VALE VARIATIONS

November 17 - December 5, 2018

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Artist: Florence Vale | Pyramid of Roses, 1965

The Vale Variations

The Vale Variations are based upon a charming little ink drawing by artist Florence Vale, the wife of the late Albert Franck. At the time of writing there are already more than seventy works in this series, done over the past few months. As can be seen by looking at the works and what inspired them, they are variations in more than one sense of the word.

First of all, there are simple line drawings which follow the original quite closely. Then the improvisations on the theme begin. There are exotic colour variants. In some, sections of the original are isolated and dwelt on. There are abrupt changes in scale and proportion. The little angel on the cloud is sometimes absent, sometimes pushed into the distance and sometimes dominates the picture. Sometimes the foreground is stressed and sometimes the background. The different elements are moved freely about but are always recognizable. Sometimes there are even additions that have no counterpoint in the original.

The techniques used to make these drawings (they are mostly drawn in oil pastels) seem at first to be fairly straightforward. Yet in one Town has made each line with the aid of draughtsman's tool known as a French curve. In another he has created a great burst of chaotic colour in the pyramid by jumping up and down on it. He has exploited the use of coloured paper, used children's crayons, has smudged, scraped, hatched, rubbed and in one or two has created the illusion of collage.

From seeing these works together, one gets a remarkable opportunity to experience the process of Town's mind and art. The cumulative effect, as with the paintings, gives a truer picture of the intent and scale of Town's ingenuity.

Throughout all of these, Town has kept the spirit of the original. His variations have the same lightheartedness, the same sensuousness and the same pleasant charm. Above all he has kept the humour and whimsicality. In a time of difficult and complex art, this love for innocent delight is greatly welcome.

David P. Silcox
Harold Town: The First Exhibition of New Work, 1969-1973

Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, 1973




Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #181

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variation #181
(1977) 22.5 x 28.5 inches
brush and ink on paper

 


Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #72

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variation #72
(1972) 19.5 x 25.5 inches
pencil, oil paint, oil pastel & pencil pastel on yellow Canson paper

 

 

Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #181


Florence Vale and Harold Town at the exhibition Recent Vale Variations,
November 1975 (top left, Vale Variation #72)

 

 

 

Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #88

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variation #88
(1973) 19.5 x 25.5 inches
black crayon and pastel on paper

 

 

Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #16

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variation #16
(1972) 19.5 x 25.5 inches
pencil on yellow Canson paper

 

 

Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #149

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variation #149
(1972) 19.5 x 25 inches
white conté, oil pastel and ink

 

 

 

Artist: Florence Vale | Pyramid of Roses III, 1976

FLORENCE VALE
Pyramid of Roses III
(1976) 6 x 9 inches
pen & ink drawing

 

 

 

 
Artist: HAROLD TOWN | Vale Variation #81

HAROLD TOWN
Vale Variations
limited edition box set (2017)
7 linocuts | edition of 50

 

Great works of art often spring from modest beginnings. Harold Town's Vale Variations, which poured out over several years and numbered in the hundreds, were inspired by A Pyramid of Roses - a tiny 1965 ink drawing created by a friend, the artist Florence Vale. Town spotted it at her home on Hazelton Avenue, Toronto. Flory was married to Albert Franck, a painter known for his images of the back lanes of Toronto's working-class neighbourhoods. Town loved Flory and Alby, and he wrote a book about Franck's paintings.

Flory's drawing is 4 1/2 by 6 3/8 inches (11.43 by 16.19 cm). Christopher Chapman. a renowned filmmaker, adopted her title for his brilliant film Pyramid of Roses about Town's Vale Variations. Town's myriad versions first enchanted Chapman and then motivated him to create the film.

True to its title, though in black and white, A Pyramid of Roses is a seaside scene that includes a pyramid made of roses and six cavorting nude ladies. Three are reposing on the pyramid - two vertically and one aslant and upside down on the right edge; one is standing to the right of the pyramid with arms outstretched and legs astride; and one is flat out on the ground beneath her. Left of the pyramid, the sixth lady is standing on her head supported by her arms and with legs akimbo; above her and the horizon line is a small sun about to set. Over them all, riding a cloud, is a winged angel or cherub with its back to us. A puffy cloud floats by on the angel's left.

Flory's scene is a touching fantasy conjured up by a dreamy combination of Henri Matisse-like nude dancers and Jean-Antoine Watteau's Utopian revellers on the idyllic island of Cythera. Town was captivated by the innocence, charm, and freedom the tableau represented. His various renderings infused every variation with an unforgettable redolence. They linger in the mind like a scent from the distant past.

In most of the Variations Town created, all the elements described above are present, even though they are often scrambled, as the word "variation" suggests, into different positions in his compositions. The sun is sometimes like a large balloon; the pyramid can be substantial in size or teeny, and the ladies are often deployed to different parts of the picture. Not infrequently, Town omits one or two of the elements, either inadvertently or on purpose.
What is heroic about Town's persistent infatuation was how many different ways he found to present this provocative drawing. It tested and exploited his greatest gifts - his graphic sense, his intuition, and his technical skills. His drawing ability, always strong, uncanny, and unerring, was used with delicate force. The largest variation is 24 1/2 by 3o inches (62.23 by 76.2 cm); the smallest, a linocut, is 4 1/2 by 5 inches (11.43 by 12.7 cm) - even smaller than Flory's original. Town did large drawings on paper and illustration board in black and white - in charcoal, conté, chalk pastel, and oil pastel; he did watercolours, etchings, linoleum prints, and silkscreen prints. Now and then, media were mixed or combined with collage, brush and ink, wax resist, and pen and crayon. Some were small, some very large. Some were subtle, some sassy, and some dreamily romantic.

Toward the end of his life, Town carved seven large linoleum blocks of the Vale Variations. He was unable to oversee their printing, but his will stipulated that the trustees of his estate were to have an edition of fifty printed. This we have now done at Open Studio in Toronto, where the printing was accomplished with a professional skill Town would have approved. Their elegance is revealed in a rich, deep black on soft, handmade Speedball Arnheim 1618 white paper, 245 grams per square metre - meaning that it's moderately heavy.

To present these masterful prints properly, the Town Estate engaged Don Taylor Bookbinders to make the handsome boxes for each suite of seven prints and the three introductory sheets. Stan Bevington at Coach House Books assisted with the Town signature imprint on the box and on the prints; Linda Gustafson designed the introductory pages; and Rosemary Shipton edited the text. Nine prints of each linocut are hors de commerce and were used, in part, to meet our obligation to the printer and Open Studio; five copies will be distributed privately by the Trustees of the Estate of Harold Town.

David P Silcox, CM
Massey College, Toronto
September 2017

 

 


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