Art at the Library - the Harold Town Frieze

July 29, 2011 | Alyson

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Townefriezeentrance When you enter the atrium to the North York Central Library from the south,  look up and you'll see a glorious frieze of 15 tiles created by a Canadian icon, Harold Town.  The frieze was re-installed here from its original location outside the Gladys Allison Library, the "old" North York Central Library.

Harold Town (1924-1990) lived most of his life in Toronto. He even worked in the same Studio Building that members of the Group of Seven painted in (blogged about here).  He was a founding member of the "Painters Eleven," a group of Toronto abstract expressionist painters which included Jack Bush and Jock Macdonald who were inspired by contemporary post-war American artists such as Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock. 

Town was an extremely versatile artist who worked in several media, including paint, illustration, collage, printmaking and sculpture. In fact, William Withrow called him the Picasso of Canada.  He was just as famous for his caustic wit and for being something of a dandy. CBC interviewed the man four years before he died. 

 Harold Town isn't much talked about these days.  Robert Fulford was a champion of his work and has this to say about an artist's legacy: "When finally a painter's death is accepted by everyone who cared about his work, all the art that he made achieves a kind of equality of opportunity. Each of his works can now press its nose against the glass of history, demanding a place. Each has its chance, because the favouritism of the painter has ceased to be a factor. Time and history slowly do their work, choices are made, and the body of the artist's work, now free from the artist himself, reconfigures itself according to a freshly evolving sensibility. All going well, it then discovers its proper place in the world that the artist never lived to see." (Magnificent Decade: the art of Harold Town).  So, next time you come to the library, look up and admire the view.


What do the symbols mean?


The Roman letter A






 A Rune from The Kensington Stone









 An L from the state of Assam, India







 A Cree letter







A Semitic A








A Chinese pictograph; the symbol for man




Toronto Public Library owns several titles on Harold Town.  Here are just a few:

Town, works on paper 1952-1987

Magnificent Decade: Harold Town 1955-1965