The Ties That Bind

Feeling connected is a fundamental psychological need. In nature, ecosystems depend on interactions and connections in order to thrive.  Similarly, humans flourish through connections that are physical, emotional, and social. However, the desire to connect can go beyond relationships. As we have seen through the pandemic, there are benefits to connecting to nature—it can calm your nervous system and help to experience the world around you more deeply. Exploring personal and collective histories can also connect us with our roots, and situate us within the wider community. It provides a sense of belonging and understanding that can help shape perspectives and a sense of self.

Sean McQuay (Canadian, b.1956), Island Pipes (The Maither/The Faither), 1992, oil on canvas. Purchase, 1993.

The RMG believes that art cultivates connected and caring communities, and engagement with the Permanent Collection plays an important role in fostering this. With over 4,700 artworks, the shape and understanding of the Collection is continuously evolving through the acquisition of new work and exploration within exhibitions. This thematic Permanent Collection exhibition takes inspiration from the title of a new acquisition by Shellie Zhang entitled The Ties that Bind.

Shellie Zhang (Canadian, b. Beijing 1991), The Ties that Bind, 2018, chromogenic print. Purchase of the RMG, 2021.

After two years of feeling disconnected, this exhibition pulls together artwork that reflects on the different ways we seek connections, whether through relationships, finding peace and perspective in nature, or exploring shared histories.

Kazuo Nakamura: Universal Pattern

Born in 1926 in Vancouver, BC, Kazuo Nakamura was interested in art at an early age. As a teenager, he would pour over his uncle’s Japanese art magazines and explore the city with a sketchbook in hand. In 1939, he began his formal art training at the Vancouver Technical Secondary School where he was taught by Jock Macdonald—an artist known for his modernist approach and a future fellow member of Painters Eleven.  In 1941, his art training was cut short when he and his family were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Tashme, BC. Between doing labour in the camp and attending high school classes in the evening, Nakamura still found time to sketch and paint. He and his family spent two years interned before the Canadian government forcefully relocated them to Hamilton. Nakamura would eventually settle in Toronto where he picked up his formal art training again at the Central Technical School (1948-1951). In Toronto, he quickly became a part of the Toronto art scene thanks to his relationship with both Albert Franck and Jock Macdonald.

Photograph of Kazuo Nakamura at Painters Eleven in Retrospect exhibition opening, 1972, at the RMG.

Kazuo Nakamura was a founding member of Painters Eleven (1953-60), Ontario’s first abstract art collective. In 1953, he was approached by William Ronald to participate in the Abstracts at Home exhibition that played a central role in the formation of Painters Eleven that same year. Although sharing in the other members’ use of abstraction, Nakamura’s work was distinguished within the group by his use of more subdued brushstrokes, simpler structures and monochromatic palette. When reflecting on the influence of Painters Eleven to his art, Nakamura believed he benefited most from the opportunities for exhibition. He also developed lasting relationships that continued post the disbanding of the group.

Kazuo Nakamura (Japanese Canadian, 1926-2002), Number Structure 2, 1983, oil on linen. Courtesy of the Estate of Kazuo Nakamura.

Nakamura’s fascination with science and mathematics is evident throughout his career through his use of patterns, linear perspectives, and geometric forms. From the earliest landscapes and abstractions to his later mathematical explorations, Nakamura was seeking patterns in nature. He considered his most important work to be his Number Structure series, done later in his career, where he explored how the language of numbers reveal patterns and structures in the natural world. Curator Dennis Reid summed up what Nakamura was seeking: “Kaz was passionate about understanding the universe he lived in and conveying that understanding to others.” Nakamura’s Number Structure series connects all of his artistic explorations together, directly linking his interest in science and art. In 1956, Nakamura explained in an interview with art critic Robert Fulford his belief that science and art are deeply connected: “…I think there’s a sort of fundamental universal pattern in all art and nature… In a sense, scientists and artists are doing the same thing. This world of pattern is the world we are discovering together.”

Kazuo Nakamura (Japanese Canadian 1926 – 2002), Morning Landscape, 1953, ink wash on paper. Purchase, 1991.

Drawing primarily from the RMG’s permanent collection, this exhibition pulls together works that reflect the scope of Nakamura’s artistic career and his constant search for truth and understanding of the world around him.

Canadian Artists Abroad

This complete exhibition can be found on our Google Arts and Culture page.

Canadian art has been shaped by generations of artists finding inspiration and perspective in their life experiences. For many artists, travelling to new places is an exciting avenue to find new perspectives and discover something that sparks their imagination.

