These two major works (Lot 13-14) are from 1965, a pivotal year for Guido Molinari, occasioned by his inclusion in the legendary group exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, where he presented Mutation vert-rouge (1964). The collector in search of rare, highly prized works should be alert to the opportunity presented here.
In search of a non-perspectival pictorial space and a stricter geometry, Molinari made a clean sweep of the illusionistic space so prized by the Automatistes in the late 1950s. Determined to formulate his own theory of art, he gradually developed a philosophy of perception that would upend the traditional codes of painting. Using a more radical approach than his post-Plasticiens colleagues,¹ Molinari sought to generate a dynamic experience between the viewer and his work by creating an altogether new form of perception. To do so, he pursued structuralist explorations, taking a new interest in the works and writings of Mondrian (from whom he would later distance himself, only to return to him again toward the end of his life). He was chiefly inspired by Mondrian’s method of preparing “geometric paintings by collaging pieces of coloured paper cut to scale, a process Molinari continued to use even in his first vertical stripe paintings.” Composed along these lines, with narrow bands of cut canvas mounted on a support and stapled to the back, