Hodgson, Mead and Ronald

Selections from the permanent collection

The Toronto art scene of the early 1950s was still very much dominated by the Group of Seven’s legacy.  In 1955, one frustrated young painter, Graham Coughtry, remarked he felt that “every damn tree in the country has been painted”.  A diverse group of artists that included Tom Hodgson, Ray Mead and William Ronald began to meet, discuss and experiment with abstract painting.  These artists were drawn to New York and work of Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell and other Abstract Expressionist.

However, unlike New York, exhibition opportunities for abstract art were almost non-existent in Ontario.  William Ronald, who had worked as a window dresser at the Simpson’s department store, pitched the idea to his old employer of showing abstract paintings along with furniture in the department store.  Thus, in 1953 Abstracts at Home, took place.  Paintings by seven artists, including Hodgson, Mead and Ronald, were shown alongside furniture in a series of rooms.  Simpson’s advertisement proclaimed that “abstract and non-objective art is equally at home with traditional or 20th Century furnishings.”

Buoyed by this unconventional exhibition the artists continued to meet.  By this time their number had swelled to eleven, so they simply dubbed themselves Painters Eleven.  One of their members, Jack Bush, managed to convince Toronto’s Roberts Gallery to host the group’s first show.  The 1954 exhibit was described as “extraordinary” and resulted in record-breaking attendance for Roberts.  In 1956 the group was invited to exhibit in New York as part of the Twentieth Annual Exhibition of American Abstract Artist with “Painters Eleven” of Canada. By this time Ronald had relocated to New York, in 1958 Mead moved to Montreal and in 1960 Painter Eleven disbanded.  However, the group had accomplished what they set out to do, the brought abstract art to Toronto.