Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Jean McEwen @ the MMFA

Marking the twentieth anniversary of his death, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has staged a show of the work of Montreal painter Jean McEwen. Untamed Colour: Celebrating the Art of Jean McEwen continues until February 2, 2020.

His paintings are large, and their textural qualities make a strong impact on the viewer. McEwen was known to apply the paint to canvas with his hands.

Of the works on display, one of my favourites is this one:

The Madness Driving Love No 3, 1966

The central area in red is flat and opaque, contrasting with the two outer rectangles of mottled violet. A thin, hard-edged gold line outlines each of the three main shapes.

Making a strong impression as the viewer enters the exhibition's large room is:

Long Plumb Line No. 2, 1961

This richly-textured work in oil, evoking a patina of age, was shown in McEwen's first solo show in New York, in 1963. That same year it was also included, with eight of his other works, in Canada's entry to the 7th Sāo Paulo Biennial.

Similarly stunning is:

Loophole Crossing Blue, 1961

Others of McEwen's paintings have a quieter palette.

Temple of Joy, 1977.

Jean McEwen was self-taught. Early in his career he came to know Paul-Émile Borduas, and then Jean-Paul Riopelle. Later, he became a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and a lecturer at the Université of Québec and at Concordia University.

A description posted at the exhibit reads:
"By displaying works that span McEwen's near-fifty-year-long career, this exhibition underlines the understated monumentality, continuity and haunting beauty of his practice. The artist often used his hands to apply paint directly on the canvas, yet his paintings nonetheless eschew the drama of gesture, exploiting instead the intensity and expressiveness of colour. Their numerous successive layers of paint simultaneously suggest a rugged and polished surface while retaining a geometric structure and potent symbolic form that elude specific interpretation."

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