Our next Artist You Need To Know is Ray Mead (1921 – 1998). Mead was a Canadian abstract expressionist painter and a member of the artists group known as Painters Eleven.
Writing about an exhibition of Mead’s work at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 1988, art historian Joan Murray offered that “Mead’s drawing on the canvas was careful and deliberate, and at the same time there was a looseness and quirkiness about them. These characteristics made his canvases unique to Canadian art.” In a 1977 interview Mead stated: “I felt Canada gave me a sense of colour much more than a sense of horizons.”
Mead was originally from the United Kingdom, and his grandmother was a significant early influence on him: she often took him to the Tate, the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He would study under John Nash and Randolph Schwab at the Slade School of Art in London (from the age of 15 to 18, until in 1939 he joined the Royal Air Force to train as a fighter pilot at the start of WW II).
After a crash-landing during his career as a flying officer in 1941, Mead was posted to Hamilton, ON, in Canada, and upon his recovery was posted to the United States to train their bomber pilots for the ongoing war. In a continuation of his formative visits to galleries as a child, Mead often travelled to New York City and was deeply impacted by “American culture and the New York art scene [especially the paintings of Stuart Davis and Franz Kline]. It was a time that dramatically impacted his mind set and brought a new freedom into his art making. He made the decision to remain in Canada and he settled in Hamilton. It was there that he met and established a friendship with Hortense Gordon an artist who had trained with Hans Hoffmann. Gordon became an important mentor for Mead and further supported his movement into abstraction.” (from here) Gordon and Mead would later become core members of the Painters Eleven. Mead also chose to stay in Canada instead of returning to the U.K. after WW II.
While establishing himself as a painter, Mead worked for Maclaren Advertising in Toronto as art director: when this job took him to Montréal in 1958, Mead met Quebec abstract artists such as Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant. They would also inform Mead’s aesthetic, as well as the works of American Robert Motherwell.
Important early exhibitions were mounted at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (1948) and the Art Gallery of Toronto (later to be the AGO, in 1950). Mead was a member of the Ontario Society of Artist’s (OSA); he participated in their seminal 1950 exhibition “which was a brave foray into the world of abstraction.” (from here) Mead’s colleagues in the OSA would lead to the formation of the Painters Eleven: “seven of these [members of the group], including Mead, showed in the infamous Simpson’s show Abstracts at Home in 1953. Over the next decade Mead was included in fifteen Painters Eleven Exhibitions including a New York show at the Riverside Museum in 1956. Mead’s work was included in shows at the National Gallery of Canada in 1956, 1972 and 1992.” (from here) His work was praised by Clement Greenberg when the critic visited Canada in the late 1950s (this is notable as the Painters Eleven enjoyed recognition in the international sphere before being acclaimed appropriately in Canada – an old and recurring story in Canadian culture that would also happen with the next major group of Canadian painters, whom the Painters Eleven had strong ties with, Les Automatistes). The Painters Eleven disbanded in 1960.
He returned to Toronto in 1987: Mead was a prolific painter who was creating work until his passing in 1998. The Howard Scott Gallery in New York City mounted a posthumous retrospective of his paintings that same year.
Ray Mead had an extensive exhibition history through out his career: later in his career he showed almost exclusively with the Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto, but notable showings of his work have taken place across Canada and beyond. These include at M13 Gallery (NYC), Galerie Dresdnere (Toronto, ON), Art Gallery of Algoma (Sault Ste. Marie, MI), The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Montreal) and Ray Mead in Europe ’89, which travelled to Amsterdam and The Hague (Holland), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Madrid (Spain). A more extensive list of his exhibitions can be read here.
Mead’s works can be found in numerous collections, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, National Gallery of Canada, Robert McLaughlin Gallery (Oshawa), Art Gallery of Hamilton, Museum London, McKenzie Art Gallery (Regina), Lethbridge University Art Gallery, Glenbow Museum (Calgary), Art Windsor – Essex, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Carlton University Art Gallery (Ottawa), University of Toronto Art Gallery, Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa), University of Toronto Art Gallery, Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Laurentian University Art Gallery (Sudbury) and York University (Toronto).
A 2015 / 2016 retrospective exhibition Living Within (at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery) references another quote by Mead: “…a painter really must paint within the history in which he is living.”