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

November 14th, 2020 – March 28th, 2021

Ray Mead (Canadian, b. England, 1921 – 1998), Black, Orange, Blue, oil and graphite on canvas, 1961. Gift of the artist, 1971. Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

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.