John Gould

Elected to The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1973

Born in Toronto, ON, 1929
 / Died in Barrie, ON, 2010

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About the Artist


The late Toronto draughtsman John Gould (1929–2010) is not well known, though a select account of what he did and saw makes him appear a bit like Woody Allen’s Zelig. He played a small part alongside Betsy Blair in Anatole Litvack’s 1953 film Act of Love (starring Kirk Douglas and Brigitte Bardot). That same decade he was in a jazz band with Michael Snow. In 1966, his short “Little Monday” was the only Canadian film selected for the Films on Art program at the Venice Biennale and, the next year, another short “Pikangikum” ran before In Cold Blood at theatres during its North American release. Gould painted sets for, and later was a radio and television personality on, the CBC. In 1970, Gould was brought to New York by famed mime Marcel Marceau to do a series of backstage portraits. Along with Marceau, collectors of Gould’s work include Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and actor/comedian Alan King.

This, along with a substantial record of private and public commissions, suggests Gould was a warm, appealing, gregarious artist. This is true, though he is not strictly likable—for that would imply both that he was overly concerned with being liked, which he was not, and that his art is not dark, challenging or even upsetting, which it often is. With declared influences like Al Hirschfeld, Ben Shahn, Hokusai and Leonardo, however, Gould did not, as many artists of his generation did, doubt that meaning could be conveyed. He did not suspect that drawing and painting had been exhausted. Nor did he shy away from extravagant gestures.

As his many drawings of Don Quixote imply, Gould was a populist modernist. An artist with a strong vocational pull, he unabashedly embraced the romance of his life’s work. Gould was a child of performers—a dashing, charismatic guy with a dark shock of a moustache and idols that included movie stars like Clark Gable and Buster Keaton. In the 1950s, he followed the path of the Beats, hitchhiking across the continent, an artist-tramp in search of inspiration. Field portraiture, in Mexico, Spain, Peru, Japan and Waubaushene, Ontario, where he made his career-pinnacle Ancestor series, would form the core of his practice, and define his intriguing experiments with film. Gould was inevitably part of a generation of Canadian artists—the Quebec abstractionists, the Vancouver conceptualists—for whom internationalism was novel and important. But for Gould, internationalism was praxis, not theory. In many ways, Gould is more distinctly Canadian than Snow, or Yves Gaucher, or Iain Baxter, for his internationalism humbly embraces the sensibility of the observer, one whose quiet exclusion engenders a unique and moving interest in acts of looking, of taking in.

John Gould’s drawings are largely expressionist, but still refined. And so it is that they occupy a strange place in the contemporary imagination, for their fine lines and cross-hatchings, often depicting Rembrandtian faces, are not in vogue, but neither are they over-determined or overdone. As a muralist, Gould did not hold back on finish. He wanted to master both big and small gestures. And he drew on everything, in a kind of lifelong dance with hand, medium and surface.

Above all, Gould was never uninterested in being himself. This boils down to an unassailably brave execution of style. All of Gould’s portraits reflect him: his face, his bearing, his philosophy. This is not vanity so much as radiant curiosity. In his work, John Gould says the same thing as one of his Waubaushene acquaintances, lovingly related in his journals: “Can’t you hear me looking at you?”


John Gould was born in Toronto on August 14th, 1929 and was the rare artist that committed his entire artistic career to the art of drawing. Attending the Ontario College of Art from 1948 to 1952, his early style was to be directly impacted by instructors such as Jack Nichols, and the viewing of mid-century abstract paintings at Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY, and in particular the work of Willem de Kooning. He took part in his first group exhibition Greenwich (Isaacs) Gallery in Toronto and, in 1960, won the Elizabeth T. Greenshield’s Fellowship for figurative painting. The fellowship helped fund a voyage to Spain (the first of many international travels), and his first one-man show at the famed Dorothy Cameron Gallery in 1961 was comprised largely of work done during that trip. Championed early on by Alan Jarvis (director of the National Gallery of Canada from 195-1960), Jarivs said, “Gould’s major work goes far beyond drawing as we commonly understand it.” (Canadian Art Magazine, 1961). During the early 1960’s he would participate in large exhibitions at University of Toronto’s Hart House and a group exhibition at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario) in 1965. It was also during this period that he began another important element of his practice, guided visual tours of his work eventually know as “Drawn Films”. The first of these films, “Little Monday”, would be screened at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 representing Canada in the category “Films About Art”. That same year, he began exhibiting at Roberts Gallery of Toronto where he would go on to be represented for more than 40 years. Drawings displayed at Roberts Gallery produced on a 1969 trip to Japan were viewed by famed mime Marcel Marceau, resulting in Marceau’s commissioning of Gould to draw him during his performances in New York in the spring of 1970. Around that time Gould moved to a cottage in the small community of Waubaushene in Northern Ontario, where he began to undertake the most complex and ambitious drawings of his career. The “Ancestor Series” — large-scale, densely crosshatched drawings made up of autobiographical elements, dream imagery and references from film history and literature were to be some of the most expressive and technically masterful work he was to produce. Four of these compositions and his films based on them were to be included in a group exhibition entitled “The Work of Art” in November of 1978 at the Art Gallery of Toronto. Central to his work was his need for spontaneity and improvisation, and his drawings from the 80’s and 90’s incorporated greater elements of collage and “ink-blotting” to provide a randomness he felt important to the vitality of his work. In 1996 Gould suffered a stroke that affected the right side of his body, and his skills as a draughtsman had to be re-learned (although, surprisingly, his abilities as a jazz clarinetist were unaffected), resulting in a technically simplified but expressively intense final period to his work. He passed away in Barrie, Ontario in January of 2010.


