AGO presents the psychologically charged drawings of Toronto artist Ben Woolfitt

TORONTO — Toronto- and New York-based artist Ben Woolfitt begins each day by drawing. Using graphite and silver or metal leaf, Woolfitt pours his emotions onto the pages of his drawing books. Best known for his large-scale abstract paintings, it is on paper that Woolfitt’s unique language of signs and symbols comes to life.  

Opening January 23, 2021, at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms and Series is an exhibition of 37 works on paper, four drawing books and one painting. Assembled for the first time, these works highlight Woolfitt’s unique process and his skills at frottage, a technique of creating an image by taking a rubbing from an uneven surface. Working with various found objects, including pieces of bamboo, wire grates and fragments of window screen, over the past two decades Woolfitt has generated 15 distinct but overlapping series of drawings that capture his raw feelings and responses to events both personal and global, including the outbreak of COVID-19.

Inspired by the works of Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, and Antoni Tapiès, Woolfitt began drawing in earnest in the late 1970s. Over the years, these drawings have evolved into intimate, diaristic chronicles, filling the pages of his custom-made drawing books. Signed and dated, Woolfitt draws on the pages of the books in no specific order, allowing his sensations to exist independently.

“One of the reasons I like to work early in the morning is because the range of emotions are very available to me,” says Woolfitt. “Once you go through the day and people have banged on your door enough times, it is very hard to return to these emotions.”

Organized by the AGO and co-curated by Kenneth Brummel, Associate Curator of Modern Art, and Alexa Greist, Associate Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair of Prints and Drawings, Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms and Series is on view in the Nicholas Fodor Gallery and Gallery 141 on Level 1 until July 18, 2021.  

“Through ritualistic and repeated acts of creative production, Woolfitt enables his unconscious drives to imbue his richly textured drawings with feeling and energy,” says Brummel. “Personal loss, deaths of loved ones, current events – all of this is translated onto the page by Woolfitt,” Greist adds. “In a series like Bursts, the action, feeling and density of those forms make them swell and feel much bigger than they are, much as emotions can come back and overpower us.”

Accompanying the exhibition is a 165-page hardcover catalogue co-published by the AGO and Goose Lane Editions. A richly illustrated volume, Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms and Series features an interview with the artist as well as a comprehensive exhibition history and bibliography. The catalogue will be available for sale in shopAGO for $40.

Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms & Series is free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors aged 25 and under. For more information, and to book timed-entry tickets, visit

Ben Woolfitt, Modernist and Post-Modernist Painter, was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, 1946. Since 1965, Woolfitt has lived in Toronto. In 1972 founded Woolfitt’s School of Contemporary Painting, where he taught until 1979. He established Woolfitt’s Fine Art Supplies in 1978, an international distributor of artist materials, which he managed until it, was sold in 2014. In 2012 Woolfitt purchased a home and studio in New York’s East Village where he lives and works for 6 months of the year. Woolfitt founded modern.toronto, a museum dedicated to the exhibition of non-objective painting in 2017. Woolfitt has had 25 solo exhibitions and 15 group exhibitions in Canada, Japan, Thailand and the USA. His work has been featured in books and essays by Donald Kuspit, Kenworth Moffett, Siba Das among others. His paintings are in numerous museums and corporate and private collections internationally, including Canadian collections at The MacLaren Art Centre, Hart House at the University of Toronto, The Remai Modern and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

Ben Woolfitt: Rhythms & Series is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The AGO acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.


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Andrea-Jo Wilson; Manager, Public Relations
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