Greg Curnoe

About the Artist

Gregory Richard Curnoe was born in 1936 in London, Ontario. He took an art course at Beal Technical and Commercial Collegiate in London before spending a short time at the Doon School of Art near Kitchener, Ontario, in 1956.  He studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design from 1957 to 1960.

Curnoe flunked out of the Ontario College of Art and Design and he once claimed he had learned nothing there. His teachers promoted  abstractImagery which departs from representational accuracy, to a variable range of possible degrees. Abstract artists select and then exaggerate or simplify the forms suggested by the world around them.  (   expressionism(with an upper-case E — the more specific sense) An art movement dominant in Germany from 1905-1925, especially Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, which are usually referred to as German Expressionism, anticipated by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828), Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853-1890), Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903) and others. See an article devoted exclusivly to Expressionism, which includes examples of Expressionist works, quotations, etc.  (  and believed, he said, “in a culture that had no connection with popular culture.” (Newlands, 2000)

Curnoe began exhibiting his work while he was still in art school. He returned to his hometown after leaving the Ontario College of Art and Design and established a studio. He joined with a number of other local young artists to form a community that founded a magazine (called Region) and ran the Region Gallery from 1962 to 1963.

Curnoe was a founding member of the Nihilist Spasm Band, which also included fellow Beal grad Murray Favro. Curnoe and his friends also formed the Nihilist Party of Canada, which featured two campaign songs: “Don’t Vote” and “Close the 49th Parallel.” These seemingly frivolous activities reflected his deeply held beliefs that Toronto art was imitating New York art. Curnoe willingly declared himself a regionalist, and many other artists later followed his lead. “He made himself and other Londoners known across Canada as celebrants of their community,” critic Robert Fulford later wrote.

Among Curnoe’s early artistic influences were comic books, which he said showed him that words and images should accompany one another, and Dadaism, an anti-intellectual reaction to prevailing social and  aestheticPertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics.  values that flourished briefly around 1916-1920. Curnoe was primarily attracted to Dada’s distinction between art and life.

Curnoe’s work, like his life, was quirky and often unruly. In the early 1960s his works had a  Pop ArtAn art movement and style that had its origins in England in the 1950s and made its way to the United States during the 1960s. Pop artists have focused attention upon familiar images of the popular culture such as billboards, comic strips, magazine advertisements, and supermarket products. Leading exponents are Richard Hamilton (British, 1922-), Andy Warhol (American, 1928?1930?-1987), Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), Claes Oldenburg (American, 1929-), Jasper Johns (American, 1930-), and Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-). (  look, but toward the end of the decade they took on more local,  diaristicPertaining to keeping a diary/journal.  and textual concerns. For example, one of his paintings of the Victoria Hospital in London was accompanied by eight typewritten pages that identified 120 different things that took place during the two years in which the  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (  was being made, each designated by a number painted onto the surface.  Curnoe’s close friend George Bowering recalls:

I remember when Greg started making the lettered landscapes, really big ones. He got the large rubber stamps handmade by a guy who charged him five dollars each for the letters and the other things, question marks and so on. The guy made a left parenthesis and a right parenthesis. Greg paid five dollars for the "(" [right bracket] and another five dollars for the ")" [left bracket]. Really stupid, Greg said. When they were in the box he couldn’t tell which was which.  (Bowering, 1993)

In the 1970s, Curnoe, who was a charter member of the London Centennial Wheelers, began to paint images of the racing bicycles that fascinated him. These illustrated his interest in technology,  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (  and  modernistModernism is an art movement characterized by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression that distinguish many styles in the arts and literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  art. Sadly, Curnoe was killed in 1992 in an accident while cycling with his fellow Centennial Wheelers.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning