Ray Mead was born in England, and later became a founding member of Painters Eleven, an artist collective formed in 1953 aimed at introducing abstract art to Toronto audiences. As such, he made an important contribution to the development of modernism in Canada. Mead enrolled in the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where he was taught by some of the most important English artists of the time. Shortly after receiving his diploma at the age of 18, he became a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force. After sustaining an injury in 1941, he was restationed in Hamilton, Ontario, then in New York to train US bomber pilots. It is during his time in New York that Mead discovered Abstract Expressionism. At the end of the World War II, he settled in Hamilton and became friends with the artist Hortense Gordon, who had studied under Hans Hofmann, and continued to develop his interest in abstraction under Gordon’s mentorship. Gordon encouraged him to participate in the Jubilee Year Canadian Art Show in 1950, and Mead did indeed stand apart from the other artists with his unique painting style. In The Canadian Encyclopedia, Mira Berlin writes, “Mead’s contribution, a cubist-inspired still life, was singled out as representing a new direction in Canadian painting, an accolade that put him on the cutting edge of Canada’s art scene.”
Also in 1950, Mead became a member of the Ontario Society of Artists. In 1952, when the group took part in the 80th annual exhibition of the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), Mead showed another still life, Bottles in the Evening (1950, permanent collection of the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa, Ontario), for which he received the Taber Dulmage Feheley Purchase Award. Although Fish Tank (1950) is a more figurative still life, its resolutely Cubist-style influences place it well within that body of work. This production, and its corresponding research, quickly led Mead toward more abstract works in the years that followed. Meanwhile, he began working as a graphic designer in Toronto for the MacLaren Advertising Company, but continued to take part in exhibitions with Painters Eleven until he moved to Montreal in 1957 and the group disbanded. In the 1970s, Mead switched from oils to acrylic, and in 1987, he returned to Toronto to paint fulltime. Influenced by Nicolas de Staël, Mead’s paintings are characterized by fields of bright colour built up from layers of tonal variation that give depth to his work.