Here, Marcel Barbeau has authored a true plastic manifesto, a precursor to the pictorial explorations that would soon push the visual arts in Quebec and Canada irreversibly toward modernity. This masterpiece definitively marks the genesis of the Automatistes, whose works were in many ways indebted to this piece. It is also a rare work from 1947, which, being on loan at the time, escaped the mass destruction of his oeuvre the following year. The artist located and reclaimed this piece more than thirty years later, in 1976.
With Dents de sable à cran d’acier, its title inspired by Claude Gauvreau’s poetry, Barbeau’s palette brightens: blacks give way to radiant whites, which illuminate the entire surface. This pure contrast, enhanced with blue and orange pigments, permits the artist to push the limits of all‑over painting and tachism, hitherto barely explored. A tensile network of palette‑knife strokes sweeps into the fray in a lateral thrust, while dabs of bright colour joyfully punctuate this embattled checkerboard. The markings’ oblique orientation lends great density to the dazzling and eminently expressive baroque surface.
Like beach stones polished by the tidal to‑and‑fro, the impastos, ribbons, and rolls of coloured matter pursue an organic, east‑to‑west course, from upper right to its opposite extreme. Enlivened by superb shimmering and transparency where the paint is scraped down to the canvas, this piece anticipates Marcelle Ferron’s works in oil of the late 1950s, if only for its quality of light, which shapes and sweeps the surface in a bold, mature, implacable gesture.
Here is an essential, historic work for the audacious collector—assured and singular, like Barbeau himself.