Artwork by Claude Tousignant,  Absurdo

Claude Tousignant

acrylic on canvas
signed and dated “11-64” lower left
72 x 72 ins ( 182.9 x 182.9 cms )

Auction Estimate: $80,000.00$60,000.00 - $80,000.00

Price Realized $188,800.00
Sale date: May 28th 2019

Galerie du Siècle, Montreal
Private Collection, Quebec City
Sotheby’s Canada, auction, November 23, 2010, lot 109
Private Collection, Calgary
Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, date unknown
Galerie du Siècle, Montreal
8th Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil, September 4 – November 30, 1965
Mount Royal University, Calgary
James D. Campbell, After Geometry: The Abstract Art of Claude Tousignant, Toronto, 1995, pages 50-52 and 81-84
Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada, Toronto, 2007, page 192
Claude Tousignant was a champion of abstract art’s development in Canada and, arguably, internationally. The artist was associated with the influential non-figurative painting movement Les Plasticiens, a group of Quebecois painters in the 1950s whose work is characterised by an interest in painting’s plastic elements of tone, texture, form, line and colour. The “Plasticien Manifesto” as well as Tousignant himself advocated Piet Mondrian as a hero for turning the painting into an autonomous and self-referential object in itself. Using his signature motif, the circle, Tousignant’s commanding painting “Absurdo” effectively uses the power of colour, scale and form to expose the essence of painting as pure sensation.

Tousignant attended the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1948-51, where he studied with Jacques de Tonnancour and Gordon Webber. In 1952 the young artist travelled to Paris for six months, where he was ultimately disappointed, concluding that the thriving Montreal artistic community was much more in keeping with his own sensibilities. Tousignant attended a group exhibition with his friend Guido Molinari in 1954; the show featured Paul-Émile Borduas, whom they had great respect for. The experience reinforced his deepest instincts that abstraction was the only avenue in the art world.

Another significant influence on Tousignant’s development in abstract art was the work of Barnett Newman, which he saw in 1962 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He remarked on the American artist’s ability “to say as much as possible with as few elements as possible.” Newman’s paintings gave him an endorsement of his own increasingly reductive painting practice. Newman saw one of Tousignant’s abstract paintings at a 1962 exhibition in Spoleto, Italy, remarking: “This is a very impressive painting. It hits you right in the gut.”

Shortly thereafter, Tousignant began to produce his iconic circular paintings with concentric rings of contrasting colours. He experimented with various series based on this shape, beginning in 1963-1965. In vivid complementary shades of red and green, “Absurdo” exemplifies the artist’s circular structure and its mesmerizing effects. Author James Campbell writes “The observer is willingly - or involuntarily - caught up. The surface is relentlessly volatile or kinetic, but does not alienate the observer... rather, it apprises him or her of the interrelationships of the colour bands as they meld and separate in a spatial flux that never resolves into stasis.” Nasgaard comments on Tousignant’s concentric circles and their enthralling vibration effects on the viewer: “These are compositions whose rhythmic movement seems forever generated and regenerated, overlapping the confines of the rectangle, but at the same time checked and held in place by it.”

“Absurdo” reaffirms the painter’s success in creating art that is an object and experience in itself, in pursuing Mondrian’s achievement of, as Tousignant himself declared, “turn[ing] the painting - which up until that point had been an object of representation, expression or decoration - into an object of perception or, more precisely, a perceptible mechanism.” Tousignant elaborates further on his view of what the purpose of a work of art should be: “What I advocate is the notion of paintings as beings, not representations [...] A painting is a strange object in itself. It can either be regarded as a window through which we perceive certain events or it can be regarded as an object, like a piece of pottery or a tree.”

Tousignant’s paintings of the period seem to be highly aligned in formalist concerns with Op Art, an extension of hard-edge painting characterized by lines, shapes and movement that appear to the viewer as a result of optical illusions. The term “Op Art” itself was coined by “Time Magazine” in 1964, the year “Absurdo” was completed. Tousignant however rejected any overt affiliation with the movement. He pursued the logic of his own vision rather than tailoring his work to the intentional requirements of Op, despite any superficial stylistic similarities that may exist. Tousignant’s circular paintings propelled his success throughout the following years and until today. His work was included in The Responsive Eye, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and represented Canada at the 8th Bienal de São Paulo, both in 1965. In the following years, the retrospective Claude Tousignant opened at the National Gallery of Canada in 1973, then travelled to galleries including the Musée d’art contemporain in Montreal, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.

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Claude Tousignant
(1932) Les Plasticiens

Born in Montreal, Quebec in 1932, Claude Tousignant always knew he wanted to be an artist. He attended school at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts School of Art and Design and graduated in 1952. Upon graduation he became a part of the Plasticiens art group, focusing on experimental styles of abstract painting as well as the Montreal Association of Non-Figurative artists.

With their vibrant colours and large size, Tousignant's paintings can be categorized in several ways: minimalist, expressionist and abstractionist.