This exhibition features a variety of Canadian artists who travelled abroad to develop their artistic skills or find inspiration. Their travels often shaped their art, introducing new ideas and styles to Canadian audiences.


T. Mower Martin (Canadian, b. England, 1838 – 1934), Landscape Near Canterbury, Kent, England, 1905/07, watercolour on paper. Donated by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, 1988, gift of Mr. and Mrs.
Theodore Lande.

Alexandra Luke and Isabel McLaughlin: Painters and Patrons

This complete exhibition is available on our Google Arts and Culture page.

Canadian artists Alexandra Luke and Isabel McLaughlin were instrumental to the history and development of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG). Their invaluable support helped shape the gallery, including substantial financial support for the building and donations of artworks. Pulling together works by Luke and McLaughlin from the RMG’s collection, this exhibition celebrates these two incredible women as not only influential benefactors, but also important artists in their own right, who contributed greatly to modernist painting and abstraction in Canada.

Alexandra Luke (Canadian, 1901 – 1967), Observance to a Morn of May, c. 1957, oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. R. S. McLaughlin, 1979.

Come Together

Over the last couple of years, Oshawa’s popular community events, such as live music performances, Fiesta Festival, Pride, and the Peony Festival, shifted to digital formats. With plans for a return to in-person events, this exhibition reflects on ways Oshawa residents gathered in the past and celebrates the importance of community coming together in celebration or common interest.

Events and gatherings mark important community moments and offer a reprieve from everyday life. The photographs in this exhibition feature many of these moments including friends playing a round of billiards, crowds enjoying a day at the beach, and the community coming out to support troops being deployed or returning home. Other events depict groups gathering for a shared interest, whether marching for labour rights or rallying together through difficult times.

After a long two years with few in-person events, the photographs in this exhibition depict the sense of community gained when people come together and the virtues of creating genuine connections with those around us.

Complete Freedom

Painters Eleven was the first abstract artist collective in Ontario. They were founded in 1953 at the cottage of artist Alexandra Luke on the Oshawa/Whitby border. The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s collection began in 1967 when artist Alexandra Luke, a member of the Painters Eleven, donated thirty-seven works from her private collection. Luke’s donation of art included work by all of the members of Painters Eleven and helped to establish the RMG’s unique focus on collecting and exhibiting the work of Painters Eleven. Today, the RMG’s collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by Painters Eleven has grown to over 1000 works, including works from before and after the Painters Eleven years (1953-1960). The RMG has regular exhibitions featuring works by the group, pulling together different aesthetics or themes.

Rather than having a common philosophy or style, Painters Eleven banded together around their shared desire to support abstraction and exhibit together. As Jock Macdonald noted: “The meaning of our group is the fact that we think alike about creativeness in art and the unity established is our power.” Rather than a manifesto, the group settled on a statement: “There is no manifesto here for the times. There is no jury but time. By now there is little harmony in the noticeable disagreement. But there is a profound regard for the consequences of our complete freedom.” (1955)

Recent Acquisitions: Abstraction

The foundation of the RMG’s Permanent Collection was an initial donation of 37 works by Alexandra Luke in 1967. This gift set the original focus on Painters Eleven and contemporary Canadian Art, which continues to shape our collecting priorities today. Over the years, the Collection has grown to include nationally significant works of modern Canadian abstraction, the largest holding of Painters Eleven in the world, and an expanding collection of contemporary art. These areas will continue to be enhanced alongside an intention to collect historically excluded artists to reflect a more holistic, diverse, and equitable and reflective history of Canadian art.

This exhibition features recent acquisitions to the Permanent Collection from the past five years, focusing on works that tell the ongoing history of abstraction in Canada. Included in the exhibition are recent acquisitions of works by Painters Eleven, early examples of important Canadian modernism, and contemporary abstract paintings. Abstraction is an important part of the RMG’s story, and this exhibition highlights our efforts to expand and strengthen this part of our history.

Who were Painters Eleven? And why are they important to the RMG?

Painters Eleven was the first abstract artist collective in Ontario. They were founded in 1953 at the cottage of artist Alexandra Luke on the Oshawa/Whitby border. Rather than having a common philosophy or style, the diverse group of artists banded together around their shared desire to support abstraction and exhibit together. As Jock Macdonald noted: “The meaning of our group is the fact that we think alike about creativeness in art and the unity established is our power.” The group was unified in their appreciation for each other’s work and a commitment to promoting abstraction. 

