After the tragic death of his daughter, Nathalie, Jacques Hurtubise took refuge in his work, embarking on a period of frenzied production that lasted from 1980 to 1993. During that time, the artist created a series of symmetrical paintings reminiscent of Rorschach inkblots, which gave free reign to the imagination and interpretation of the viewer. Already distinct from his peers stylistically, Hurtubise intensified his pictorial approach, applying the formal principles of the Plasticiens and the Automatistes via a controlled gestural language. Here, the artist drew upon the techniques of previous decades, and on his mastery of printmaking processes, such as monotype, decal, and screenprinting. Hurtubise built up his works in successive layers, applying medium to half the canvas and folding it against its opposite, using a folding armature of stretched canvases mounted in pairs. Mechanically, Hurtubise repeated this gesture dozens, even hundreds of times before achieving the desired effect.
From 1985, faces or masks started to appear more clearly in his paintings; inspired by a trip to China a year later, figurative elements, too, began to materialize. In Tontitotem, painted in 1988, the masks seem to pile one upon the next, much like the stages of grief brought on by the loss of a loved one. There emerges, at last, a totemic figure that transcends death through the gestures of repetition, the assignment of order, and the harmony of colour.