After relocating to a vast acreage in Kingston, New Jersey, in 1957—the year he left Painters Eleven, of which he was a founding member—William Ronald started working in large format, and In the Beginning (1961) is among the paintings produced during this period. Ronald set up his studio in a barn, and the surrounding landscape reminded him of the colourful, flower-filled environments in which he had spent his childhood. “As a direct consequence of his New Jersey idyll and his life filled with colour, Bill began the transition from his black and red central image composition. Still working on a large scale, he began to use a cluster of irregular shapes in brilliant colours,” Iris Nowell states. Set sharply against a textured and uneven white background, each circular and elongated form is contoured by a black line that isolates and defines it. In the painting’s lower half, the lines reappear as three undulating bands crowned by an ovoid form. The red, magenta, pink, yellow, and beige tones that dominate this intriguing configuration—with a palette and spatial arrangement resembling other pieces in this group—were devised as aerial, terrestrial, or aquatic visions of a bucolic fantasy world. At the time, Ronald acknowledged that in his quest for simplicity, versatility, and complete freedom, he measured himself against Willem de Kooning, “the greatest man ... that all the other artists were copying.” In the Beginning perfectly conveys the power and singularity that Ronald so coveted.
William Ronald was born in the picturesque town of Stratford, Ontario, and rose to become one of Canada’s best-known artists and a peer among the irascible New York Abstract Expressionists. After Ronald graduated from the Ontario College of Art, in 1951, he was encouraged by mentor Jock Macdonald to study under Hans Hofmann in New York that summer. This was the beginning of Ronald’s strong ties with the New York art world. In 1953, he was back in Toronto helping to establish Painters Eleven. The group had its first show at Roberts Gallery in 1954, and Ronald had his first solo exhibition at Hart House that same year. He returned to New York City soon after in search of an audience more receptive to abstraction, and he was signed on at Kootz Gallery. His immersion in New York led directly to institutional acquisitions of his work. Ronald’s art is in the collections of The Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Art Gallery of Ontario.