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Remembering illustrious artist Harold Town

The Story

He was an abstract painter, illustrator, printmaker, sculptor and writer. He rose to fame as a founding member of Painters Eleven, a group of avant-garde artists. And on December 27, 1990, the man who defined art with a rich and varied palette, Harold Town, died at the age of 66. In this clip, four years before his death, Town speaks about his rise to fame and his life as a Canadian icon.

Medium: Radio
Program: Arts National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 24, 1986
Guest: Harold Town
Host: Ian Alexander
Duration: 2:22
Credit: Library and Archives Canada, archival reference number R5745-1 Photo: John Reeves

Did You know?

• Born in 1924, Harold Barling Town's artistry began at a very early age when, as an only child, he often spent time drawing on the walls of his parent's home in Toronto. The young Town's affinity for art even prompted a frustrated school teacher to exclaim the child would make a great student - if only he stopped drawing.

• Upon graduating from Ontario College of Art in 1945, Harold Town first became an accomplished illustrator for ad agencies and magazines such as Maclean's and Mayfair. In fact, his listing in the phone book at the time read: "Town, Harold, Advertising Artist."

• Town invented the name Painters Eleven, for the Southern Ontario abstract painters who came together in 1953 to share information and collectively exhibit their work. Inspired by American artists such as Jackson Pollock, the group's self-proclaimed objective was to enliven the visually sedated city of Toronto. Despite an accomplished portfolio, it was only through Town's membership in Painters Eleven that he gained popularity as an abstract painter. He has even been referred to as the "Picasso of Canadian art."

• Although renowned primarily for his abstract art, one of the most impressive aspects of Town's career was his ability to work on three or four different styles and media concurrently. From prints, drawings and collages to sculptures and paintings, he pursued each with equal passion and intensity.
• Town's reputation for popularizing abstract art in Canada was as notable as his provocative manner. "I paint to defy death," he once stated.

• From 1953-1959 Town garnered recognition for his "Single Autographic Prints". They won him international awards and were acquired by the Solomon Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York. Alfred Barr, MOMA's director of collections deemed Town one of the world's greatest printmakers.

• Town continued to re-invent himself and his art until his death in 1990 in Toronto - the city where he lived all his life. Though he received constant praise over the years, Town's later work was disparaged for its lack of intensity and gravity. In response to his critics Town declared, "all criticism of the visual art is suspect."

• Credit: Library and Archives Canada, archival reference number R5745-1




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