JEAN ALBERT MCEWEN, R.C.A.
Marlborough-Godard, Toronto and Montreal
Private Collection, Montreal
Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951-1987. Montréal: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1987, p. 167.
Never formally trained as a painter, Jean McEwen’s practice was formed through influential relationships with Paul-Émile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Sam Francis, while taking inspiration from Colour Field painters such as Mark Rothko. This work, produced while he was painting full-time and at the height of his career, is an exceptional demonstration of his mature practice, with characteristic emphasis on the vibrant play of colour and the structural potential of pigment and medium. Translucent tissue-paper slides of colour are built up in stratified layers on an uneasy, recessed ground. The result is a work structured through depths of colour, as opacity and luminosity work in tension with each other: the work reveals and conceals itself, creating a mesmerizing, forceful play of effervescent colour.
The canvas is dominated by a pair of hazy, roiling off-white forms, bisecting the work like the wings of a gateway, and partially concealing the mottled black mass anchored at the centre of the piece. Luminescent reds and ochres seething in the background, and whispy white drifts floating across the upper corners defy attempts to bound the work. “The artist comprehends space solely through colour”, says Naubert-Riser. “He succeeds in establishing a tension between all the stratified planes by leaving their boundaries only partially defined.”1 Les Jardins d’Aube M9 is a vivid example of the artist’s energetic and radiant use of colour as the central force of painting.
1Constance Naubert-Riser, Jean McEwen: Colour in Depth: Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951-1987. Montréal: Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, 1987, p. 167.