Jean McEwen Exhibition 2023

Page 1

Jean McEwen

March 18 - April 12, 2023

Jean McEwen, 1998. photo: Marc-Andre Grenier

18 March - 12 April, 2023




SATURDAY, 18 March, 2023 from 2-5 PM

preview: Thursday, 16 March, 2023

a little about Jean McEwen

Jean McEwen wanted his abstract paintings to be an experience for the viewer. They are layered with translucent and opaque colour, and he is particularly known for his experiments in pouring and layering paint.

McEwen studied pharmacy at the University of Montreal, while maintaining an interest in poetry and painting. In 1951, less than a year after his graduation, he decided to pursue a career as an artist and soon found his interest was in non-representational expression and experiments. He was inspired by Montreal Automatiste members Jean Paul Riopelle and Paul-émile Borduas, who believed in spontaneous creativity based on tapping into the unconscious. Borduas encouraged McEwen to visit Riopelle, who was living in Paris.

McEwen moved to Paris in 1951 where he was influenced by the work of Riopelle, Jackson Pollock and Sam Francis. By 1952 he was painting in a style similar to Riopelle’s, using a palette knife to create all-over surface effects, a method he later left behind when he began working with his hands.

Beginning in 1957, McEwen worked on a succession of experimental


series that focused on creating flat, dynamic space through exploring the different qualities of colour. These pieces do not make any reference to nature but consider the relationship of the painting’s structure to its colour. They are made by means of a layered process with opaque and transparent pigment.

His later paintings were centred on a strong vertical plane that integrated the different sections of the image into a whole. McEwen understood this division to be about trapping light in the two sections by varying the opacities of paint. Although the artist’s primary medium was painting, he also created a series of artist books and a group of stained glass windows at Concordia University in Montreal. He exhibited widely until his death in 1999.


Untitled 1/6, (#563), 1963, 19” x 12”, oil & varnish on paper


In the autumn 1963, during a visit to Crete and the island of Rhodes, McEwen became inspired by Greek icons. He returned to Montreal where, by year’s end, he painted the small-scale canvas works that comprise his “Icône” series. Untitled 1/6 and Untitled 4/6 share a formal affinity to the series. A supposition is that the paper-works owe in inspiration to icons seen on the trip, and that the paper works were painted either during it or in the forthcoming balance of the year.

Both series deploy horizontal tripartite structure, strong colour and varnish - three aspects which evoke icons. The paper works, though, add several other tell-tale characteristics, one of them vertical tripartite structure, the other calligraphy. These may be seen in the icono-stasis, the screen in front of the alter in Orthodox churches. Such icons are typically arranged both horizontally and vertically, in the latter instance the tier often three-part. The calligraphy, presumably totally abstract, recalls many icons’ strong graphic quality.*

Untitled 4/6, (#564), 1963, 20” x 12”, oil & varnish on paper

“There are two ways to judge a painting
The second is based on the sensations we get
One is based on criteria and theories of art. get before a picture. I paint the second way.”
Jean McEwen, 1956

This piece and the following one hail from a paperwork series chronologically following the 1964 oil painting series “Les Drapeaux Inconnus” (“The Unknown Flags”). This series of works was quite sought-after in its time. With the may rich layers of colour and saturated paint, the works were undeniably unique. This piece echos that vivid colour with the layers of blue and the deep gold leaf of this special work on paper.*

Sans Titre, Drapeau Inconnu (Untitled, Unknown Flag), (#512), 1964, 24” x 18”, Watercolour + goldleaf on paper

Sans Titre, Drapeau Inconnu (Untitled, Unknown Flag), (#511), 1964, 24” x 18”, Watercolour + goldleaf on paper


Sans Titre (Untitled), #487, 1964, 24” x 18”, Watercolour


Sans Titre (Untitled), #447, 1970, 12” x 16”, Watercolour


“McEwen had met both Riopelle and Francis (in 1951) when they were rediscovering the late works of Monet, especially his Water Lily paintings. Did Monet influence McEwen in a comparable way? Fernande Saint-Martin, and Evan Turner confirmed as much, both writers basing their accounts on conversations with the artist. There is much to be said for interpreting McEwen’s paint-thick surfaces as if infused with recollections of Monet’s mottled chromatic textures, with his painterly densities that stand in for leaves and tangled branches, and with is structurelessness across broad surfaces. Monet seems very readily at hand.”

“McEwen, according to Saint-Martin, said that he worked out how to express the vibration of colour from looking at “the lattice of light and shadows formed by the crossing of light through branches and leaves.”

