Nakamura Estate Works

Kazuo Nakamura Estate Works 1950s and 1960’s

January 13-Februrary 10 2018

Christopher Cutts Gallery

21 Morrow Ave Toronto ON

This exhibition is not only dazzling – it is important. Presented is a unique opportunity to view work of a then young artist who would develop into an incredible master painter. Here we see the seeds for the brilliant pieces Nakamura would proceed to execute later on. We can see him developing a palette and certain motifs that he would continue to refine throughout his lifetime.

20180113_141252Of particular interest is the fact that the paintings on display were created during the period in which the Painters Eleven were active, giving us another rare opportunity to compare Nakamura’s early work to that of his contemporaries. Unlike many of his P11 partners – who preferred loud, expressive gestures – Nakamura’s work is subtle and contemplative. While the abstract works of Town, Ronald, Cahen and Hodgson’s of the same period are almost indistinguishable, Nakamura, from this early age, was exploring his own unique vision of what abstract art meant to him and the potentiality of painting itself.

Nakamura’s family moved from British Columbia to Hamilton Ontario in 1947 before relocating to Toronto shortly afterwards. This exhibit features pieces which hung in the artist’s family home in Toronto, leading one to believe it may be the first time these paintings have ever been shown in public. Obviously these works were important in the artist’s daily life and are pieces that he and his family personally enjoyed.


Cutts Gallery is divided into two large spaces, and the rooms are utilized to separate more figurative works – landscapes and still-life paintings – from the more abstract pieces. However, there is complexity in the simplicity of these nature paintings. Nakamura is demonstrating other ways of seeing and exploring the possibilities of the one-dimensional picture plane. With a few brush strokes, black on a canvas painted white, he is able to blur the lines between drawing and painting, evoking a forest of trees that is almost three-dimensional. Another colorful pink and yellow landscape is nearly abstract in the way a painting by J.M.W. Turner is abstract. Above all, Nakamura’s mastery of shades of green is quite evident.


The most abstract pieces – and here again Nakamura seems so far apart from his P11 cohorts – feature geometric patterns with the emphasis on perception and creating other ways of seeing the world and how a painter can create depth, space and volume on a flat canvas. There is almost an Op-art element to some of these pieces with their hypnotic grids and taped straight lines. Nakamura converses with Cezanne in paintings of apples and pears, floating on a grid or hanging in a color field of blue-green. In one large piece – according to explanation offered by Christopher Cutts himself who knew the artist personally – Nakamura reflects on the entirety of art history. He translates important art movements into geometric shapes climbing the side of a grid in an all black painting. His paintings often investigate perspectives on seeing, and reflect upon the act of viewing painting and painting in-itself.

20180113_142019Great artists teach the viewer to see their own world differently. It is quite clear from this exhibition that Nakamura, at such a young age, was developing into one of the greatest artists of his time. And he is perhaps the most unique and avant-garde member of Painters 11.


Painters Eleven at Art Toronto 2016

Massive Jack Bush from Miriam Shiell Fine Art

Autumn marks the return of Art Toronto, an annual show of contemporary and modern art at the Convention Centre. During Oct 28-31, over one hundred galleries from Canada and worldwide setup as best they could in the limited space provided. Although a bit overwhelming, opportunities for viewing like this must be seized upon. The presence of Painters Eleven (at least some of them) demonstrates their continued relevance to the art market and offers viewers a chance to look at these culturally significant abstract works created in Ontario in the 1950s and beyond.

Michael Cahen with a self-portrait by his father, Oscar.

One of the most influential members of P11, Oscar Cahén, is being celebrated in a big way by The Beaverbrook Art Gallery located in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Beaverbrook is not only organizing a retrospective exhibition, they are publishing a monograph to celebrate the artist’s centennial. This text promises to be hugely important – a great cultural artifact that will collect scholarly writings and offer a collection of reproductions like none before it. We are looking forward to the 2017 publication and are in high hopes that the exhibition travels to Ontario galleries. Cahén’s impact on the development of abstract art in Ontario specifically, and Canada as a whole, is undeniable, and his influence can be witnessed firsthand at Art T.O. in the work of other members of P11.

