Greg Curnoe: A rare glimpse into his early works


(Note: Greg Curnoe is also featured in the 150 Artists for Canada 150 series, here)

This is an artist you should know about.  I know Greg Curnoe’s works because I grew up in London, Ontario, where Curnoe was based, even after his art moved into the mainline. I also knew about him because he founded the Nihilist Spasm Band, an irreverent group of off-key artists who created their own noisemakers, a welcome diversion for those who at the time viewed London as an uptight, unrelentingly dignified city.


But Curnoe was far more than a local renegade, as is evident in a retrospective featuring rare studio paintings, collages and assemblages from the 1960s at Michael Gibson Gallery in London. The decade – and the city – were formative for Curnoe, who became an influential  national force, representing Canada internationally at events such as the Venice Biennale. (Top:Marg at Flamingo Manor / Oil & Damar & Latex Primer, Tape & Rubber-stamping on Plywood. Above: Jim About to be Cornholed by a Mail Bag / Oil, Rubber-stamping, Ink & Tape.)

curnoe-threepiece-Three Pieces (each panel 48 x 72″) Oil & Enamel on Masonite & Wood / Below: Back of Three Pieces (All images from Michael Gibson Gallery –  click images for original view.)

curnoe-back of three pieces

Curnoe was at core a painter, but also into sculpture, video and photography. During the years covered by the exhibition, he was 25 to 30 –  hungry for colour and a vast collector of culture, says proprietor Michael Gibson. He was also a leader in the growing movement to create art regionally, instead of in Toronto or Montreal.


-Assemblage with Pulley, Oil & Enamel on Metal on Wood, Found Objects

Greg Curnoe ’61-65 reveals that Greg was an important part of a larger group of artists – pushing, perhaps naïvely, their ideas of what art could be to the rest of Canada. There was very little money or adulation, but paintings were being painted, The Rolling Stones and John Coltrane were being discovered, and an eternal hope was in the air. -Michael Gibson exhibition notes.


Below: For Eliz, Hugh, Murray & Marsden / Oil, Wood, Cloth, Marking ink, Metal Sign on Plywood 48 1/2 x 36 x 22 in.


You can see the influence of Abstract Expressionism, jazz and Pop Art in Greg Curnoe’s work and he remained diabolically creative to the end of his life.  He died in a bicycle accident in 1992.

A comprehensive biography on the Art Canada Institute, here.

Michael Gibson Gallery exhibition website, here.

Curnoe at the National Gallery of Canada, here.

Robert Fulford, column on Greg Curnoe, here.

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