While noticing a camera move across some of his drawings during an episode of Alan Jarvis’ television program “Things We See” in 1961, Gould was inspired to make the first of his “Drawn Films”. These films, shot on 16mm with an Arriflex camera, were to be guided visual tour of Gould’s artwork using the common visual grammar of film. His first film, “Little Monday” (1966), based on drawing done in Mexico in 1965, was purchased by the CBC and screened at the 33rd Venice Biennale as the only Canadian Film accepted in the category “Films on Art”. This led to a commission from the National Film Board of Canada who produced the film “Pikangikum” which was released as a theatrical short in Odeon theatres in 1968. He went on to create over 30 films, the majority of them based on his drawings, but they also included a handful of cartoons and a few examples of pure studies of time and movement. To create these films, Gould worked with a group of individuals eventually known as “Gesture Films”. In addition to Gould, this group was made up of Roger Pyke (editor), John Griffin (camera) and Andrew Duesbury (music editor). Of these films Gould noted, “Camera scanning of still photos and paintings is not new. Historical and documentary film had used the devise, but, to my knowledge, our group has pioneered the technique of original drawings and paintings made by an artist specifically for the camera.” (The Drawn Image, Roberts Gallery Press, 1980). Gould’s films have screened at the Art Gallery of Ontario, film festivals around the world, including Vancouver, San Francisco, and New York and as a part of a special selection of films for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Winter Games.



John Gould
by David Balzer, for Eye Weekly
September 2, 2009

The work of Toronto-born John Gould, one of Canada’s best draughtsmen, is not in the AGO’s permanent collection, but you can currently get a decent view of it at Roberts Gallery, in a patchy but must-see survey entitled “The Drawn Film.” Born in 1929, Gould attained success in the ’60s and ’70s as part of a generation of artists who pushed for more internationalism in Canadian art. (“Nobody exhibited your work unless you painted orange leaves,” writes Gould of mid-century Toronto in his journals.) And, in his commitment to the representational and the expressive, Gould is arguably more outward-looking than his more famous peer, Michael Snow: rather than a theoretical and austere one, Gould wanted a warm practice concerned with the relationship between acts of looking and moving. He understood the ancient, unalterable purposes of drawing. The title of this exhibit indicates another interest he shared with Snow, always in relation to this drawing: Gould made a series of films, a few of them two-minute fillers for the CBC, in which he gave guided tours of his works using the language of cinema. Most of these play on a monitor in Roberts Gallery’s basement, with corresponding drawings on display on the main floor. Both are utterly captivating. The films (which, granted, now have a retro quality enjoyable in and of itself) don’t bring the drawings to life so much as augment an experience of them: quaint they may be, but they are also sharp — the best kind of show-and-tell lesson on the draughtsman’s art, delighting equally in the intentional and accidental aspects of his craft. Films on Japan (Japanese Market Street, a drawing in one of these, is pictured) and Mexico (especially Little Monday, a film which showed at the 1966 Venice Biennale, the only Canadian entry that year) objectify people and places fascinatingly, both as pure forms and as allegories for the most elastic, intricate aspects of the collective mind. It’s like a drawer’s version of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. “I’m not trying to represent reality with a drawing,” notes Gould in one of the films, in what can be understood as a manifesto. “I’m trying to get people to look at drawings as drawings.”

