A dominant aspect in Jean McEwen’s painting is his exploration of opacity and transparency. With the beginning of the 1970s, this approach seemed to intensify and flourish, yielding works in which the poetry of his subject became fully embodied in the material, such that it became a “project in motion” certain to push the boundaries of the medium. When McEwen painted Les tombes rajeunies no 8 (1974), he was painting full‑time. His frequent presence in the studio leant his paintings a greater density, as they now marshalled his full attention. The medium here is exuberant, made palpable in the decadent colours and varnished paint. Of McEwen’s works in the series Cages d’îles, similar to Tombes rajeunies and created the same year, Constance Naubert‑Riser writes, “the process that generated the areas of colour is more tangible and the texture of the pigment actually plays a role in the compositions. The artist comprehends space solely through colour. He succeeds in establishing a tension between all the stratified planes by leaving their boundaries only partially defined.”
In Les tombes rajeunies no 8, McEwen foregrounds his lateral, incandescent reds and oranges, which, in Cages d’îles, warm the surface like a distant hearth. Here, in a sense, the painting makes visible the series in reverse, as if the painting were viewed from behind or from a mirror’s other side, as sparks of creamy light emerge between the fiery columns and centre area.
A work of undeniable quality, its crowning acclaim was its inclusion in the exhibition Thirteen Artists from Marlborough Godard, presented at the Marlborough Godard Gallery in New York, in September‑October 1974.
Signed on the stretcher
Private collection, London
NAUBERT‑RISER, Constance. Jean McEwen : La
profondeur de la couleur : peintures et oeuvres sur
papier, 1951‑1987 / Jean McEwen : Colour in Depth :
Paintings and Works on Paper, 1951‑1987, Montréal,
Musée des beaux‑arts de Montréal, 1987, 167 p.