Artwork by Jean Albert McEwen,  Envers de Paysage

Jean McEwen
Envers de Paysage

oil on canvas
signed and dated 1981 lower left; signed, titled and dated on the reverse

71 x 71 ins ( 180.3 x 180.3 cms )

Sold for $27,600.00
Sale date: November 23rd 2017

Waddington Gorce Gallery, Montreal
Galerie D’art Vincent, Ottawa
Private Collection, Toronto
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Vancouver/Toronto, 2007, pages 174-78
Roald Nasgaard and Ray Ellenwood, The Automatiste Revolution, Markham, 2009, pages 82-85
Fernande Saint-Martin, McEwen, 1953-73, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Montreal, 1973, unpaginated
A member of the Non-Figurative Artists' Association of Montreal, McEwen's distinctive approach to colour field painting is rooted in texture and luminosity. Painting in Montreal, the artist was influenced by the Automatiste painters, especially Paul-Émile Borduas, with non-figurative all-over abstraction. Like Mark Rothko, McEwen's large canvas works overwhelm the viewer and seduce the gaze inwards to the canvas. The strategic layered application of paint and experimentation with the transparency and sensuality of material holds testament to McEwen's devotion to testing the limitations of the medium.

Building up colour, varying between hues of rose, purple, blues and even oranges, McEwen creates veils of translucent colour of varying opacity. The resulting all-over rose canvas in “Envers de Paysage” verifies Fernande Saint-Martin’s argument that McEwen “repeatedly stresses that what is important to him is the establishment of chromatic juxtapositions so extreme and rich, that they impose themselves on the spectator. Colour is to McEwen a mutable and expressive element to which he can never refer in terms of single pigments: he tends to talk of 'the yellows' or 'the purples' in the plural, suggesting thereby the emotional impact and symphonic potential of colour in concert.” The creative use of complementary and contrasting warm and cool tones produces a dynamically rich artwork.

Roald Nasgaard's writings on the artist re-contextualize the artist's devotion to colour akin to the luminous, sensuous and fleshy quality of modern masters’ nude paintings. He states, “His continuous coloured textures are built out of strata of superimposed paint layers, sometimes as many as a dozen. Their ever more variegated hues and tones lie in ambiguous depths, sometimes opaque and other times transparent and luminous. Light emanates from within them or it reflects from their surfaces, and often they seem dappled like sunlight in a Renoir nude.” Particularly with his series of rose-based canvases, this sensuously luminous quality is paramount. Rather than deliver a more foreboding sensation, as with some of the darker canvases, “Envers de Paysage” is decidedly more supple, bright and warm. Devoted to exploring the power of colour, the dynamics of tones playing off of each other and the sensation colour can create, McEwen delivers works in keeping with period experimentation while maintaining his true core artistic purpose.

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Jean Albert McEwen
(1923 - 1999) RCA

Jean McEwen was born in Montreal in 1923. While growing up he was intrigued by painting and the qualities of colour, but did not pursue any formal art training. Instead he studied Pharmacy at the University of Montreal in 1951. After seeing the film “The Moon and Sixpence” based on the Somerset Maughan novel about the life and work of Paul Gauguin, he was influenced to pursue painting while completing his Pharmacy degree.

A painting that he submitted to the 66th Annual Spring Salon at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art was accepted, after which a friendship with Paul-Emile Borduas began. Borduas encouraged him to travel to Paris. He spent three years in Paris where he formed associations with Jean-Paul Riopelle and American artist Sam Francis.

His long and successful career includes a teaching position at Concordia University, Montreal as well as numerous solo exhibitions. His work is a part of public and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.