WILLIAM RONALD, R.C.A.
TWO WORKS FROM THE PRIME MINISTERS SERIES: SKETCH FOR BORDEN AND SKETCH FOR PEARSON
both oils on canvas
the second signed; both titled on the reverse, and ‘Borden” inscribed “R-82”
each 12 ins x 16 ins; 30.5 cms x 40.6 cms
Raised in Depression era hardship and deeply affected by the ramifications of wartime masculine identity, William Ronald (1926-1998) attended the Ontario College of Art, where his burgeoning avant-garde aesthetic was at times suppressed but ultimately fostered by teachers who were also resisting the predominance of traditionalism in Canadian art. His “rebel without a cause” personality fit the spirit of the times, and both his romantic bohemian lifestyle and his large, colourful and non-objective canvases found a receptive audience during the frenzied years of Abstract Expressionist celebrity in New York City. Ronald experimented with several different styles and methods of abstraction, ranging from hard-edge paintings to live performances, where he would travel from place to place, dressed in all white with music blaring and go-go girls dancing in the background. He explored the visceral qualities of paint and the objectness of the canvas itself in his “tube” paintings, where heavy layers of oil paint were applied directly from the tube onto the canvas, and later from a caulking gun. This libidinal energy contrasts with the rather more conservative subject matter of the Prime Ministers series that was to follow (see lot 75). Completed between 1977 and 1984, Ronald demonstrates, with both his life and paintings, “that Canadians - prime ministers and artists alike - are a intensely interesting lot if we just put down our preconceptions and look at them without flinching”.
Ronald’s series speaks to the strengths and weaknesses of our leaders. “Borden” is depicted as a rush of blue, a central circular shape and a noticeably textured surface to evoke his initial political shortfalls, the difficulties of being a wartime Prime Minister and his lasting role in demanding greater autonomy for all nations of the Dominion. Ronald admitted that “Pearson” was a difficult one to paint, as he was a complex man that managed to see Canada through some of the most tense moments in recent history, mainly the Quebec nationalist movement, and introduced many of the tenets of what we now consider essential to being a Canadian: bilingualism, universal health care, a pension plan, NATO, mutually beneficial trade agreements with the United States and perhaps most significantly, the creation of the Canadian flag. The repeated flag motif stands out through a gradient colour scheme, subtle framing and sketch like lines. Ronald argued “the flag could not be ignored. When you see it flying away from home, it matters”.
Robert Belton, The Theatre of the Self: The Life and Art of William Ronald, University of Calgary Press, Calgary, 1999, pages xvi and 79.
William Ronald, The Prime Ministers. Exile Editions Limited, Toronto, 1983, page 83.