Day Neon 1953
Harold Town, Day Neon (detail), 1953
Oil on Masonite, 91.1 x 63.5 cm
Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa
Shown in 1955 at the second Painters Eleven group exhibition, Day Neon offers an exuberant display of linear drawing with the painter’s brush. Town fills in some of the areas between the lines, creating coloured planes, which then have more drawing superimposed on them. The lines are repeated and reinforced, building a Cubist grid that fills the frame with verticals and diagonals that suggest human figures or machine parts in movement.
Town’s method of allowing forms to emerge through drawing is similar to the Surrealist automatism practised by the Automatistes in Montreal in the 1940s, and by New York painters Arshile Gorky (1904–1948), Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), and Willem de Kooning (1904–1997). As well, the colliding diagonals and sense of continuous movement recall the visual language of the action comics featuring Captain Marvel and Minute-Man that Town loved during boyhood.
The painting’s title points to an urban scene; the neon lights of Toronto’s developing streetscape are a frequent theme in Town’s work at this time. He believed that great formal art could be inspired by the modern urban scene: “I suddenly realized these signs were beautiful, all those gorgeous blues, and I realized that if an Egyptian from the time of one of the great Pharaohs were to walk down the street he would have found them a mystery, an overwhelming mystery. There’s everything there.”