John Gould: The Drawing Master
by Richard Rhodes for
October 2, 2013

John Gould was part of the 1960s Toronto scene that saw abstraction vying with an evolving figurative art. Either it was Jack Bush’s Toronto or it was Harold Town’s Toronto and Gould was part of the latter with a fresh, loose, even sexy, drawing style that epitomized the improvisational spirit of the post-Beat era. In this “celebration” of Gould’s art (the artist died in 2010), Roberts Gallery has pulled together an exemplary selection of works dating thoughout his long career.

Interested in jazz and film, ideas of performance shaped Gould’s art, especially his portraits, which reached their broadest visibility in the 1970s when the French mime Marcel Marceau saw some of Gould’s portraits and promptly commissioned him to capture him at work on stage. The omnipresence of photography can obstruct our view of the playful documentary role that drawing once played in news reportage and mass media, but Gould was part of generation that could look to a drawing for information.

He also created a well-received hybrid practice in the 1960s where he filmed his travel sketchbooks and panned and zoomed across them to the accompaniment of recorded sounds, making sweetly engaged memories of place. These “drawn films” brought Gould national and international attention and one of them, Little Monday, showed at the 1966 Venice Biennale. As some of the first experiments in Canadian multimedia production, his films carry a special resonance for contemporary audiences.

David Balzer’s Four Art Toronto Faves
Metro Toronto Convention Centre October 24 to 28, 2013
by David Balzer for
October 26, 2013

It was great to see the positive reception that accompanied old-school Toronto dealer Roberts Gallery’s recent exhibition of work by late local draughtsman John Gould—and even better to see the work, some of it rare, all of it lamentably devalued in the stories we tell about art in this city. Gould may strike some as overly mannered, but because he was so dedicated to drawing, we now have access to all his quick work, which evinces his brilliant, inimitable touch. I particularly covet the surrealist Peekaboo Box, the cover of a cigar box he used to wipe his brushes on and out of which he decided to make a figure.

GOULD, John Howard

Born in Toronto, Ontario, he enjoyed a creative family background. (His mother published several volumes of her poetry and his father has directed and acted in theatrical productions). He entered the Ontario College of Art in 1948 where he studied drawing and painting and graduated in 1952. In his painting he has been influenced by Frederick Varley and Jock MacDonald. Gould, in the company of other students would meet Varley every day in a pub where they would stand and listen to him talk on form – fifteen minutes of which Gould felt equalled a year of study (on the same matter) in art school. After graduation from the Ontario College of Art he went to France and studied at the Académie Julian and then travelled in Europe. When he returned home he went hitchhiking to Mexico, Van­couver and back to Toronto. Between these periods of travel, he did odd jobs and was careful not to be lured into the field of commercial art which he found confin­ing. He worked for some time in the paint shops of the CBC’s Television studios. By 1960 he had established himself as a promising artist and won the Elizabeth T. Greenshield Foundation Award which made possible his trip to Spain in the company of his wife and year old daughter. There he was able to work freely at his art and produced a fine collection of sketches on which Alan Jarvis made the fol­lowing comments, “In his sketch-books from Spain, Gould reveals himself . . . as a sensitive observer and a very talented documentor, and from these notes he has produced a good number of important works, such as ‘Quandrilla’.” This work which Jarvis referred to, was an effective oil painting depicting a group of banderilleros waiting to play their part in the bullfight. Jarvis made the deft comparison between Gould and Degas as follows, “Gould, however, brought a fresh eye to the bullring and, in some of his strongest works, captured the quieter and less obvious moments of the drama: the moments of silence and waiting, the moments of intense concen­tration for the professionals involved – as Degas drew the dancers waiting in the wings . . .” In portraiture, Gould has been thought of as a budding Varley, a high commendation indeed – not purely by an emulation of Varley but in his own natural abilities in draftsmanship and originality. He won the Hadassah First Prize Award in 1961 and in the same year (autumn) he held his first one man show at the Here and Now Art Gallery in Toronto. He then exhibited at the Dorothy Cameron Gallery (his disrobing series) in the winter of 1963. Gould appeared on Elwood Glover’s Luncheon Date (CBC-TV) when he was interviewed about his recent one man show (1968) at the Roberts Gallery, Toronto, entitled Indian and our Country. This exhibition included his conte drawings of Indians. He has taught drawing (even­ings) at the Ontario College of Art and at the Artists’ Workshop. He is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy (A.R.C.A.), the Ontario Society of Artists and the Canadian Society of Graphic Art. He is represented in the collections of Dr. G.A. Pengelley, Mr. & Mrs. Percy Waxer, Mrs. T.P. Lownsbrough and many others.