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery’s collection began in 1969 when artist Alexandra Luke, a member of the Painters Eleven, donated thirty-seven works from her private collection. Along with this donation of work that launched the RMG’s collection, she and her husband, Ewart McLaughlin, also gave a generous donation towards the construction of the first gallery building. Luke’s donation of art included work by all of the members of Painters Eleven and helped to establish the RMG’s unique focus on collecting and exhibiting the work of Painters Eleven.

Today, the RMG’s collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints by Painters Eleven has grown to over 1000 works, including works from before and after the Painters Eleven years (1953-1960). The RMG has regular exhibitions featuring works by the group, pulling together different aesthetics or themes. This exhibition features work by each member of Painters Eleven and shares a common aesthetic approach of clean lines and hard edges. In the 1960s, members such as Harold Town, William Ronald and Ray Mead experimented with the prevalent hard edge-style painting characterized by areas of flat colour with sharp edges. While these artists explicitly experimented with hard edge painting, the other members did not fully venture in this style but did commonly explore sharp lines and large colour fields. Constantly exploring abstraction, the members of Painters Eleven were not defined by abstract expressionism, but were committed to many new forms of abstraction.

Rolph Scarlett: Inner Vision

“The searching non-objective artist does not turn to nature for inspiration or direction; rather, he looks within himself, within his own soul, as he strives to cultivate that spark of inner vision which lies latent in all of us.” – Rolph Scarlett

Artist Rolph Scarlett described abstraction as the highest form of creative expression and wrote in-depth about his search for pure form. Born in Guelph, Ontario in 1889, Scarlett was a modernist painter, designer, and jeweler. He moved to New York City in 1908 where he studied briefly with the Art Students League before relocating to Los Angeles where he worked as a set and industrial designer.  In the 1920s, while on a trip to Europe, Scarlett met Paul Klee who encouraged him to experiment with spontaneous abstraction. After settling in New York City in 1937, Scarlett befriended Hilla von Rebay, the first director of the Guggenheim Museum and a champion of abstract art. Through this friendship, Scarlett would become dedicated to modernism and became a lecturer at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York (later renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). His early non-objective works show clear influence from Klee and Kandinsky, often featuring geometric elements, bright colours, and a rhythmic style. While the aesthetic interests of his inner circle, including Hilla Rebay and Rudolf Bauer, were focused on the expression of the spiritual through abstraction, for Scarlett it was about aesthetics and universal order. He was a prolific painter, who continued to explore abstraction until his death in 1984. His work is in many public and private collections including the Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

This exhibition features eleven works by Rolph Scarlett recently acquired by the RMG. These paintings exemplify a range of styles from geometric abstraction to his later looser and more expressive approach. The RMG continues to be committed to telling the story of modernism in Canada, and Rolph Scarlett played an important role in this history through his contributions to abstract art in North America.

Oshawa’s Jewel by the Lake

 Since the late 19th Century, Oshawa’s shores along Lake Ontario, that currently make up Lakeview Park, have been a popular summer destination. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Lakeview Park. Presented in partnership with the Oshawa Museum, this exhibition features historical photographs from the Thomas Bouckley Collection, looking back at the park’s rich history. Presented in tandem with the Oshawa Museum’s online exhibition Lakeview Park Oshawa, together these shows capture many important milestones of the last century in the park: www.lakeviewparkoshawa.wordpress.com

Part of the traditional hunting grounds of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island, the land in this area was divided after the arrival of European and American settlers in the late 1790s. In 1840, the first efforts were made to develop the Oshawa Harbour with the construction of the pier and breakwaters by the Sydenham Harbour Company.  The opening of the Harbour brought further settlement along the lake, including the construction of the homes that comprise the current Oshawa Museum.

As early as 1890, the area by the lake, referred to more generally as “Oshawa-on-the-Lake,” was used for summer recreation. In the summer, the Oshawa Railway ran an open aired streetcar from downtown to the lake, that transported beachgoers with 11 trips per day for a fare of 5 cents. In 1920, the McLaughlin family purchased the 44 acres of lakefront property in the name of General Motors of Canada. On July 16, 1920, General Motors then sold the land to the Town of Oshawa for $1, contingent that the land become a public park. While the area along the lakeshore had long been used as a park, this gift made the area public parkland and accessible to all. The name, Lakeview Park, was selected from approximately 240 submitted names and officially opened in late September. The occasion was presided over by Mayor Stacey and was marked with live music and free transportation to the park from the Oshawa Railway.

Lakeview Park has been enjoyed by citizens of Oshawa and beyond for over a century, and as we look back at its history to celebrate its 100th birthday, we are reminded of summer days gone by, cold wintry winds off the lake, and are filled with excitement for the future of this waterfront park.