William Ronald

William Ronald

1926 - 1998

Born in Stratford, Ontario, William Ronald attended the Ontario College of Art. In 1952 he traveled to New York, where he studied with Hans Hoffman. He returned to Toronto in the fall of that year, and became involved with the abstract modernist group Painters Eleven, participating in their pivotal shows Abstracts at Home at Simpson’s department store in 1953 and their first formal exhibition at Roberts Gallery in 1954. In 1955, Ronald returned to New York, and while he was living there, the Museum of Modern Art acquired one of his paintings and he was awarded a prize from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Kootz Gallery offered him a contract and a retainer, and in 1957 he had his initial solo show there, attended by luminaries such as Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and critic Clement Greenberg. In 1957 he moved to Kingston, New Jersey, where he painted in a studio in a barn. This was a successful and stable period – more American museums acquired his work, and in 1958, along with Harold Town, he represented Canada at the Brussels World Fair.

Becoming disenchanted with changes in the art world in New York, which he was being pressured to reflect in his work, and disturbed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Ronald returned to Toronto in 1965. He began to show with Mirvish Gallery, and gave art lessons. Ronald was well known for his dramatic and outspoken personality, and in 1965 CBC offered him a job hosting his own television show The Umbrella, which went on the air in 1966. It had an exciting creative format – involving interviews with such art luminaries as Marcel Duchamp, painting on set and jazz music. From 1968 to 1969 Ronald co-hosted the CBC radio show As It Happens. In 1969, Ronald was commissioned to produce a large-scale mural for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Ronald often painted in a larger scale, and he exhibited with Jerrold Morris International Gallery, Gallery Quan, Gallery Dresdnere and the Moore Gallery in Hamilton. In 1977 he undertook his Prime Ministers series. Over seven years he painted all 16 of Canada’s prime ministers, and the group was acquired by a private collector and donated to the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. In 1987 he showed at Galerie d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, and in 1986 a retrospective was mounted at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He had another retrospective at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in 1989.

In 1996, an exhibition at Christopher Cutts Gallery showcased an exuberant group of works featuring his central image format. In that same year he moved to Barrie, Ontario, where he died in 1998.