The world changed dramatically between 1961-65. The racial and political angst of that time greatly contrasted with the youthful optimism of Greg Curnoe’s generation. With this exhibition, I want to show Greg as he was from the ages 25 to 30.
I believe that Greg was the original Pop artist in Canada. He was also a gifted leader, a young man hungry for colour, a vast collector of culture and a soon-to-be husband and father. The many people who I have spoken with, often repeat that Greg’s lifelong belief was that it all could be done from London.
Our exhibition, 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. This was a special time in the world for many reasons, but a very special time in Canada because of Greg Curnoe.
Greg Curnoe was born in London on November 19, 1936. From 1954-1956, Curnoe attended H. B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School in London and later studied art at Kitchener’s Doon School of Fine Arts (1956) and the Ontario College of Art in Toronto (1957-1960).
Upon returning to London in 1960, Curnoe became a highly motivated artist-community organizer. He co-organized the first art “happening” (1962), co-founded Region Magazine (1961-90), Region Gallery (1962-63) and the Forest City Gallery (1973- ). He also played a key role in the founding of the Nihilist Spasm Band (1965), a collection of artists that created “music” on homemade instruments. In 1968, along with Jack Chambers, Tony Urquhart and Kim Ondaatje, Curnoe became one of the first members of CARFAC, an artist collective that advocates for artists’ rights.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Curnoe exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. In 1967, Curnoe received a prestigious mural commission for the Dorval International Airport in Montreal. He represented Canada at the Sao Paulo Bienal (1969) and at the Venice Biennale (1976).
Curnoe’s artwork has been included in major exhibitions including “Heart of London” (1968) National Gallery of Canada, “Greg Curnoe: Retrospective” (1981) Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and “Greg Curnoe: Life & Stuff” (2001) Art Gallery of Ontario. His artwork is included in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, National Gallery of Canada, Oakville Galleries, Vancouver Art Gallery and in many other prominent public and private collections.
On November 14, 1992, Greg Curnoe was struck from behind while riding his bright yellow Mariposa bicycle with the London Centennial Wheelers. He was pronouced dead later that day at Strathroy Middlesex General Hospital. He is survived by his wife Sheila and children Owen, Galen and Zoe.