JEAN ALBERT MCEWEN, R.C.A.
Galerie Agnès Lefort, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
National Gallery of Canada, ‘Jean McEwen,’ https://www.gallery.ca/collection/artist/jean-mcewen
Jean McEwen’s (1923-1999) painting insists on the significance of colour. "There are two ways to judge a painting,” he has said. “One is based on criteria and theories of art. The second is based on the sensations we get before a picture. I paint the second way." Crucial to his practice was understanding how painting was structured by the materials used to create it. Playing with pigment, texture, and varnishes, he is able to create images that exuberantly declare their materiality while producing arresting and dreamy aesthetic effects.
Ocre Rafraîchi par un Bleu demonstrates the blurring of the boundaries between form and colour explored by McEwen. The large canvas is split into two wide dark rust-coloured bands separating and bounding two mottled fields of ochre. A strong horizontal arrangement tempts us to think of this as something solid and substantial, maybe even architectural. But rather than something heavy or dense, we get a sense of permeability: a depth revealed by transparency. Threads of brilliant blue emerge, traversing just beneath the surface from the left of frame in vivid bursts before becoming effaced by layers of deeper colour to the right. The layers of paint that structure the piece surge with a subdued movement, alternating from transparency to opacity, creating a volatile sense of depth and flattened dimensionality. Unfinished edges expose blank canvas, exposing the construction of the painting as a series of layers and colours. This bifurcated organisation is one that McEwen frequently returned to as a painter. But as we can see, these compositions aren’t isolated cells - they aren’t divided, impermeable spaces. Rather, the colours drip and bleed into one another, are refreshed by each other, driven by an underlying poetic urgency.