JEAN ALBERT MCEWEN, R.C.A.
signed; also signed and dated “24.11.62” on the reverse
20 ins x 20 ins; 50.8 cms x 50.8 cms
In the introductory essay to the 1987 exhibition "Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth" at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Constance Naubert-Riser writes: “Colour and its relationship to two dimensional space is, of course, the subject of all painting. How, though, can a flat surface convert a sense of depth without the traditional devices of perspective and chiarcoscuro?" Naubert-Riser's examination and analysis of the work of Jean McEwen (1923-1999) aspired to demonstrate precisely how the artist embraced this challenge and "revealed the qualities of depth inherent in (colour)."
This lot falls within the early years of McEwen's search for personal solutions to the colour-depth enigma. Others had tackled this quandary, too, and McEwen was certainly aware of the resolutions suggested by American colour field painters.
Many McEwens from 1957 onward bear titles that serve to situate them within a specific series. Such titles were not meant to act as a reference to subject - though this is often misunderstood by those unfamiliar with McEwen's intentions - but were instead themselves acts of poetry. Composition from 1962, while untitled, is not without its rich subject: colour, freed from any objective associations. But it was also McEwen's ambition to solve certain formal problems relating to depth. Here, McEwen is seen introducing a strong vertical element that bifurcates Composition, 1962 into two cells. The vertical element reveals and emphasizes the layers of paint that support the painting's structure. Naubert-Riser draws our attention to this "stratification of superimposed layers" which the vertical element and the drips along the bottom edge emphasize. Both devices compel the viewer to acknowledge the structure of the painting. The extraordinary colours register now in terms of their opacity and translucence which further enhance our sense of the painting’s depth (and could it not be argued that McEwen has borrowed from the tenets of atmospheric perspective?).
While it was never McEwen's stated intention "to burden his paintings with transcendental meaning," it is quite impossible to consider these works for any length of time, whether fleeting or extended, and not experience something that borders on spiritual.
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1987, pages 19 and 39.
Private Collection, Montreal
Department: Canadian Fine Art