Fall 2009 - 1st Session Live auction
Lot # 046
Raymond John Mead
CGP CSGA P11 1921 - 1998 Canadian
oil on canvas
signed and dated 1955 and on verso signed, titled, dated and inscribed "11 Crown Hill Place, Toronto"
48 x 70 in 121.9 x 177.8cm
Estate of the Artist
Ray Mead was born and educated in England, studying at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1937 - 1939, before emigrating to Canada in 1946. He settled in Hamilton, Ontario, where he became director of the art department in an advertising firm. Mead and his paintings remain central to the story of modern Canadian art for several reasons. He was one of a small group of painters to show work in the famous Abstracts at Home exhibition at Simpsonís department store in Toronto in 1953. This group presentation - designed not only as a way for younger artists to have their work seen, but also as a way to make abstraction less threatening to Canadians - was arranged by William Ronald who, with Mead and nine others working in an abstract idiom, then came to form the group Painters Eleven in November of 1953. Until its dissolution in 1960, Painters Eleven offered support for this then-radical style of painting, and promoted it, especially in New York City. Exchanges between members of Painters Eleven and the Abstract Expressionist artists and critics in New York - Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, Clement Greenberg and many others - are legendary, and support the tight aesthetic relationship between Toronto and New York in this era. Mead was also well acquainted with Abstract Expressionist practice in the 1950s through his own New York dealer, Charles Egan, whose gallery on 57th Street showed Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Philip Guston and other luminaries. While the New York axis was important as an inspiration for abstraction, Meadís work exemplifies a more complex picture of international abstract painting in the 1950s. He was part of what might best be thought of as trans-Atlantic abstraction, a blending of styles and motivations that pivoted on New York, London, and European modernism. Meadís sensibilities remained close to artists of the St. Ives School (named for the artistsí colony in Cornwall founded by Ben Nicolson and Barbara Hepworth). He was at the Slade School of Fine Art with Patrick Heron, one of the most prominent second-generation members of the St. Ives group. From the mid-1950s, Heron and many other British artists were in turn influenced by contemporary American abstraction, thus forming the international circuit of which Meadís work is a part. Like his contemporaries in England, Mead tended to a more subdued and restful palette and to Cubist structure. He acknowledged an enduring affinity for landscape motifs.
Painting was done in 1955, in the heyday of Painters Elevenís success in Toronto, and on the eve of their wide recognition in New York. The canvasís interlocking and overlapping forms define a space organized along Cubist principles. While the palette is subdued, vibrantly saturated motifs electrify the surface. These forms can be read in different spatial registers. For example, the dominant orange oval to the left of centre appears as a flat and bounded element in a vertical ladder of shapes. At the same time, we can imagine that we look down on it. The satisfying complexity of Painting emerges slowly; we come to see the considerable range of colours used by Mead, not only the predominant browns and blacks, but also greens, blues and a variety of orange hues. In both its subtlety and boldness, Painting repays repeated looking.
We thank Dr. Mark Cheetham, Professor in the Department of Art at the University of Toronto, for contributing the above essay.
Estimate: $35,000 ~ $45,000 CAD
Sold For: $64,350.00 CAD (including buyer's premium)