3 painters : Borduas, Raymond and Wilson

Article(1) entitled “3 peintres : Borduas, Raymond et Wilson”, written by R. de Repentigny, published in La Presse, on Saturday, October 29, 1955.

Two exhibitions presently taking place in Montreal point to the very perceptible emergence of a more rigorous mindset among painters. In the watercolors by Borduas being exhibited at l’Actuelle, this trend is evidenced in the progressive elimination of any element of easy seduction based on virtuosity, while in the gouaches by Maurice Raymond, which can be seen at the collège Brébeuf, it is the cuteness of inventions that is being questioned, the same way naturalist fantasies were questioned previously. The time for illusions is now past, perhaps, in paintings as in the public mood. Conquering the world is not within the reach of any individual: narrow surfaces and small volumes are all that any artist really has at his disposal, and apart from that we are all serving almighty metal machines and rigid organizations. And in these spaces we have available to us, what painters are trying to express is no longer their rebellion or their attempted escapes but actually… would you believe it? their acceptance of the new world. A kind of attitude that actually goes beyond mere acceptance: it is an attempt to come to terms with the reality that is thrust upon us.

Taken as a whole, the watercolors by Borduas show the painter’s evolution as he is suddenly tempted by Jackson Pollock’s innovative techniques, such as his splash techniques; two or three gouaches, among others whose gratuitous nature leaves a sense of unease, show perfect mastery of this technique – clusters of shards and stains make up basic structures, reduced down to a duality. Already in the great watercolors that Borduas had exhibited at the lycée Pierre Corneille, there was a perceptible grammar and syntax, in the proper sense. However, what we had there was a kind of grid serving as a structure for successive planes. In these latest watercolors, the painter goes back to using that grid, yet in an isolated form embedded in the blank paper. In this, Borduas is perhaps coming close to the spirit of Japanese calligraphy – and is closer to Kline, the American painter, than any other.

In the watercolor reproduction we find on this page, we note this new element in that blank spaces are treated with as much attention as the black stretched out stains. A few red blotches bring movement to the work. Nothing fancy there, unlike another great watercolor with brown undertones that came not long before this one, and where certain hesitations suggest deliberate rather than intuitive research.


Now let us have a look at the gouaches by Maurice Raymond, which show a slow but steady progress towards greater freedom of expression. Outside of his exhibition, the painter showed us “landscapes”, trees with a distinctly Cosgrovian look to them. This is what he was doing “befofe”.

The first gouaches shown in this exhibition convey a somewhat troubled state of mind – formal inventions are the main elements of these works, which remain distinctly representational. Their decorative character will diminish as the painter introduces either straight lines intersecting one another or narrow colored screens that generate a new level of tension.

Raymond has proceeded the same way as most painters who have moved from representational to abstract art, i.e. by simplifying and symbolically representing objects that once drew his attention. He has similarly treated the traditional framework of artistic painting: perspective, sky, horizon line, shadow and light, and foregrounds. Plastic objects, whose shape and color are justified solely by their integration into the work, are organized in a vast anonymous space. One goes from facing light, isolated structures to being inside these structures, catching vivid light coming in through openings that form the nucleus of the painting. The painter, I believe, is getting closer to his professed goal, i.e. intuitive expression, by progressively isolating all of the pictorial elements which are familiar to him and by giving them this plastic justification that allows him to stay clear of an overly decorative imagery, where all [illegible], where all the various technical flaws are like as many sour notes.

The colors sometimes lack vitality in some of the gouaches – browns that are too opaque are not the best match for essentially vertical constructions. But in general the colors are light, matching the aerial structures; though more abstract in character than Jacques Villon’s more recent paintings, Raymond’s work displays a similar play of shades and intermingling forms. In a few of the works, one gets the impression that the artist uses too many processes – which have no doubt allowed him to eliminate sterile conventional figures – but which can themselves become the objects of simple repetitions. Recent gouaches, where a vague and multiple space is reduced to a simple duality of planes on which narrow colored surfaces are projected, are imposing in their sobriety. However the work remains somewhat unbalanced in the sense that the framework only partly supports the composition. Certain elements are perfectly integrated in the rectangle that supports them, others stand out.

1) The article is published along with a reproduction of “Blanches figures”, by Borduas, a watercolor that is part of the exhibition at the Galerie l’Actuelle. Borduas has just moved to Paris, after a remarkably successful two-year stay in New York.

© Copyright - Maurice Raymond, painter