After a few attempts at working with acrylic paint and masking tape between 1965 and 1969, McEwen returned to his first love: oil paint. In his practice, McEwen cultivated an attitude—if not a method—of inclusivity, purposefully deepening his themes and pictorial approach through “endurance” and a “continual resurgence.” Accordingly, his series Compagnon de silence is an obvious amalgam of formal explorations and juxtapositions conducted over the first few decades of a career that evolved in a circuitous fashion. In the early 1970s, writes Naubert‑Riser, the artist “chose to renew ties not only with his own painting (the cruciform structure), but also with the kind of chromatic abundance found in the work of Titian and Rembrandt. The dark, sumptuous quality of the deep reds, greens, and browns, together with the use of varnish, imbues the colour of this series with a hitherto unattained depth.”
Indeed, the structures elaborated in Le drapeau inconnu, Miroir sans image and Suite des pays vastes slip beneath the golden‑brown strata of Compagnon de silence M1, M4, and M5. The supple bands framing the edges of each painting open onto deep abysses tinged with carmine, tawny, and walnut tones, which plunge the medium into its own reflection, like leather frothing in a tannery tank. A third element—untethered clouds of silvery, milky white—are present in each painting. Paul Valéry’s poem Le bois amical (The Friendly Wood)—which served as inspiration for the title—leads us through the woods, “side by side, along the paths,” culminating in a merging of “the green night of meadows” and the growing light of the moon, bordered by the “mild shades” and “moss” deep within the intimate woods. Inspired by Valéry’s imagination, McEwen presents his own sequential variation, which seeks to unify the pictorial and poetic arts through language that scales the heights of grace and maturity.
McEwen’s professional career took an important turn in 1973, when he resigned his position at Frosst (pharmaceutical company) and devoted himself to painting full‑time. That same year, Fernande Saint‑Martin organized a retrospective exhibition, titled McEwen 1953‑1973, at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Many of his serial painted works were presented, including Compagnon de silence. McEwen received several prizes and awards over the course of his career, including the Canada Council’s Victor Martyn Lynch‑Staunton Award in 1977, and the prix Paul‑Émile‑Borduas in 1998.