signed and dated '57 lower left
In the late 1950s, Toronto was beginning to bubble with fresh and revolutionary artistic activity. Painters Eleven had brought abstraction to staid Ontario, and right behind them was another generation of artists ready to push even further and more insistently. Among these younger and brasher talents was Graham Coughtry, who carved out a leading place for himself among the artists in his circle: Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Gordon Rayner, Robert Markle, Dennis Burton, Robert Hedrick, and Rick Gorman.
In 1957, when this red-hot canvas was created, Coughtry was on the cusp of creating the large, expansive, and glowing paintings of figures that came to represent his substantial and enduring contribution to Canadian art. And like his contemporaries, these harbingers of what was about to emerge showed some of the influences that Coughtry had already adapted into his own forms and methods – De Kooning, Monet, Bonnard, and Muybridge were all favourite artists. Coughtry's distinctive way of painting was already evident in a 1955 exhibition of his and Michael Snow's work at Hart House and in his first one-man show at Isaacs Gallery in 1956. His and Snow's work had many similarities then, but both were at that exciting moment when the cocoon opens and a butterfly is born.
What is exceptional in Coughtry's early work and what carried into his later work is his sensuous, thick, and expressive way of building up the mass of pigment into dramatic forms. He seems to paint with slabs of paint rather than brushstrokes. Without labouring, he creates, simultaneously, both structure and texture, which have complexity, nuance, and the richness of the finest brocade.
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