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada


“It’s been said that the jazz improviser ‘plays himself.’ Just so the draughtsman; he ‘draws himself’ every day.”

“Jack Nichols was one of my teachers, and he was the first person to suggest that a drawing was as important as a painting, sculpture or print. He told me I could make a career out of my drawing alone.”

“[The draughtsman] marries his material. If it’s hand-made Japanese paper, he must intimately bond to all those threads, chips and fragments embedded in the surface. Before I begin, I study the sheet. This is a collaboration, after all. If I’m lucky, the paper will tell me where it wants me to go. Then I can join it.”

“Drawing materials needn’t have the aristocratic pedigree of hand-made paper. One of the most evocative grounds I’ve ever used is the smooth side of a masonite board. It might be humble junk, but it sets my mind racing.”

“For a while I tried collaging old drawings of sketchbooks material and pasting them, attempting to create a draughtsman’s diary. The scheme failed because it was too close to painting and sculpture, plodding rather than responsive. I was more successful when collage elements were scattered at random on a panel, totally freeform. Then I drew images in and around them, delighting in improvisation rather than plan.”

“My red-green deficiency served me well over the next few years. It forced me to focus on the glory and richness of the grey scale, to look for subtle gradations of tone, to appreciate print, photography and film. It forced me to pay attention to drawing.” (On his red-green colour blindness that nearly kept him out of the Ontario College of Art)

“It was the picture that counted. My mind races to a Degas laundress – the beautifully solid body of a woman in mid-yawn as she pressed down that iron. The draughtsman had caught a moment of maximum fatigue – the weight, the volume, the intimacy of that moment. But how did we know she was yawning? Maybe she was screaming? Did it matter? Degas’ pristine vision, his deadly eye, his knowledge of how a body behaves, his props and background all conspire to convince us of the yawn.”

“What I learned from [Varley]… was commitment. He told me: “You have to put your whole being into it.” My respect for his portrait drawings was total. The touch was light and accurate. Sometimes it seemed a light emanated from inside the model.”

“Unlike painting or sculpture, you can make a drawing anywhere, under the worst conditions, and you can carry a sketchbook to and from epic events.”

“I had just returned from a year in Spain. I had about twenty-five large black and white oil drawings on card, cathedral facades, Corrida compositions, single figures. In execution these drawings were conventional, completely accessible. One Toronto sculptor went so far as to call them “illustrations,” the sneer in the voice unhidden. It was the format that was unusual: these were big drawings, rendered in oil dry-brush and finished in a manner usually associated with prints or watercolours. A drawing in 1961 was still a preparatory rough study in the public mind, small in scale and intent, a diagram for the more finished oil painting to follow. My drawings were all I had to say.”

“…I developed the notion that I would have to make a ‘Stills Film’ of my own, transforming my drawings by camera moves – zooms in and out, tilt, pans, dissolves. If I could get enough drawings together, I might have a fifteen or twenty-minute television film, a documentary from artist to camera.”

“A good gesture study demands a gambler’s appetite for risk and the coordination of a Formula One race car driver. Most of these visual probes won’t turn out, but that’s not the draughtsman’s problem: after all, his adrenaline is up. Later he’ll have plenty of time for those cool, sustained assessments, time for the amassing of infinite detail, time to ponder consequences.”

“During the run of the Japanese exhibition, I got an excited phone call from the gallery asking if I could drop by to meet a viewer who was “professionally impressed” by the work. It turned out to be Marcel Marceau, the celebrated mime, who had wandered in during a free afternoon. Marceau thought I’d caught some of the Kabuki spirit in my drawings. He commissioned me to draw him in performance at City Center Theater, New York, in the spring. He wanted his alter-ego “Bip” portrayed with the same materials as the Japanese pieces… I set up shop in the old Royalton Hotel, developing my daily theatre toughs into finished pieces on Japanese paper every night.”

“After years of starting pictures in the conventional way, I began with free abstract washes, laid down in chance patterns on mattboard. Standing back to get a good look, I rediscovered an ancient pictorial truth – the truth Cozens, of da Vinci, of the Inuit: the random wash has a figure in it. This figure is, of course, in my head, and I’ve projected this image into the splotches of paint… I’ve found a solution to a problem that has been bothering me for years: how do I combine my drawing with the exciting shapes and patterns of the abstract expressionists?”

