Artwork by Christian Marcel Barbeau,  Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources

Marcel Barbeau
Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources

oil on canvas, laid on panel
signed and dated 1947 lower right; signed, titled and dated on the reverse
11.75 x 16.75 ins ( 29.8 x 42.5 cms )

Sold for $23,600.00
Sale date: November 19th 2019

Provenance:
Private Collection, Toronto
The influence of Paul-Émile Borduas and Automatiste philosophies are readily apparent in this work by Christian Marcel Barbeau. Prior to the publication and signing of Le Refus Global in 1948, Barbeau had re-examined his paintings of this period and destroyed many works deemed not radical enough for total abstraction. This early 1947 piece survived Barbeau’s purge and stands as testament to his progressive artistic tendencies on the advent of one of Quebec’s most groundbreaking artistic movements, influencing generations of artists across Canada and the globe.

“Dents de sable à cran d’acier / le langage des sources” showcases an exacting handling of the palette knife with vigorous black strokes breaking way for luminous fragments of pure whites, punctuated with royal blue and contrasting fiery orange. This precocious early work by the artist moves the viewer’s eye in an ascending motion across the surface plane. The viewer can almost feel the fervent energy Barbeau had acted upon the painting while in process, imbuing the checkered composition with an intrinsic dynamism. The all-over abstraction gives way to the spontaneity and free association of the painterly process, while also maintaining a balance and tight patterning; a daring exploration on the cusp of modern abstraction in Canadian art.

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Christian Marcel Barbeau
(1925 - 2016) Les Automatistes, RCA

Born in Montreal in 1925, Marcel Barbeau was a student of Paul-Émile Borduas at the École de meuble in 1944. Initially enrolled in the École de meuble as a carpentry student who, admittedly, knew nothing about art noticed a rambunctious class run by Borduas. Curious, Barbeau received permission to transfer into this class. Barbeau and Borduas developed an intense relationship as a teacher and mentor. Barbeau signed Borduas’ famous manifesto Refus global but did not receive the same consequences at Borduas as he, at the time, was jobless and did not have a family. The pair remained close until Borduas immigrated to the United States. Barbeau studied alongside Jean Paul Riopelle at the École de meuble.

As early as 1946, Barbeau participated in Automatistes exhibitions. “Veillomonde” (1949) was exhibited in the second Automatistes exhibition that was held in Pierre and Claude Gauvreau’s apartment. Early in his career, Barbeau experimented with many different ways to make paintings. For example, in “Sauvage-Furie ou Automne-delire” (1947) he used a palette knife to peel back the surface of the painting. In “Au Château d’Argol” (1946-47) Barbeau overlaid linear black lines on top of clusters of red and turquoise. In 1947, Barbeau made fifty “all over” paintings. His “all over” paintings were inspired by European surrealism and Barbeau produced works where lines seemingly floated across the canvas. In 1950, he painted three hundred and fifty coloured ink drawings called Combustions originelles.

Throughout his life Barbeau often moved to different cities to experience various art communities. In the 1960s and 1970s he lived in Europe and the United States, in Paris, California, and New York. In doing this Barbeau was able to gain first-hand experience in current aesthetic developments in the art world. He would bring skills he found useful back to his studio in Montreal and incorporate various techniques into his personal repertoire. Due to his extensive travels and knowledge of the modern art world, Barbeau was able to have a conversation of sorts in his paintings with fellow artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Ellsworth Kelly. Movement was important for Barbeau and he composes his work in a de-centred way that makes it slightly off balance. Perhaps, his fascination with movement is derived from his interest in dance. Barbeau first became interested in dance in 1947 when he made a mask for a piece choreographed by Françoise Sullivan, a fellow contributor to Refus global.

Literature Source:
Robert Enright, “Marcel Barbeau: The Colour of Change.” Border Crossings, Issue 114 (May 2010)

We extend our thanks to Danie Klein, York University graduate student in art history, for writing and contributing this artist biography.