JEAN ALBERT MCEWEN, R.C.A.
Robertson Galleries, Ottawa
Private Collection, Toronto
Jean McEwen’s (1923-1999) work explored the dynamic possibilities of using pigment, material, and tone to create sensory and affective experiences. Crucial to his practice was understanding how painting was structured by the materials used to create it. Through clever plays of translucency and opacity, he is able to create images that exuberantly declare their materiality while producing arresting and dreamy aesthetic effects. Les Fiançailles #10, produced during the period following McEwen’s second marriage in 1976, is an intimate examination of how his normally forceful works can take on something delicate and pure.
Soft greys and opalescent whites overlay each other in a fragile lattice, a subdued haze of clouds where the underlying structure becomes something hinted at rather than asserted. Faint traces of vertical bands emerge and offer a rhythmic structure to the canvas. Half-perceived bars of blue and yellow recessed in the far background hint at something more forceful underlying the frail surface of the painting, and offer a glimmer of the work’s closely-guarded intimacies. There is a permeability, a sense of transparency that reveals the buoyant depths of paint that seethe and curl beneath the surface. Rendered with an ethereal delicacy, McEwen’s painting is a testament to his skill at balancing accessibility with subtlety, and painterly materiality with the soft gossamer resonance of cloud and colour.