Bush’s The Angel

It was a unique pleasure to meet and speak with Oscar’s son, Michael Cahén. Michael told us that he met several art enthusiasts who, despite collecting for over 30 years in some cases, had never heard of Oscar Cahén; but, they were excited by the discovery. Beginning with the Cahén display was a perfect and promising start to our visit.

Roberts Gallery – where P11 held their first exhibit in 1954 – had a few pre-abstract pieces by Jack Bush. Representingworks from Bush’s early figurative career, the gallery will be holding an exhibition entitled Color and Rhythm, November 10-26, featuring these pieces along with work by fellow Canadian John Lennard. Bush’s colour choices utilized in the 1951 oil on masonite work The Angel gives an indication of his influences and where the artist would go.The blues, pink, and red are reminiscent of Cahén’s palette, and the floating geometrical shapes foreshadow Bush’s famous abstract colour-field style. Bush also appears to be applying Hofmann’s theories to create a feeling of “push and pull” through contrasting colours and shape

Ronald, 1954

Caviar 20 has their finger on the pulse of contemporary and historical artwork. There was a stunning watercolour by William Ronald from 1954, which the plaque described as the most desirable decade for Ronald collectors. The work demonstrates strong restraint, utilizing negative space and diluted colour with strong black lines reminiscent of Kandinsky. It is complimented by the minute detail of splatters and bleeding colour trails.

Town, SAP

Their second Ronald watercolour was brought out by request, and it did not disappoint. From 1967, it was minimal in palette: navy blue and magenta leaked together for maximum impact. The gallery also had a beautiful Single Autographic Print by Harold Town from 1955 entitled In and Out. While most SAPs are densely packed with many layers, this one was simple in colour and form. A fascinating variation from Town’s never ending bag of tricks.

Miriam Shiell Fine Art had the most powerful pieces by Bush. A monumental work from 1971,giant mostly tan, covered almost the entire back wall of the booth. Also present were smaller, but no less impressive, Bush pieces; Bush at his best some might say. Bush was the most predominantly featured member of P11, which is perhaps a testament to his growing popularity. He is the only member of P11 to be on stamps, scarves, socks, and have a major retrospective at the National Art Gallery.

Town, Vale Variation series

In the back room of the Shiell space, there was a small Town from the Vale Variation series. Executed between 1972 and 1977, this piece is one of 400 based on a pen and ink work by fellow Toronto artist Florence Vale (1990-2003). It showed four playful figures, like Matisse cut-outs,dancing black ink on white paper, striking in its simplicity.

Christopher Cutts Gallery has long been a champion of P11, handling pieces from the estates of many of the members, and the pieces selected for this year were spectacular. It was also here we saw the highlights of the day: two paintings by Kazou Nakamura.


The first piece was a small oil on Masonite that was painted in 1956, Construction Interior View.This painting is intense in its minimalism – scratches in a pale green surface. Is it a bridge? A building? It’s a strange structure. Nakamura is arguably the most avant-garde of the P11. His work does not clearly fall within the realm of abstract expressionism. One can’t help but to think of Dubuffet when facing the physicality of Nakamura’s textured surfaces.

Nakamura, Spatial Concept

The second, larger Nakamura work, Spatial Concept from 1965, is almost all white oil and features pencil markings. A unique collection of circles (white on white) fill the canvas with a dark square in the top left, a 1/4 circle in the top right, and the bottom right has a strange straight-edged solid shape. Circles on the left have been dissected into triangles in graphite. This geometric exploration and use of pencil on painted ground makes Nakamura akin to another Canadian-born artist –Agnes Martin. This is one of the most impressive Nakamura’s we have seen.

Cutt’s Gallery also had works by Town, Ronald, and Tom Hodgson. Town’s messy oil and lucite, Dark Forest from 1957 is a dark tangle of colours and could be in homage to Tom Thomson’s Unfinished Sketch. Town once cited the Thompson piece as the “the first completely abstract work in Canadian art.”

The Ronald was a very fine combination of two of his signature styles: a circular centre image and thick impasto blends of color. There are chunky squirts of white upon the surface that is already physically dense with paint.

Hodgson, 1952

The aptly titled Non-Objective Painting by Hodgson from 1952 features geometric shapes of solid colour on a scratchy beige surface. It was much different than work we have previously seen by Hodgson.


