Thank you for the opportunity to see the current Harold Town exhibition, especially the Enigma drawings that have fascinated me for decades. Until this afternoon, I’d only seen them in reproductions and much smaller than the originals.
I can never decide how I feel about Harold Town. Obviously, he was a good artist, a genuine craftsman and a productive, hard worker. His skill as a draughtsman sometimes fills me with awe. The Enigma drawings combine beautifully easy, free brushstrokes with painstaking detail. I can’t think of anything like them. They are very well made.
Viewers will recognize the symbols and stereotypes that act out their parts in Town’s enigmas. Are they clichés? Yes, in part, but originally combined, skilfully composed and undeniably expressive. Town targets religious and judicial pomp, violence, sexual fantasy and militarism; nothing particularly unusual about that, especially in the 60s and 70s.
What bugs me about Town is that I feel he is pushing us away rather than drawing us in. I feel a defensive cleverness in much of what I see. He makes me think, but about Harold Town more than about his subject matter. Perhaps Town’s ego wouldn’t have minded that.
Sometimes, too, he’s so skilled with paint and colour, so full of dash and flourish, his work seems almost decorative. Is it a bit superficial? The gallery of paintings doesn’t settle my questions.
What does it matter? Harold Town was and is an important Canadian artist who has produced stimulating, original work of great merit. That he still draws attention two dozen years after his death speaks to his success.
This was my first visit to the Christopher Cutts Gallery and I look forward to returning with friends. It’s a beautiful exhibit space, tucked away just as it should be, at the end of an industrial street. It’s very urban and very accessible by subway… a short walk from the Dundas West station. The gallery cat is exceptionally friendly and has a coat that feels like silk.