Painters Eleven

Primordial Fire, Jock Macdonald, (1957).

Apparently Canadian artists are really big on using numbers in their names. Painters Eleven (also known as P11) were an influential group of artists active from 1953 to 1960. Eleven abstract painters from Ontario: Jack Bush, Oscar Cahén, Hortense Gordon, Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Jock Macdonald, Ray Mead, Kazuo Nakamura, William Ronald, Harold Town, and Walter Yarwood came together and went on to hold their first exhibition at the Roberts Gallery in Toronto in 1954. Their exhibition was actually the first major commercial exhibition of abstract expressionist art in Toronto.

Top: (L-R) Tom Hodgson, Alexandra Luke, Harold Town, Kazuo Nakamura, Jock Macdonald, Walter Yarwood, Hortense Gordon, Jack Bush, and Ray Mead. The two canvases facing forward represent the late Oscar Cahén and the canvases facing the wall are for William Ronald who had left the group in 1957. (Peter Croydon, 1957). [Source]

Although abstract art has much earlier roots, P11 was all about the relatively new abstract expressionism movement that began to develop in New York during the 1940s and the 1950s. Art historian Denise Leclerc describes P11 as “ambitious.” They wanted to “create an impact, to make a statement about the importance abstract art was assuming in international circles and in their own work.” (Nowell). At the time, Canada wasn’t feeling the abstract vibe yet. Landscape paintings still dominated the art scene. Even more modernist styles, such as impressionism, were considered controversial—so you can imagine critics reactions to their first show.

Garden, Alexandra Luke, (1958). P11 initially formed in her in Oshawa home in 1953.

To learn more about each artist, please click on the images below:

Despite their nationality and having a number in their name, P11 were quite unlike the Group of Seven. They did not have a united artistic vision. They were a diverse group of individuals. Their different ages spanned across decades, their backgrounds varied, as did their occupations. What united them was their commitment to abstract expressionism and solidifying its place in the Canadian art scene.

Watercolor, Kazuo Nakamura (1953)

As such, when they felt that they had achieved their goal, P11 voted to disband. By 1960, their work had been embraced by audiences and critics, their art adorned the walls of commercial and public galleries, and P11 were considered to be at the top of their game—what better time to go out? On a latter note, they were technically “P9” by this time because Oscar Cahén had died in a car crash in 1956 and William Ronald had left the group. Although some of the more senior members would pass away over the next couple of years, the younger ones went on to have storied careers and influenced Canadian art for years to come.

So what do you think of the artwork by Painters Eleven? Are you a fan of abstract art or do you prefer other styles?


“Painters 11,” The Robert McLaughlin Gallery. Accessed from:

“Painters Eleven Exhibition,” Thielsen Gallery. 2010. Accessed from: (Lots of great pictures!)

Nowel, Iris, P11 Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2010.

Shearer, Lynda M. “Painters Eleven,” Canadian Art Group. Accessed from:

Zemans, Joyce, “Painters Eleven,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed from:

If you would like to see their works in person, check out the P11 collections at the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and especially the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.


11 thoughts on “Painters Eleven

  1. fbrzez says:

    I was never a big fan of Abstract Expressionism, but as a former art history student I’m really interested to see the influences of earlier Modernist artists in these paintings (e.g. a lot of Vasily Kandinsky).

    Also, Tom Hodgson “enjoyed painting his wives, lovers, and children.” Oh, artists… :/


    • cadeauca says:

      Well, I figured out why your comments weren’t showing up! For some reason WordPress flagged them as spam (which makes no sense). Step it up, WordPress.

      I just looked up Kandinsky and you’re right, his influence is very apparent. Especially with that Jock Macdonald example I used. Thanks for the heads up about that!

      Also, Tom Hodgson “enjoyed painting his wives, lovers, and children.” Oh, artists… Hahahaha, I know right?


      • fbrzez says:

        Oh that’s weird, thanks for letting me know!

        Haha it definitely seems like you couldn’t be a modern artist without another wife or a lover or two in the wings…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. fbrzez says:

    I wrote a comment earlier but I don’t think it posted (sorry if it did!) so I’ll write it again: I just wanted to say I’ve never been a fan of Abstract Expressionism but as a former art history student it’s really interesting to see the influence of earlier Modernist artists in these paintings (e.g. a lot of Vasily Kandinsky).

    Also, Tom Hodgson “enjoyed painting his wives, lovers, and children.” Oh, artists… :/


  3. LT says:

    Great read, as always! Would you mind if I tweeted this post to the RMG tomorrow? I’m sure they’d be happy to see one of their collection highlights being talked about! If you’ve never been, it truly is a fabulous gallery!


  4. cadeauca says:

    Thank you for your lovely comment and for offering to tweet the post to the RMG. That’s very sweet of you. Sadly, I haven’t been but I bet the gallery is fabulous! I definitely need to make it out to Oshawa soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. painters11 says:

    Although their artist vision was different, there actually are some interesting similarities between the P11 and Go7: Members of both started their careers in illustration and graphic design (even working for the same firm, Grip); Harold Town worked in the famous Go7 Studio Building in Toronto for years; Jock MacDonald was friends with Lawren Harris.


    • cadeauca says:

      Thank you very much for comment! It’s very interesting to read about the similarities and the differences between the two groups. Fascinating blog as well!


  6. Sue Archer says:

    It’s fascinating to see how many different ways abstract art can be expressed. I like most of the pictures here, but I’m used to seeing more modern abstract art that I find impossible to connect with (I like to have an emotional reaction to art other than boredom.)

    I’m trying to picture impressionism being considered too radical. It seems so funny now! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • cadeauca says:

      In the same way it is interesting to see the various ways abstract art can be expressed, it’s equally interesting hearing people’s different interpretations and what emotions they feel when looking at a particular painting. It’s hard to find two people who take away the exact same thing from one painting.

      Ha, when I read about impressionism being controversial, I was like, “………” Art history is hilarious sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

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