A great late work by Ray Mead that is predominantly black acrylic was minimal in composition. A bright red circle hangs above a fluctuating white line (horizon?) with only a few flecks of colour and a thin white corner patch featuring four red blobs. Mead never ceases to wonder.

The importance of P11 cannot be denied. Each member contributed massively to the development of abstract art in Canada during the 1950s and 1960s. Although it would have been nice to see all of the artists represented at Art T.O., 7 out of 11 isn’t bad.

Thank you to Lawrence Brissenden for his helpful feedback on earlier versions of this post.

Celebrating the Summer of ’47

Don’t call him the Painters Twelve because he never wanted to be part of the group. Ron Lambert’s artistic accomplishments precede that of Painters Eleven. However, his connection to the P11 is fascinating and his story is an important piece of Canadian history that has unfortunately been overlooked. That is, until recently.

By 1952, Lambert’s paintings were already accepted by the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal and he was only 16 when the Art Gallery of Ontario purchased Oshawa Harbour. Despite the accomplishments of P11, none of them can claim such feats by that age. Ron was more comfortable with the company of Joseph Plaskett and Paul Resika even though his interest lie in more abstract compositions. Perhaps some members of P11 were too boisterous for this quiet and humble naturalist. Or perhaps Ron really was too busy renovating his home on the day when the first P11 meeting was called by his close friend, Margaret McLaughlin (Alexandra Luke). Regardless, there has never been a better time to celebrate Ron Lambert’s past and present achievements.

DSC05363Ron and Margaret were close friends and both travelled to Hans Hofmann’s summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts during 1947. Ron was only 19 years old. Plaskett and Resika were there too among countless other artists. Although Margaret left after a couple of weeks, Ron stayed for the summer and continued his studies. The work he produced at that time is extraordinary. It documents the transition of an impressionist style landscape painter into a master interpreter of Hofmann’s theories on abstract art. The small plein air paintings on board recall the energy and immediacy of a Tom Thomson sketch. However, they evolve from recognizable features to purely abstract planes of colours and shapes that demonstrate the notion of “push and pull” as Hofmann was famous for teaching.

IMG_5525In Margaret’s diary from 1947, she notes the praise that Hofmann bestowed upon Ron’s paintings: “Hofmann gave Ronny a good crit. Said his afternoon drawing showed great promise. Said if he continued that way he would soon have it.” Hofmann also taught Hortense Gordon, Jock MacDonald, and William Ronald in other years. He was a driving force in the development of abstract painting in Ontario during the 40s and 50s. What happened at Hofmann’s summer school is nothing short of legendary.

DSC05364As a way of celebrating Hofmann’s inspiration on the young Ron Lambert, it was a profound moment to attend a recent exhibition that focused on this particular time in Ron’s life and his artistic accomplishments.  For two days only, Summer of ’47 Paintings by Ron Lambert, was exhibited at Visual Arts Mississauga. What made the show more interesting are the recent and much larger re-imaginations of the smaller pieces from ‘47.

DSC05387The paintings displayed from ’47 look new and fresh – vibrating with colourful life and the energy of youth. This was due to the masterful restoration work provided by fellow artist Kristina Stanicova. Next to these are the larger re-imaginations that match the originals in forms and colour. Lambert painted these in 2016, which makes them 69 years younger than their inspirations. Since the re-imaginations are larger, the artist has been able to bring out more of the textures and further develop ideas that are seeded in the originals. Partnered together, these paintings are endlessly fascinating and very enjoyable. Lambert does not shy away from large swaths of bright colour and shapes that flow and complement each other.

Aside from the re-imaginations, there were two other series of new works on display. DSC05376The first includes several large paintings that continue utilizing bold colours with hard edges that dance together on the canvas. These appear to be a logical extension of the work Ron was focused on in 47:  simple forms expressed through organization of the picture.  The other series was of pencil drawings that Ron developed for two reasons: sketches preparing for new
IMG_5507 paintings and drawings inspired by the environment of Provincetown and Riverwood Mississauga, where the recent exhibit took place. Despite the large gap in time and distance, Lambert brings out their similarities through simple lines that outline in form the geographical essence of these two places: the birth of his abstract ambitions and his return to the Canadian art world in 2016.

