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Maurice Raymond, the Profound Truth of Emotions

Article(1) entitled Maurice Raymond, La vérité profonde d’une émotion (Maurice Raymond, the Profound Truth of Emotions), written by Normand Biron and published in Le Devoir, Saturday, April 26, 1986, in the section Le Devoir culturel.

Patrioterie, 1962

Patrioterie, 1962

If a lake can often appear as the still mirror of a man’s inward gaze, its perennial quality is ensured by the life that strives in its depths. Maurice Raymond’s progress is reminiscent of just such a pond, which would have found shelter under the patient wisdom of an extended contemplation of the world. This “Survol 1935/1985”, a retrospective exhibition of his work held until May 4th at the Galerie du 22 mars (1333, Van-Horne Avenue, from Thursday to Sunday, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm), offers a magnificent tribute to a man whose integrity as a seeker has yielded bountiful harvests. In his description of nature, he tends the soil of sensitivity; in his expression of color, he works the fields of intuition. In his dogged pursuit of the secrets of light, the artist has given us a body of work that is already an essential fragment of the history of Quebec art.

Q.- How were you drawn towards art?

R.- As a child, I made drawings that were probably an important means of communicating with my surroundings… That moment was not art, since art must transcend daily existence in order to emerge. A path was unfolding before me…

Q.- How did you end up at the École des Beaux-Arts?

R.- Apparently thanks to a cousin who was taking courses there. I envied his good fortune at being able to turn studies into pleasure, on the human as well as the cultural plane. I subsequently became so attached to that place that I ended up retracing the history of the building.

Q.- What happened in those courses?

R.- In the thirties, I was a diligent student with a thirst for discovery, putting off discussions about art until some later time. Above all the idea was to learn my trade, and then go beyond that period of learning.

Q.- What about the popular movements of that time…

R.- I observed those movements that were gradually changing the landscape without feeling any compulsion to join any given group… At that time, teachers were recruited in a very theatrical manner: what was sought was the personality most capable of acting out a role that would help students, point them towards certain avenues… That freedom, that spontaneity changed when the university took over, with its standards and credit system requirements… The very nature of an artist’s progress is hardly compatible with such constraints.

Q.- What about the “Refus global”?

R.- As far as I am concerned that was more a philosophical manifesto reflecting social concerns than anything related to plastic arts…

Q.- You were a founding member of the “Association des artistes non-figuratifs” (Association of Non-Representational Artists) in 1956…

R.- I never decided to be non-representational. At first I enjoyed painting still-life pictures, and then one day I wanted to wipe the slate clean for the sake of exploration, calling upon a high level of spontaneity to question colors, rhythms, volumes that were in my mind, like a child seeking truth. Thanks to the caring attention of certain students, I agreed to participate in the “Association des artistes non-figuratifs”.

Q.- Did you enjoy doing research in the United States?

R.- I thoroughly enjoyed it. The war had cut us off from Europe, which led me to discover the important art centers – Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington… Above all, it was an essential encounter with major works – the lesson I got from Cézanne was a turning point. The painting had become a window on nature. In short a transposition, a language.

Q.- What about your stay in Europe?

R.- Besides the actual museums, Europe itself was a huge museum. That quality of life filling every moment of the day: a dazzling experience enhanced by magical enthusiasm.

Q.- And in the realm of painting?

R.- Though that trip was gratifying mostly on a human level, I did visit a lot of museums. I loved the French Primitives for their rigorous structure – Charenton, Fouquet…In Florence, I was very moved by the works of Fra Angelico at the Saint Mark Convent, especially the Annunciation. To gaze at a fresco in a monastic cell, to look out of a small window at the natural landscape that inspired the work and, just for a moment, to stand at the very spot where the artist painted, those are unforgettable moments.

Q.- You were also the Director of Studies at Montreal’s École des Beaux-Arts…

R.- That was very demanding. Robert Élie made a major contribution by streamlining administrative structures and by giving students more creative freedom. When I left the institution, I had to start back almost from scratch as a painter, as the requirements of my position had really drained me.

Q.- Your paintings from the first period were mostly representational…

R.- An extension of my studies at the Beaux-Arts, based on the observation of nature, which taught us everything. There was little talk about pictorial language. Art could be summarized as nature, visited by an artist’s temperament. While the intent was to paint “true to nature”, each individual sensitivity would inscribe one’s personal being.

At that time, I had a meditative attitude towards the elements. While I tried to make textures visual, I wanted the eye to touch, and the density of substances to inform the eye so that velvet, for example, would shake free of the cold substance and become truly velvet. Think of poetry, of the humility of the lesser Dutch masters in the presence of nature.

Q.- You also did some research on color and even published an essay on the “Relative Fixity of the Most Used Pictorial Materials” (Fixité relative des principales matières picturales) in 1977…

R.- I am charmed by colors the way a musician is fascinated with sounds. This endeavor went beyond the spontaneity of the painter to become a subject of intellectual curiosity. I tried to understand it, to the point where this actually turned my attention away from painting for a while… I carry a duality within me, where both rigor and intensity are present…

Q.- Abstraction…

R.- At times a transposition of nature, at other times the sheer autonomy of colors. A work of art must say what you carry within you. In my works from 1962-63, the emphasis is mostly expressive and lyrical. Each material has a life of its own. It is a mistake to want to pursue the same representation while using different kinds of language.

In my geometric period, I saw my gouaches not as invocations to the infinite and the absolute, but as a kind of supplication, of constant longing. I wanted to express things in their fullness, their permanence, a bit like the great oriental painters. This requires an immensely rich inner life that leads to meditation.

Q.- Where does your joy of painting originate from?

R.- The painted picture. Beginnings are a jumble of worries, and intuition, when it is present, composes the painting.

Q.- How do you perceive the latest trends in painting?

R.- Painting today is spread across a multiplicity of paths in which it is easy to get lost. In the face of such diversity, what remains is your commitment to your own inquiry.

I think we are in a time of transition where the progress of the times has not yet been assimilated.

I feel that what artists are presenting today is a reflection of a troubled, difficult period, where the human spirit is seeking light through a sort of chaos. It may be no coincidence that there is this longing to go back to the past, to conserve everything…

1) The article is published with a reproduction of Patrioterie, a gouache dated 1962 by Maurice Raymond


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