JEAN ALBERT MCEWEN, R.C.A.
Marlborough-Godard Gallery, Toronto/Montreal
Private Collection, Collingwood
Fernande Saint-Martin, McEwen, 1953-73, Musée d'art Contemporain, Montreal, 1973, unpaginated.
Jean McEwen’s (1923-1999) career was defined, if nothing else, by his experiments in the potential of colour to deliver emotive effect. In the exhibition catalogue from the 1973 Musée d'art Contemporain retrospective notes: "he was one of the first Quebec artists to stress what was to become the major characteristic of Quebec art after Automatism… the exploration of the dynamic possibilities of colour."
Here, McEwen opts for a strong vertical composition: a tall, indistinct band commands the canvas, over a buzzing yellow terrain. The figure, the band, the block of colour doesn’t emerge fully formed, but is slowly revealed by the colours surrounding it. Indeed, further examination shows that what was before a clearly defined edge is now made cloudy and indistinct. Smears of black, concentrated naturally at the head of the canvas, wander away, diffusing into the surrounding amber. A haze of white (an interior glow?) gently swells in the lower half of the work, creating a visual weight that offsets the heavy black top while at the same time threatening to disperse the structural integrity of the painting. The canvas seems to glow and shimmer, and all over light and texture work together to create an ephemeral effect, as colours work to simultaneously conceal and reveal each other. Viewing the painting becomes an act of pure sensation, the layers of paint inflicting a continually-renewing slow burn in the eye of the viewer. McEwen here demonstrates a masterful experiment in using colour to push abstraction to its limits.