What’s next for Ron Lambert? At the exhibition, there was discussion of a book, of taking the paintings on tour, of more original work being done by Ron.  Whatever comes next will sure to be exciting as we follow Lambert’s new work and the growing appreciation that is building around his oeuvre.

Thanks to Lawrence Brissenden for curating this exhibit and IMG_5505sharing his knowledge about Ron’s career and accomplishments.

For more information about Ron Lambert and his recent exhibit, please visit the following links:

Mississauga News: Early life and later stages of artist’s career subject of VAM exhibit

Facebook: Ronald Malcolm Lambert

Margaret Roger’s article on Ron Lambert

Joe Plaskett’s 1953 article, “Some New Canadian Painters and Their Debt to Hans Hofmann”


Hodgson by the Lake

A blue Bench jacket – that single piece of clothing was the catalyst which led to the current Tom Hodgson exhibit at the Gallery on The Lake, located in the cottage community of Buckhorn. The jacket belongs to Danielle, the granddaughter of Tom, who was taking an art class at the gallery. When the gallery staff called Danielle’s home about the lost jacket, a conversation was started about exhibiting their family’s collection of Tom’s work.

Upon enTom_Hodgson_Rand_and_Danielle_18727_382tering the exhibit, the viewer is faced with a 50×50” portrait done in mixed media of Danielle and her father Rande. This is the only portrait in the exhibit – the realism and love portrayed in their faces demonstrates Hodgson’s mastery of presenting “not just the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance” – to quote Aristotle. But, the top right corner of the square painting dissolves into abstraction – yellow and green– like a melted Polaroid. This is a fascinating portrayal of Hodgson’s family, as he spent the last ten years of his life with Alzheimer’s disease.

Hodgson was a prolific paddler and canoed the Kawartha Lakes around his home in Hastings during the 90s. The gallery itself is situated nearby in a    similar village in the Kawarthas, Buckhorn – a bustling centre of paddling and party enthusiasts, so the setting provides the perfect energy to match Hodgson’s passions. The selection of pieces compliments the background of water and vitality of the lake community. “Kawartha Rumble” is an exemplary display of Hodgson’s mastery of abstract expressionism:  small gestures of vibrant colours poking out from underneath splashes and large strokes of paint that curl at the end like a wave. There are no images of this piece in print or online.

lg-untitled-abstract-2-1992_68x57-mixed-mediaThe selection of abstract work spans from smaller watercolours to massive works over 6×7’. Many of the larger paintings incorporate elements of collage – almost to the point of sculpture: PVC Pipe, sheet metal, gold wrappers from a chocolate coin, piano strings, and bamboo.   Hodgson may have been the Rauschenberg of the Kawarthas – picking up discarded objects along his way to reuse in art.   The hints at eroticism and water in these works bring out Hodgson’s fun and famous personalityTom_Hodgson_Triangle_With_PVC_Pipe_18729_382.

“Tom Hodgson loved nudity” wrote a close friend and biographer of the Painters Eleven, Iris Nowell.  There are a number of nudes to admire at the exhibit. Hodgson used watercolour, ink, and pastel to draw figures that are embracing and seemingly dancing off the paper. He accomplishes these effects with few colours and lines, but his brilliant use of textures, scribbles, and brushwork capture the models’ personalities and expressions.Tom_Hodgson_Untitled_1_18714_382

This exhibit is an incredible opportunity since it is the first solo Hodgson show in over 20 years. Danielle still hasn’t come to pick up her blue Bench jacket and the works will still be available for viewing into October.

These images of exhibition pieces are borrowed with permission from the Gallery on The Lake’s website.

Astounding Town

It’s been an eye-opening few months devouring info on Canadian artist Harold Barling Town (1924-1990). Most of this education came from books by Town’s longtime lover Iris Nowell and her three texts: Hot Breakfast for Sparrows (1991),  Painters 11: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art (2010), and the recent Harold Town (2014). Town was an avant-garde artist par excellence, one who constantly changed his style and explored new artistic innovations throughout his lifetime.  Perhaps this is why he is often compared to Picasso. That and their shared prolificacy.

