Une année merveilleuse pour Marcel Barbeau

A CANADIAN VISIONARY

Marcel Barbeau at Galerie Michelange
Career retrospective under the title
“Shorelines and Other Horizons”

by ANDRE SELEANU

Marcel Barbeau’s vital contribution to Canadian and Quebec art was somewhat belatedly yet effectively recognized as he became the 2013 Laureate for the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts. His “constant innovation” in the artistic field was emphasized by an explanatory essay. 

Intensely inventive in painting and sculpture, Barbeau swung back and forth between gestural exploration and his version of geometric abstraction.  The inner tension of his work always delights.  A pioneer of geometric abstraction on the Canadian art scene, he conferred to it a spatial twist, while creating a universe of “floating” well-defined chromatic forms of great poetic quality.

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To salute Barbeau’s signal recognition, Montreal’s Michelangelo gallery presented in mid-spring a career retrospective of Barbeau’s paintings and graphic works, spanning a remarkably fertile seventy-year period, and including paintings created as recently as 2013. (Barbeau was born in 1925)  The artist’s achievement was outlined by Ray Ellerwood, Professor Emeritus at Toronto’s York University, and a close friend of Barbeau’s: “Barbeau has been a restless experimenter working in various media and styles with musicians and dancers -often across disciplines- in Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Paris…”, Ellerwood explained during the award ceremony.  A prolific writer, Ellerwood has produced a body of scholarship exploring Quebec modern art and literature for a wider Canadian audience.  He was also a translator and commentator of the Refus Global manifesto. Along with painter Fernand Leduc and painter and choreographer Françoise Sullivan, Barbeau is a surviving signatory of this crucial document signalling Quebec’s arrival into modernity in arts and culture. 

During his career, Barbeau’s vision has undergone transformations, as it swung between tachisme or informal art, and geometric abstraction.  “In 1946, Barbeau was at the forefront of all-over paintings, even ahead of Pollock”, says Montreal art historian Ninon Gauthier.  There is a continuous intellectual presence in Barbeau’s oeuvre, as he keeps surpassing previous work.  Living in Montreal and Paris, Barbeau also worked in New York and Vancouver. He has exhibited along such masters as Lucio Fontana, Frank Stella, Leon Golub and Jean Tinguely. 

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This year, a Paris retrospective at Galerie Chauvy highlights Barbeau, along Paul Jenkins and Georges Mathieu, from an interdisciplinary perspective. Throughout his career, Barbeau has coordinated painting performances with live music and dance.   In top form, Barbeau created in 2012 a four-panel monumental mural at the College of Construction Trades in Montreal, as part of a public commission from the Quebec government.

Galerie Michelange
430, Bonsecours Street, Old Montreal, Qc.
514 875 8281
From April 21st to May 17, 2013

 

 A MASTER OF PICTORIAL SPACE

Marcel Barbeau at Galerie Michelange

Career retrospective titled
“Shorelines and Other Horizons”
From April 21st to May 17, 2013

by ANDRE SELEANU 

As he turned eighty-eight, Marcel Barbeau, grand old man of Quebec art, is still at the top of his creative form.  The multiplicity of his plastic work is astounding while he turns out painting, sculpture, engraving and colla

ge.  The artist’s Canada-wide reputation was reaffirmed, as Barbeau became the 2013 recipient of the Governor’s General Award for the visual arts. 

In parallel, Montreal’s Michelange gallery presented a retrospective of Barbeau’s work, with emphasis on his recent production.  Barbeau moves back and forth between gestural exploration and his own version of geometric abstraction.  He presents an eloquent vocabulary of triangles and angular shapes that succeed in “floating” in a peculiar way in pictorial space, conjuring a subtle atmosphere of psychological elation.  In Seasons (2004) and Starry Smile (2002), for example, forms that suggest plane geometry, yet are characteristically curved, seem to poetically take off into space.  The artist speaks of his recurrent “cosmic vision”.   His expression oscillates between geometric paintings and tachiste works. Barbeau’s metal sculpture demonstrates playfulness in space and off-hand ease in dominating it.           

In a series of acrylic paintings entitled Impressions from the Eastern Townships from the mid 2000’s, Barbeau invests space with a subtle calligraphy of primary colours, replete with transparencies, interspersed with a shower of blots, dots and drippings. His expression may range from whimsical chromatic gesture to map-like interlocking space-defining shapes.  Barbeau’s tones are generally thinly applied as colour field, lacking relief or projections. 

Figurative references are subtly introduced in Mangrove (2012-2013), painted during a Christmas stay in Florida’s Sanibel Island.  Oscillating between geometry and gesture, Barbeau creates a vocabulary of bright secondary tones that suggest tropical rhythms, with an abundance of greens and oranges.  His latest work constitutes a discrete, allusive exploration of nature, ever so subtly implied.   The art stays thoroughly abstract, yet the artist admits to “possible inspiration” from nature, in an indirectly expressed post-modern hybridness.  As he chooses from a repertory of styles he practiced throughout his career, the artist evokes biological shapes in his recent work.  Barbeau calls his latest approach to composition anaconstruction – a form ofdeconstruction which may be described as creation and abolition of pictorial objects originally suggesting three-dimensions. 

Evoking in his remote and roundabout way the formation and destruction of city landscape, Barbeau produced in 2012 a large, four-panel mural for the Montreal Construction Trades College, as part of a government commission of integrating visual art in architecture.

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