“Dreams are life’s elegant distillation: simple, powerful, brutally direct. Sometimes, dreams are like life sifted through the sensibility of a master auteur or editor. Dreams benefit from shrewd casting, theatrical grouping, clever plotting, special effects. But no art, however polished, is without rough edges, startling passages of unresolved chaos. That’s why no dreamer should ever wonder why he’s confronted with puzzles. No art is without magic. That final paradox, that haunting question which jolts us from our sleep, yanks us upright in bed, asking, ‘What the hell did that mean?’ – that, too, is art. Maybe it’s only in dreams that every man is briefly an artist. Our waking lives are unrelated raw data, interrupted fragments of experience without immediate resonance. Only in dreams do we confront the final unity, the satisfying transformation that art can confer on experience.”

“…What could a large composition do that a film couldn’t? It could arrest motion for one thing. It could employ all the cinematic elements of randomness, dissolving symbols, simultaneous images… but it could freeze them all on one surface. It could combine autobiography, personal observation, dream, history and pure pictorial devices all at once. Buster Keaton and I could co-exist with some medieval bell-ringers on the same picture-plane without discomfort. The subconscious and the anecdotal street moment could collide in a unified setting…”

“Every working day the performer is obliged to summon a lifetime’s expertise and rally the support of an audience. If he is afraid of failure, it will show. If he is glib or ill-prepared, he can suffer humiliating public destruction. We mandate our performers to display, on cue, all our positive virtues – to be our proxies in the arena. They are never expected to stumble, and when they do, we are sometimes capable of an astonishing lack of compassion. Within the greatest exists the possibility of two or three genuine triumphs over an entire lifetime. But journeymen performers realize that triumphs are for the truly blessed, and feel lucky just to be a part of it.”

“In the retrospective setting an artist comes face to face with fragments of his life, displaying in several rooms – youth, middle age, the present – in a merciless sequence. It’s an opportunity that few men have, that perhaps few men would want, an exercise in auto-archeology. Surveying it, I was sure of only one thing; I wanted to keep drawing forever.”

Studied at

Forest Hill Collegiate
Ontario College of Art, 1948-52
Academie Julian, Paris, France, 1953


Official Portrait for National Gallery, 1962 (Alan Jarvis)
National Film Board of Canada, Drawn Film, 1967
Performance Drawings of Marcel Marceau, 1972

Solo Exhibitions

Greenwich Gallery (Became Isaacs Gallery), Toronto, 1956
Dorothy Cameron Gallery, Toronto, 1961,63
Agnes Lefort Gallery, Montreal, 1962
Arwin Gallery, Detroit Michigan, 1963,64,66,68,70,72
Retrospective - Hart House, University of Toronto, 1965
Focus on Drawing, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1965
Flint Institute of Arts, Flint Michigan, 1966
Roberts Gallery, Toronto 1966,68,70,72,74,76,78,81,84,86,88,90,92,94,96,01,03,05,06,09
Sherbrooke Gallery, Montreal, 1969
Retrospective Show, Tom Thomson Gallery, Owen Sound, 1971
Artists and Their Work Program, Organized by A.G.O., 1974-76
-travelled to Whitby, Owen Sound, Sault Ste. Marie, Art Gallery of Brant
Inaugural exhibit at Lynnwood Arts Centre, Simcoe
The Figure, A Sensual Response-Art Gallery of Brant, 1975
Don Quixote, Arwin Gallery, Detroit, 1975
Masters Gallery, Calgary, 1986,93,98
Retrospective Show-Performers-at Stratford Gallery, 1992
Featured Artist in 13th and 14th Annual Sketches Exhibition, Roberts Gallery, 2007, 2008
MacLaren Gallery, Barrie, 2010 (Memorial Exhibition)
Roberts Gallery, Toronto, 2010 (Memorial Exhibition)
Roberts Gallery, Artists Choice, Toronto 1972-2011
Roberts Gallery, Toronto, Retrospective, 2013


London Regional Art Gallery
Agnes Etherington Gallery, Kingston
Art Gallery of Windsor
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Sir George Williams University
McMaster University Art Gallery, Kingston
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Queen's University, Kingston
The Gallery, Stratford
Beaver Brook Art Gallery, Fredericton
Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery, Kitchener
Concordia University Art
Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa
Sarnia Art Gallery, Sarnia
MacLaren Art Center, Barrie
Lynnwood Arts Center, Simcoe
Hamilton Art Gallery, Hamilton

Alan King
Marcel Marceau
Alex Trebek
Robert Goulet
J.D. Eaton
Percy Waxer

Numerous private collections in Canada, U.S., England & Mexico