The early 1950s were a momentous time for William Ronald. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art, moved to New York to study with Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann, then came back to Toronto in 1953. He became a founding member of the Painters Eleven collective, the pioneer movement of Modernism in Canada. The group’s first exhibition, in 1954, was also the first major commercial display of abstract art in Toronto. Painted in 1955, Invasion seems very much of product of the city environment seen by the artist on a daily basis. In it, Ronald has restricted his use of colour to black, brown, muted white and a blush of blue. Two other Ronald canvasses, these from 1954, In Dawn the Heart and Harlem Talk (both done prior to his return to New York) also have a limited palette and strength of hues, but use a different painting style: more a quick attack on the canvas than a pre-planned assault.
In these, there are no discernible focal points, just an overall balance and uniformity of similarly applied painterly strokes. Later paintings from 1954, such as Pacific 231, artistically anticipate the vigorous gestures of Invasion. For Ronald, his art was a pathway, with each subsequent work building on, and expanding from, the previous one. In Invasion, it is apparent that he has left the staccato, seemingly random, daubing and swiping of paint onto the canvas that are major characteristics of both the 1954 works mentioned. The painting appears more fluid, pre-planned, and methodical than his previous works, which employed slashes of hue. The paint is applied in a horizontal, organized, and structural fashion. There is an underlying orderliness in the picture, not as present in the earlier paintings.
Invasion displays an almost architectural bent, with the Parthenon-looking array of white structural verticals forcefully employed at its base. Given the city in which this canvas was done, it would be entirely understandable to anticipate that New York construction may have influenced the Toronto artist; “No artist is an island, entire of himself, every artist is a piece of the city,” to paraphrase John Donne. In 1955, Ronald was edging quickly toward a series of artworks for which he became well known: his central-image theme. Invasion, with its strong middle swath of black, is a precursor to others that followed quickly and enhanced the central image, such as Incendio #1 (1955), Central Black (1956), and Maya (1957). These works were snatched up by American galleries, museums, and collectors as word of Ronald’s art spread like wildfire.