If like Francis, McEwen learned from Monet, he also made him more “pure.” If somewhere, as McEwen implied to Saint-Martin, his voice had roots in natural observation, he expunged the representational in both space and colour, visual experience evoked alone by think and luminescent colour matter.”1

1Abstract Painting in Canada, by Roald Nasgaard. 2007. Douglas & McIntyre ltd, pg. 178 PEI, #393, 1970, 14.75” x 19.75”, Watercolour

Sans Titre (Untitled), #625, 1973, 24” x 19”, Watercolour


Sans Titre (Untitled), #720, 1980, 16” x 12”, Watercolour


Sans Titre (Untitled), #171, 1981, 23.5” x 18.5”, Watercolour


Sans Titre (Untited), #500, 1989-90, 23.5” x 17.5”, Watercolour, ink and oil on paper


Sans Titre (Untitled), #514, 1993, 28.75” x 22.25”, Watercolour


Sans Titre (Untitled), #761, 1996, 26.75” x 18.75”, Watercolour


Cantate Des Colonnes 2 (Cantata of Columns), #231, 1996, 40” x 40”, oil on canvas

Chute Dans Le Blanc (Fall in White), #179, 1997, 60”x 40”, oil on canvas
Untitled, #329, 1997, 12” x 10”, Oil on canvas

Curriculum Vitae


2023 Jean McEwen, Wallace Galleries, Calgary

2020 Jean McEwen, Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

2018 McEwen,”Poèmes barbares,” vingt ans après, Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

2015 Jean McEwen, Feuilles aux yeux de pluie (watercolours), Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

2014 Calque – Exhibition of Works on Paper, Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal

2013 Bleu, Winchester Galleries, Victoria

2012 Jean McEwen, La séduction de l’acrylique, Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

2009 Montreal: The 50s, 60’s, 70’s, Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

2005 Early Paintings from the 60’s and 70’s, Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

2004 Jean McEwen: Last Works, Gallery One One One, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg

Jean McEwen, Rétrospective, Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

2001 Jean McEwen, Comme une acquarelle (watercolours), Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

1997 Important Paintings from the 60s & 70s, Mira Godard Gallery

1998 Jean McEwen, Poèmes barbares, Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal

1991 Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

Galerie Madeleine Lacerte, Quebec City

1989 Waddington & Gorce Inc., Montreal

1987 Waddington & Gorce Inc. Retrospective, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

1986 Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

1985 Jean McEwen: A Retrospective, Waddington & Gorce Galleries, Montreal

1984 Jean McEwen: Thirty Years, Mira Godard Gallery

1983 Galerie Jolliet, Montreal

1982 Jean McEwen, New Paintings, Mira Godard Gallery

1981 Jean McEwen, Recent Paintings, Mira Godard Gallery, Calgary

Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

1979 Jean McEwen: Suite Parisienne, Mira Godard Gallery

1978 Jean McEwen, Canadian Cultural Exhibition, Paris

1977 Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto

1976 Equinox Gallery, Vancouver

Marlborough Godard Gallery, Montreal

1975 Marlborough Godard Gallery, Toronto

1974-75 Jean McEwen A Retrospective, Canadian Touring Exhibition

1973 Marlborough Godard Gallery, Montreal

McEwen 1953 - 1973, Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal (catalogue)



1972 Marlborough Godard Gallery, Toronto

1971 Galerie Godard Lefort, Montreal

1969 Galerie Place Royale, Quebec

Galerie Godard Lefort, Montreal

1965-66 Gallery Moos, Toronto

1964 Galerie Anderson-Mayer, Paris

Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montreal

Gallery Moos, Toronto

1963 Martha Jackson Gallery, New York

1962 Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montreal

Gallery Moos, Toronto

1960 Gallery XII, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

1958 Galerie Denise Delrue, Montreal

1956 Galerie Actuelle, Montreal

1954 Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montreal

1951 Galerie Agnes Lefort, Montreal

Montreal Museum Fine Arts

Musée du Québec

Art Gallery of Ontario

National Gallery of Canada

Museum of Modern Art, New York

Albright Knox Gallery, Buffalo

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal

Hart House, University of Toronto

Winnipeg Art Gallery

Edmonton Art Gallery

London Regional Art Gallery

Vancouver Art Gallery

Queen’s University, Kingston

Confederation Art Centre

Toronto Dominion Bank

Concordia University

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon

University of New Brunswick, Fredericton

McGill University, Montreal

Canada Council Art Bank

Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

Norcen Energy Resources


Gordon Securities

Imperial Oil

Esso Resources

The Smithsonian, Hirshhorn Collection, Washington, D.C.

*Text by Peter Redpath
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2023 the contributors & Wallace Galleries ltd.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced without permission of the gallery

directors: Heidi Hubner & Colette Hubner

design & text: Colette Hubner, Indra Kagis McEwen & Peter Redpath

Cover image (detail): PEI, #393, 1970, 14.75” x 19.75”, Watercolour
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