Harold Town at Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto

By Terence Dick

The end of summer is always a melancholy time, but this year it was accompanied by the realization that it had also been six months since I’d been in an art gallery. The hardest part of the pandemic at this point, for those of us who have been lucky enough to stay healthy, is that the end isn’t in sight. The constant anxiety of vigilance exhausts the spirit, so I was looking for something outside of the now, something that would tell me this too shall pass. The historical snapshot of Canadian painter Harold Town’s work from the 1970s at Christopher Cutts Gallery seemed like the medicine I needed.

Harold Town, Park No. 59, 1973-74, oil and lucite on canvas

Overloaded abstractions that snapped with colour and kept the eye jumping through Op Art effects or stylistic mash-ups reflected a creative optimism I needed to remember in order to refresh my stunted state of perpetual waiting. I found things to pull me out of my doldrums as I perused vibrating contrasts in Town’s late sixties series of two-coloured curved geometries and then I got my ass kicked by the searching at work in the more complex canvases that went to the edge of – and sometimes fell over – what you can and should do with paint.

Harold Town, Silent Light No. 11, 1968-69, oil and lucite on canvas

These things that I knew I would find, that I was looking for, that yanked me from the here and now, were also what left a stale aftertaste in my mind in the days following my visit. It felt like a guilty pleasure to get wrapped up in Town’s world of controlled splatters butting up against hard lines and erratic geometry. I was using his abstraction as a distraction from my lived experience, hiding in the gallery with works I was sceptical could survive the dramas of the outside world. It’s not fair to hold art accountable for giving me a reason to keep going, but I have to admit that this exhibition only took me so far. The paintings failed me because they were too optimistic at a time when that feels like a luxury. And I was guilty of indulging myself in their temporary pleasures as a form of escape. Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself and Town’s work, but these are hard times.

Harold Town: Unlocking the Seventies continues until October 17.
Christopher Cutts Gallery: http://www.cuttsgallery.com/
The gallery is accessible.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow him on Twitter @TerenceDick.