Catalogue entry

Toni Onley born 1928

T00562 Polar No.1 1961

Inscribed 'Onley 61' b.r.
Oil on canvas collage, 46 1/8 x 55 (117 x 139.5)
Presented under the terms of the Samuel and Ayala Zacks Award 1963
Exh: 83rd Annual Exhibition, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Toronto Art Gallery, January-February 1963 (56); Memorial University of Newfoundland, St John's, March-April 1963 (56); Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, Kingston, April 1963 (56); Toni Onley, Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London, July-August 1965 (42); Painting in Canada, Canadian Government pavilion, Expo 67, Montreal, April-September 1967 (25, repr.)
Lit: Robert Ayre, 'Canadian Painting' in Museums Journal, LXII, 1963, p.261, repr. p.258

This work received the first $2,000 Samuel and Ayala Zacks Purchase and Gift Award, being selected from the 1963 exhibition of the Royal Canadian Academy by the Director of the Tate Gallery, Sir John Rothenstein. Under the terms of the Award the head of an art gallery or museum was invited each year to act as adjudicator, and the prizewinning work was then presented to his gallery 'as a permanent gift and example of Canadian art'.

The artist wrote (7 January 1977) that the 42 paintings in this series known as 'Polar' were all central image works, that is to say the shapes did not relate to the framed edge in any direct way. (This bothered him after a while, so he started working with only two or three shapes connected to the canvas edges in order to describe the empty spaces between). The word polar relates to the central image character of these works and not to the north pole or north magnetic pole which he was not to visit until 1974, though he probably also had the north in mind at the time. There was no direct connection with landscape, except that he was working then with what one could call landscape space.

He first started using collage about 1958 in Mexico. He had been making a series of landscapes which had become very stylised, with repetitive shapes. In frustration he tore the papers into small pieces. He was working at that time in the winter palace of the Duke of Canal, using the dining-room as his studio. The floor was covered with odd shapes where they fell. Combinations started to emerge as he studied them. Picking them up gingerly he pinned them to a board, and before he was fully aware of what he was doing he had created a painting containing shapes and spaces 'that would have broken my arm to draw the day before.' This became his method of working until 1963.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.574-5, reproduced p.574