In February 1956, William Paterson Ewen had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Parma Gallery, which also presented his work in the group exhibition Modern Canadian Painters later that fall. In an interview with Greg Curnoe on March 18, 1969, Ewen spoke about his recent embrace of Abstract Expressionism, the influence of which can be seen in this untitled gouache on paper (1956) as a kind of “non-objective arrangement of blots and lines on a single plane,” as Eleanor C. Munroe wrote in Art News in her discussion of a similar body of work by Ewen.
Born in Montreal in 1925, Ewen enrolled in 1947in the bachelor of fine arts program at McGill, where he studied drawing under John Lyman. The following year, he entered the School of Fine Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, then directed by Arthur Lismer of the Group of Seven. His encounter in 1949 with painter, dancer, and signatory of the Refus global Françoise Sullivan would mark a turning point in his career. Sullivan introduced Ewen to the Automatistes, who invited him to take part in the 1950 exhibition L’Exposition des rebelles. Ewen grew close to this group of painters and, later, to the Plasticiens, but nonetheless continued to develop his own singular, inventive approach that eventually brought him back to figuration and landscape. In 1975, he was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and in 1982, he represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. He was the recipient of the Jean A. Chalmers National Visual Arts Award in 1995 and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2000. His success was further established by a major solo exhibition curated by Matthew Teitelbaum at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in 1996. In 2011, the AGO mounted a major retrospective of his work titled Paterson Ewen: Inspiration and Influence.