE COMPUTER” [emphasis original] the artist suggests to the spectator a synthesis of space achievement of this amazing era in which we live…The act of creation animates the picture surface and the subconscious space concept proposes the composition. Thus the artist has through creative painting suggested man’s thrust into the unknown, beyond the planet earth, which is a mere beginning into the unprobed dimensions of the mind which our most audacious thoughts cannot yet conceive.449 Luke’s belief in the mystical and creative power of nature’s metaphysical forces is undeniable in this set of articulations. She is also convinced that the achiev
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UBC Theses and Dissertations
"Harmonious disagreement" : Painters Eleven, abstraction, and the construction of Canadian modernism… Poon, Jessica 2018
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