Photographic book

Canadian art in the 1940s - 1950s


Montréal: Les Automatistes
Montréal: Les Automatistes

In Montréal in the mid-1940s, Paul-Émile Borduas advocated the ideas of surrealism, a European movement that stressed the importance of the artist’s subconscious mind in the creation of art. To draw upon the subconscious, the surrealists proposed a technique they termed automatism, which meant drawing or painting spontaneously, without conscious thought or control. Borduas’s automatic approach to painting, with its free handling of line and color to create subjective images, soon created a revolution in Québec art. He received support from his friends and students, who formed a group known as Les Automatistes. Jean Paul Riopelle, a member of this group, attained an international reputation after moving to Paris in the late 1940s.

In 1948 Borduas and the Automatistes published Refus global (Global Refusal), a manifesto that linked the artistic freedom of abstraction to a need for modernizing Québec politics and culture.

The furor created by the manifesto, which called for less church influence on Québec’s art, education, and politics, led Borduas to leave Canada. His own painting took on a new simplicity through the influence of abstract expressionism after he moved to New York in 1953 and then to Paris, where he died in 1960.

The kind of abstraction practiced by the Automatistes is sometimes described as gestural because of its emphasis on the artist’s gesture in the creation of the painting.

Another type of abstraction arrived in Montréal when Alfred Pellan returned from Paris in 1940. Pellan’s work signaled an experiment in Québec with imagery based on cubism, an art movement in France that used flattened and simplified forms in overlapping spatial planes. Pellan’s cubist-based imagery combined figurative and nonfigurative forms. Abstract art received widespread coverage in both French and English Montréal newspapers, which devoted more attention to art than did newspapers anywhere else in Canada. "Canada" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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