By invitation to a 50-year career retrospective exhibition at the Galerie du 22 mars, 1333 Van Horne Avenue, Outremont, from April 17 to May 4, 1986
That summer, in 1946, he wanted “the brush to inform like the sense of touch”. Peaches were round, and pink, and velvety. The painting exuded peace. Maurice Raymond was just over thirty years old and that was perhaps the last time he bowed to full sensuality in a fully pictorial image. What we see, or follow, in this exhibition which takes us along the journey with him, is the difficult climb towards an unadorned statement, a Gregorian sound track to an era of turbulence and breakdowns. He is a part of this era, and yet he stands aside from it: the painter is an individual.
To go from nature to descriptive expression, he will deprive himself of color. This land was gray, as we remember, hidden from Europe behind a curtain of silence, and close to a South that still reveled in repetition. However this is where he detects a kind of rude naturalism that compels one to step boldly into accents. Here is this red, there this brutal diagram against the transparency of a still life with a fish, which still retains the grace of touch. But the painter has made his choice, in the mirror where he glances ironically at his own anguish, in the stretched out indolence of a young man who sees himself as the interrogator: his brush bristles are already red, not from blood, for Maurice Raymond has never been into killing, but from that which roars in organ points, the red that is found deep within one’s being..
In Gregorian terms, this red that is gaining ground never works alone. It holds and it lingers, yet it moves around the most sober expansions. One can see the ghost of Mallarmé in this symbolic writing that now forbids itself to fill in its ellipses, that directly addresses the mind with a modesty that nearly reaches the point of self effacement. “I was looking for expression, I longed for communication, I was hoping for a work of art”, he says today, to explain the fact that he has never worked in terms of results or ideological prerequisites. Such is the daily harvest of the will to write which, in the end, may or may not brush against a miracle. Deep down, this is not his purpose.
Thus to journey with him through this work covering nearly half a century is to superimpose primary concepts stripped of their scholarly affiliations. I will not attempt to draw any links, as these kinds of syntheses should never be attempted by anyone but the artist. I have heard them one by one, like the line of a poem that only yields its meaning here and there.
From beginning to end, there is a discrete yet at the same time insistent plan. Those plates on the horizon, or those straight lines set against a backdrop, constantly reconstruct and consolidate an inner picture. They carry that “well named color” as taught by Father Couturier, the master of the first shakedowns coming to Quebec from the turn of the century. Between the great vertical planes of the fifties, and the unwilling return to representationalism as found in the last work in this exhibition, there is the same willful attempt to capture space.
Or light, as he confides: “I capture it, then I give it some windows”. To see it weaving this way through the painting, one must lean towards the background, and enter a few tunnels that shy away from color. He sometimes gives it up, as during the “minimalist” period of the sixties, which equalizes and organizes great surfaces without allowing them any room for such play. But light will return eventually.
Like the color black, which acts as curious counterpoint to a quest fuelled by distinctions. If sadness was his dominant note half way through the century, a kind of frustration at not being able to take part in the European ebullience, one finds that note twenty years later as a pure abstraction. The painter explains it with some embarrassment at giving us a glimpse of his inner vastness. As one keeps pushing the means of symbolic expression, there comes a hopelessness at ever reaching the absolute, or that overpowering burst of hope “with too little substance”. At the same time, as if to laugh at it all, there springs this model of a white egg against a white backdrop. The painter takes a step back from his own excesses, never playing the Prince of Darkness.
Of nature, which he also likes to capture, only vegetation is allowed to go free, almost always with gestures pointing towards the sky, towards the light. The “Vs” proliferate like so many victories against the gravity of the planes. And in those light blacks that are caught and distributed this time in hopefulness, the journey heads towards the Orient, towards the short strokes of the scribe, towards the interruptions that only initiates can decipher. Sometimes, more rarely though, a storm rises, turning trees into vegetation, then departs. “The lyrical in me, he says, always struggles with correctness”. The final pastel of pink and black, of winter powder and a forest of spears, uses opposites to convey a sense of vertigo.
In allowing himself to unfurl his life’s itinerary for our benefit, Maurice Raymond is not just delivering the continuous structure of a quiet body of work that never slowed its pace despite his teaching duties. To those who refuse to enshrine the clichés of history, he dares to offer a new look at the birth of contemporary art in Quebec, where not all courageous artists were glorified when they dared to steer clear of scholarly squabbles. When a creative artist knows his roots, he says, the social dimension of his work is self evident, and does not necessarily need to draw attention to itself outside of the pictorial debate. Thus Maurice Raymond was both right on time and before his time as he lived through the transition to non representationalism in which he never ceased to move forward.
The journey through lines and planes is a hard road now more than ever, as new breakdowns tumble upon one another through every imaginable incarnation, as yesterday’s guides prefer to mingle with youthful forays into past recitations. This exhibition is not for the faint hearted, because it requires that we come back to our senses, back to true meaning. And because it is faithful.
Lise Bissonnette, March 1986