IMG_2110The current exhibit at the Christopher Cutts Gallery, tucked away on Morrow ave in Toronto, showcases work from the Estate of Harold Town featuring large abstract paintings, a collection of prints and collages from the 1950s. This period correlates with the existence of the group of Canadian abstract artists known as Painters 11.  Here we see Town emerge from a successful magazine illustrator into an incredible fine abstract artists,  perhaps one of Canada’s finest.

morning door croppeddead cropped

Large canvases occupy the first of two spaces in the gallery.  The influence of fellow P11 member Oscar Cahen, who died in a car accident in 1956,  can be seen in some of the works such as “Doorway to Morning” and “Dead Boat Pond.”  With dark earthly tones and long reaching lines there is a familiarity in colour and shape with the great abstract works of Cahen.

IMG_2157IMG_3764However, Town is truly his own unique artist and masterpieces such as the large oil “Atlantis” demonstrate this. Technique and application is thrilling in these big beauts.  Paint scratched out, odd colour juxtaposition and impasto – “To Throw a Stone at Midnight” an excellent example of these – all recall the recent exhibit of Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Art Gallery of Ontario. But these Town works predate Basquiat by almost three decades.


The true highlight of this show is the Single Autographic Prints.  10 framed prints 20″x16″ dating 1955-1957 hang in the galleries second space.  There is a definite “wow” factor seeing these images in person and no photographic or digital representation can come close to the experience of first-hand viewing.  These are intricate, fertile creations.  Densely populated with overflowing experimentation and ideas.  Combining elements of collage and sculptural shapes these are brilliant works of art.  William Withrow, writing in Contemporary Canadian Painting (1972), said they were the most beautiful art objects ever created by a Canadian artist.  Not sure we’re going to give that title away but they are absolutely among some of the most astounding artworks these eyes have seen.  There are SAPs in the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, here’s an opportunity to see these great works of art for yourself.

More amazingly: all the works in the show are for sale!  & the exhibit has been extended until June 13 2015! If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, do yourself the favour of taking this rare opportunity to view master works of art by a true master artist. Harold Town is a Canadian treasure and his cultural contribution to the development of abstract art (within Canada and on a global scale) cannot be denied. Let’s celebrate Town in the most fitting manner: getting off on looking at his art.

Permission to share images of work courtesy of the Cutts Gallery

Hamilton Art Schools and Hortense Gordon

The Hamilton Art School moved into the Canada Life Building in October 1886. This building became known to Hamiltonians as the Birks Building in 1929. The most famous student of the Hamilton Art School, JEH MacDonald, who later went on to be a member of the Group of Seven, attended art classes at this location.

After John Gordon became principle in 1909, he amalgamated the art school with the Board of Education’s technical school at the site of the Hamilton Collegiate Institute. This new educational centre was called the Hamilton Technical Art School.32022191084520

In 1916, John Gordon hired his future wife, Hortense Mattice, to teach at the school. As enrollment grew, the technical and art departments moved to a new location of their own on Wentworth Street North in 1919. In 1923 the school was renamed to the Hamilton Technical Institute. Hortense became head of the art department during this time in 1934. In the 1950s, the school was restructured again and slightly renamed to the Hamilton Institute of Technology. Hortense stopped working at the school in 1951 and had her first solo exhibition in 1952.HG

During the 1960s, the Hamilton Institute of Technology eventually evolved into what became Mohawk College. The old sign for the Hamilton Institute of Technology, that used to hang on the Wentworth Street North building, currently resides within the Faculty of Engineering Technology at the Fennell campus of Mohawk College.



“Arts in Hamilton” Accessed March 19, 2015

“Our History” Accessed March 19, 2015

“Hortense Gordon” Accessed March 20, 2015


detail of William Ronald painting. Image of artwork used under permission of the Christopher Cutts Gallery.

Welcome to our Painters 11 blog and thank you for visiting. Look under the “Works by P11” menu to view photos of artwork by members. We would also like to thank the Christopher Cutts Gallery, Barbara Edwards Contemporary, The Cahén Archives, McMaster Museum of Art archives, Robert McLaughlin Gallery and the Ray Mead Estate for allowing us to make these images available to the general public.

Check back often for updates of the photographic and written kind.

If you have additional information about any of the members of P11 please get in touch with us