Claude Tousignant: Recent Paintings and Other Wonders

September 9 – October 28, 2023
Opening reception: Saturday, September 9, 2023 from 3 to 5 pm
Claude Tousignant: Recent Paintings and Other Wonders

Sunday, October 1, 2023, from 3 to 4 p.m.
Screening of the short film Claude Tousignant: un dernier tableau by Zoë Tousignant

Text by Andrea Valentine-Lewis

Montreal artist Claude Tousignant is a luminary in the field of Canadian abstract painting, boasting a prolific career of 65 years. Known for his paintings involving uniform, geometric lines and shapes, Tousigant defined his own métier within this canonical style with his signature target-shaped motif. His initial studies at the School of Art and Design at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (1948-51) exposed him to influential instructors including Canadian artist Gordon Webber who introduced Tousignant to the work of European and American modernists like László Moholy-Nagy, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. While Tousignant did travel to Paris to study at the Académie Ranson in 1952, he chose to return to Canada and re-immerse himself in the vibrant Montréal arts community.

Back in the Québec metropolis, modern abstract art had been defining itself within the Canadian landscape. 1940s abstraction in Montréal was largely attributed to the Automatiste movement known for its Surrealist-inspired painting, drama, poetry, and dance. In reaction, and as a way to bring control and order back to artmaking, the Plasticien movement emerged in the 1950s, involving Tousignant who also favoured a pragmatic approach to painting. These early years and influences in painting grounded Tousignant shortly before he developed some of his most-known series including Chromatic Transformers, Gongs, and Chromatic Accelerators.

Tousignant’s solo exhibition, Recent Paintings and Other Wonders exemplifies his robust career, showcasing his lesser-known works on paper from the 1950s around when he came home to Montreal from Paris, in addition to a recent return to Chromatic Accelerators, a series emblematic of his career. This latter series of paintings created between 2019-22 demonstrates his persistent virtuosity with colour; by placing unassuming but specific hues side-by-side, Tousignant creates a thrilling dynamism in his compositions, often entering the territory of optical illusion.

In a recent documentary executed by his daughter, Zoë Tousignant, the artist works on a painting which is featured in this exhibition; the square canvas titled Sans Titre from 2021, is oriented as a diamond shape and is composed of a warm palette of mainly oranges, yellows, and greens. Like the other paintings in the series Chromatic Accelerators, the process of painting Sans Titre is formulaic and yet, ever-changing. During the painting process, the artist’s hand is rather evident until it is eventually disguised by impeccable hard-edged linework. Before Tousignant applies green painter’s tape to the surface of the canvas, he hand-paints each line using imperfect and even messy brushstrokes—a remarkably human process with a result that could easily be mistaken as machine-made.

At 90 years old, Tousignant is winding down his time in the studio, a place he visited almost every day for over six decades. Other than the occasional visit by fellow art comrades such as Jacques Hurtubise (1939-2014) and Guido Molinari (1933-2004), Tousignant has always been known as a solitary artist working without studio assistants or other collaborators. For Tousignant, it has always been painting for painting’s sake.

Art Mûr would like to thank SODEC for its support.