Artwork by Guido Molinari,  Serial, 1964/1966

Guido Molinari
Serial, 1964/1966

acrylic on canvas
signed and dated “9/64” and “9/66” on the reverse
45 x 39 ins ( 114.3 x 99.1 cms )

Auction Estimate: $150,000.00$125,000.00 - $150,000.00

Price Realized $204,000.00
Sale date: December 6th 2023

Wynick/Tuck Gallery, Toronto, 1994
Gift of Morey and Jennifer Chaplick, 1998
The Art Gallery of Ontario
Guido Molinari’s Stripe Paintings from the 1960s may have become established Canadian classics, but they are no less fresh and vibrant for that. “Serial”, a middle–sized painting within Molinari’s larger oeuvre, cedes nothing in terms of visual presence and authority. It is a luminous affirmation of Molinari’s mid–1960s artistic sophistication. And it is emblematic of his uniquely flat and hard–edge approach to colour executed at a time when he saw himself challenged by the other two predominant contemporary colour–driven movements, Op Art and Colour Field Painting. He showed alongside both when, in 1965 William Seitz selected him for inclusion in the internationally comprehensive exhibition, “The Responsive Eye”, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965.

Molinari – no mean polemicist – took pains to dissociate his own work from both Op Art and Colour Field Painting, precisely staking his own turf. He had no interest in after–images or any of the other fun–fair bedazzlements of Op Art (see Victor Vasarely). Its ephemeral retinal effects were just distractions from seeing colour plainly, or rather from seeing colours in the plural, colours interacting. As Molinari instructs us: colour is never seen singly but always in relation to the other colours surrounding it.

Colour Field Painting, compromised colour in other unacceptable ways, especially when it applied thinned paint onto raw canvases or stained it into them (see Jack Bush). Such processes inevitably left behind traces of gesture as well as soft edges that opened up illusionistic spaces, which, for Molinari’s purposes, subverted his own insistence on the flat integrity of the canvas surface. As well, staining confused matters by upfronting the tactility of the canvas weave, adding yet another material fact to the mix. Colour Field Painting therefore incorporated multiple layers of expression when Molinari wanted a fiercer clarity. The eye should not have to worry about so many issues, but be left free to pay attention just to the colours themselves, to how they unfold as we scan the canvas, and to how each colour changes in response to what it lies next to.

Hence “Serial”, which Molinari has executed on the clean, smooth surface of a primed canvas on which he then laid down his colours as flatly and perfectly as possible. (Priming also keeps the acrylic pigment bright and vibrant.) He has concomitantly kept the edges of the vertical stripes of his composition crisply hardedge, or “razor edge” as he would later describe them.

“Serial’s” composition consists of fourteen identical vertical stripes of bright colours, each some three inches wide. There are no horizontal divisions, no self–asserting shapes, no part–to–part bits to be balanced out, just the constant sequence of stripes cut off by the top and bottom edges of the frame. We could say the stripes march across the surface of the painting from left to right. But they don’t do that. The eye can’t organize them in that way. That is not how the colours behave. There is no discernable hierarchy in the alignment of the stripes, no first and last, and no middle either. Each stripe may try to speak its own colour, but there is no standing alone. Almost instantaneously it pairs up with its neighbour, on one side or the other, or with both to form triads that in turn team up with their neighbours, this way and that way, across the entire painting. So “Serial” is a mobile composition, but it is also a bracingly taut one. It scurries between receding colours, the blues and greens, and advancing ones, the reds, yellows and oranges. But Molinari has so weighted their respective chromatic energies that they all hug the painting’s surface as if whipped into discipline almost against their wills. Molinari’s observations about the behaviour of colour showed that it had no fixed identity, that identity was always contingent on context, on the place and time of our looking at it. But how to harness such phenomena so that it doesn’t descend into chaos but reveal itself with clarity? As per “Serial’s” title Molinari’s common organizing strategy was to line up his colours serially – constructing his compositions by systematically repeating the same sequence of colour bands – abcdabcdabcd, etc. – letting us watch how even regularly sequenced colours will change, or mutate, contingent on their placement within the larger chain. In the case of “Serial”, however, he has complicated things, not repeating his first set of nine colours in the same order, but juggling them as if they accidentally, but faultlessly, have fallen into their proper place.

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.