Lot #11

Charles Gagnon
Inquisition (Quelles sont les...)

acrylic on canvas on panel with ruler
signed, titled and dated 1981 on the reverse
10.25 x 13.25 ins ( 26 x 33.7 cms ) ( overall )

Collection of Roy L. Heenan, Montreal
Michael Gibson Gallery, London
Miriam Shiell Fine Art, Toronto
Private Collection, Toronto
Charles Gagnon, a prominent figure of the Quebec post-war abstract art movements, stood out from his contemporaries due to his exploration of various media such as film, photography, collage, and box constructions in addition to painting. He was heavily influenced by his time spent in New York from 1955-1960, where he was exposed to the influential Abstract Expressionists and Color-Field painters.

In the late 1970s, Gagnon’s paintings began to explore aerial spaces. He created two series, Cassation and Inquisition, which both presented large, light-hued fields, generally monochrome but animated by a range of tone, value and gesture. He evoked cloudy skies or other meteorological phenomena viewed up close through a window, or the frame of a photograph or film camera.

The pictorial space is geometrically divided by a rectangle within the rectangle of the canvas. In the Inquisition paintings, such as “Inquisition (Quelles sont les...)”, Gagnon employed a neutral colour palette-generally in grey that covered the entire painting, including the edges of the frame. The artist also applied words, numbers or objects to the surfaces of these paintings; in this instance, a wooden ruler is screwed into the lower edge of the support. In doing this, Gagnon’s strategy was to transform the works from self-referential entities into something informative, resembling illustrations from a scientific manual or a dictionary.

The Inquisition paintings invite the viewer to look at a painting in a new way, straying from the standard two-dimensional image surrounded by a basic frame. Gagnon explains how he sought to break from the conventional way of viewing paintings: “I started wondering about how we looked at paintings. We normally read from left to right and from top to bottom, which is a very occidental concept. But do we look at painting the same way? I started incorporating how we normally read into my work, but then came to the question of whether we really need it that way? Suppose we notice things differently? Big things before small things? So I started adding labels, a,b,c,d and 1,2,3,4, to deal with how we read in terms of scale, which in turn brings in perspective. I became very interested in how, depending on where you came from, you could read a work in many, many ways.”

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Charles Gagnon
(1934 - 2003)

Born in Montreal, Quebec, he studied graphic art and interior design at the Parsons School of Design, New York, and painting at the Art Students’ League under Paul Brach. He returned to Montreal in 1960 where he held his first solo show. His work was shown in the Fifth and Fourth Canadian Biennials. His work tends towards geometric abstraction combined with action strokes.

He exhibited in Montreal at the Galerie Artek (1958), Salon de la Jeune Peinture (1960), “Montreal Painters” at Bishops University (1960), Galerie Denyse Delrue (1961) (later Galerie Libre); Salon du Printemps Musée des Beaux-Arts (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965 Hon. mention), two person show at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1963), Galerie Camille Hébert (1964); in Toronto at the Jerrold Morris International Gallery (1962) and others.

He is represented in the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Sir George Williams University (presently Concordia University). He lived in Montreal.

Sources: "A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume I", compiled by Colin S. MacDonald, Canadian Paperbacks Publishing Ltd, Ottawa, 1977