"La mer ses ailes (The sea closes its wings)"
Marcel Barbeau, "La mer ses ailes (The sea closes its wings)," 2002, acrylic on canvas, 19.5 x 25.5 inches.
It will be hard to imagine a world without the presence of Marcel Barbeau. Marcel passed
away January 2, 2016. His work has been a guiding light since the mid-1940s. We followed his every move as painter, sculptor, photographer and performance artist. He traversed much of the territory of abstract art, as a trailblazer rather than a follower. The youngest member of Les Automatistes, signator to the 1948 Refus Global, Barbeau created some of the most commanding, challenging allover, tachiste abstractions of the period. For this alone he could be amply celebrated and remembered. Some of us, including myself, think he made some of the most inventive works of the entire group.
Marcel Barbeau "D'aurore surprise" 1997
Marcel Barbeau "D'aurore surprise" 1997 Acrylic on canvas 81 x 100 cm
Marcel Barbeau "Natashkouan" 1956
Marcel Barbeau "Natashkouan" 1956 acrylic on canvas 200 cm x 172 cm
His travels took him to periods of residence in Montreal, California, Vancouver, Paris and back. He was a ceaseless venturer within his art explorations as well. By the mid-1950s he was making monochromes and highly reductivist geometric abstractions so sparse they anticipate minimalism. His stark black and white 1950s abstractions can stand beside Pierre Soulages, Franz Kline, Lucio Fontana and are the confrères of his Montréal contemporaries Fernand Leduc, Fernand Toupin, Claude Tousignant, Guido Molinari, and Paul-Émile Borduas (his teacher 1942-47). By the early 1960s he was making ‘hard-edged abstractions' and was recognized internationally as a contributor to the Op art movement.
Marcel Barbeau, "Untitled", 1956
Marcel Barbeau, "Untitled", 1956 oil on canvas
His lifelong work in sculpture and painting jockeys to find a balance between organic free expressionistic flair, geometry and intellectual control. For me personally, I think he hit his stride again later in life, by the 1990s he was creating a series of paintings that was a happy conflation of both. Leduc and Toupin would smile; these paintings look back to the forbearers of the Abstraction-Création group of the 1930s, meanwhilst looking every bit in the present tense. No small feat.
TrepanierBaer, Calgary mounted an insightful pairing in exhibition of the works of Marcel Barbeau & Christian Eckart (Mar 13, 2013 - Apr 13, 2013). You know, the old guy held his ground. It didn’t make entire sense. The works could be labelled retardataire. After all, the references were all to art history: multi-coloured geometric shapes floating on a sky blue background the figure/ground of Matisse cut-outs, Ellsworth Kelly, Fernand Leduc revisited. Not too far in the distance lurked the 1970s works of Jack Bush. Yet they were still new, vital fresh and yes, they were young. They were free, playful, spirited and like the man himself, they were a bit impish: the rustling of falling leaves, a confetti parade? In his eighties he still had a devilish sparkle in his eyes and still plenty of artistic territory left to explore. He remained working pushing his work onward. A recent series further unites painterly gesture with restrained geometries and sparse ‘untouched’ expanses.
Collection Beaverbrook Art GalleryGift of Dr. René Crépeau, Montréal
Marcel Barbeau (Canadian, 1925 - 2016) "Que neige la clarté!", 2000
Marcel Barbeau (Canadian, 1925 - 2016) "Que neige la clarté!", 2000 acrylic on canvas 220.0 x 220.0 cm
One of my most cherished professional moments was when Marcel took the time to come visit me and see my work late one night on the occasion of work I created for Nuit Blanche, Montreal. He didn’t need to turn up; he did.
His work was the subject of a few art films and videos among which renowned film maker Manon Barbeau, co-produced by Informaction and National Film Board of Canada (2000).
In 1963, Barbeau received the Zack Purchase Prize from the Royal Canadian Academy. In 1973, he was given a Lynch-Staunton Foundation Grant by Canada Council. He was invited to join the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in August 1992. In 1995, he received the Order of Canada, was selected for the Governor-General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2013 hewas made an Officer of the National Order of Quebec in 2015. You can’t leave your stamp upon Canada unless it appears on a stamp; in 1998, Canada Post reproduced one of Barbeau’s works as part of its series in honor of the automatist painters.
His works are in many private and corporate collections as well as 338 + works in public collections in Canada, the United States and in Europe. Among them are: the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the National Gallery of Canada, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal, Musee National des Beaux Arts du Quebec, Beaverbrook Art Gallery and practically every major art museum in the country including in Alberta: Art Gallery of Alberta, Glenbow Museum, Nickle Galleries, and the University of Lethbridge and abroad at the British Museum (London), the Chrysler Art Gallery (Norfolk, Virginia), the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts (Lyon, France) and the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam).