Artwork by Guido Molinari,  Série noir/blanc

Guido Molinari
Série noir/blanc

acrylic on canvas
signed and dated “11/67” on the reverse
81 x 68 ins ( 205.7 x 172.7 cms )

Auction Estimate: $300,000.00$200,000.00 - $300,000.00

Price Realized $264,000.00
Sale date: June 15th 2022

Collection of the artist
Collection of Guy Molinari
Sotheby’s, New York, New York
Private Collection, Toronto
“Guido Molinari”, Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble, France, October 17, 1998 - January 3, 1999, no. 21
“Molinari et la couleur”, Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, December 10, 2008 - January 24, 2009
“Canadian Abstraction: A Selling Exhibition”, Sotheby’s, New York, February 14 - March 9, 2014, no. 18
Musée de Grenoble, “Guido Molinari”, exhibition catalogue, Grenoble, France, 1998, reproduced page 31 (No. 21)
Sotheby’s, “Canadian Abstraction: A Selling Exhibition”, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2014, listed pages 64 and 107, reproduced page 65, reproduced (detail) pages 62 & 63
The painting is a stunner. That was my immediate reaction when I first saw it in real life at Sotheby’s “Canadian Abstraction” exhibition in New York in 2014. Not that Molinari didn’t produce a host of extraordinary paintings in the 1960s, especially among the Stripe Paintings, his signature work of the decade. But “Série noir/blanc” exudes a particular brash exuberance caused not the least by its unusually reduced palette - black and white and the two primary colours red and blue - delivered in an across-the-surface march of identically-wide vertical bands. Its palette was also one I remembered from Molinari’s seminal “Homage à Jauran” from 1961, which I had grown up with, so to speak, during my regular visits to the Vancouver Art Gallery in the mid-1960s.

“Homage à Jauran” was Stripe Painting in its infancy, from the time when Molinari was just learning to eliminate horizontals from his pictorial layouts so as no longer to compose by balancing off part against part. Having mastered the legacy of Mondrian’s Neoplasticism, it was time to tip his hat to the colour planes and “zips” of Barnett Newman. “Homage à Jauran” stripes may not yet all be the same width, as they will become in “Série noir/blanc”, but nor do they read as discrete shapes, like rectangles. They could in theory run both upwards and downwards indefinitely if the frame had not cut off their potential for vertical extension. Molinari’s gain from so radically expelling formal relationships from his paintings was to forefront colour: to unmask how colours behave, to reveal how colours unfold as the eye scans their course across the surface of the canvas, and to exploit how their appearances change contingent on their adjacencies and their placement within the larger sequences of the procession of the stripes. Whereas Molinari’s contemporary American and Canadian colour field painters at the same time, like Jack Bush, tended to declare their colours individually on the model of Matisse, Molinari and his fellow Montreal Plasticiens chose to exploit colour’s capacity for mutation.

“Série noir/blanc” employs Molinari’s fundamental method of serially organizing his stripes: constructing his compositions by systematically repeating the same sequence of two, three, four or more colour bands. Often he does this strictly. But rules can also be broken, and “Série noir/ blanc” is only partially serial. The first six-band sequence of the eighteen bands of the painting is repeated once, but then he scrambles the third set, its sequence performing colour flips and inversions, fazing our left to right scanning and jumbling our expectations, maybe to turn us back to start over again. It’s like stating a theme, repeating it, and afterwards performing a free variation.

But that’s too intellectual a parsing out and not really what experience delivers. As we look, we discover other structural orders like the pacing of two black-white-black triads countered by a red-white-red one. Or we can otherwise assemble the stripes by fours or fives, or leap from one same-coloured band to another, and so on. But regardless of how we analyze the structural logics, the bands group and regroup and patterns dissolve and resolve and redissolve under the dynamics of actual perception. Like all the Stripe paintings, “Série noir/blanc” resists being a fixed composition, but insists on performing as an ongoing dynamic participatory event, whose realm lies somewhere between us and the canvas. We could say “Série noir/blanc” is less a painting than it is a real object entered into the world for our consideration. Or, that less than being a fixed object, it is an unstable energy field in a constant processes of comings and goings. Our relation to it – even as in concentrates and intensifies our engagement - is as real and time- immersed as other quotidian experiences in the world.

And that is what is most striking about “Série noir/blanc” – and what sets it apart - is precisely its worldly confidence. This has to do with its reduced palette: the purity of its blacks and whites and its clear reds and blues. These are flag colours like the French “tricolore” (with no symbolism intended), aglow, luminous and upfront. For once Molinari subverts his usual practice and abandons his more common interplay of secondary hues: accentuating staccato dance rhythms over legato colour mutations, all unfurled in the crisp light of day.

“Série noir/blanc” exemplifies how Molinari’s Stripe Paintings – and with them the Plasticien movement as a whole - constitute a major contribution to post-Abstract Expressionism and post-Automatisme, nationally and internationally.

We extend our thanks to Roald Nasgaard for contributing the preceding essay. Roald is the author of the critically acclaimed “Abstract Painting in Canada”. His exhibitions and accompanying books dedicated to Canadian abstraction include “Yves Gaucher: A Fifteen-Year Perspective 1963-1978”, “The Automatiste Revolution: Montreal 1941–1960” and “The Plasticiens and Beyond: Montreal 1955–1970”.

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Guido Molinari
(1933 - 2004) Les Plasticiens

Guido Molinari was born in Montreal in 1933. He studied briefly at the School of Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1950-51), and began making drawings and paintings combining automatic methods with a disciplined approach. He was a leader in the development of a rigorous colour abstraction movement in Montreal. Characteristic of his paintings in the 1960s were vertical, hard-edged bands of colour. Pictorial space in these paintings was created by the spectator’s perception of the shifting and mixing of colours.

In 1956 Molinari was a founding member of the Association des Artistes Non-Figuratifs de Montreal. He exhibited at the Biennale in Venice in 1968, where he was awarded the David E. Bright Foundation prize. In 1977 he participated in the Paris Biennale, and in 1980 he was awarded the Paul-Emile Borduas Prize by the Quebec government. Molinari, who taught at Concordia University until 1997, exerted a powerful influence on younger artists, through his teaching, his theoretical writing and his opinions, firmly held and strongly stated.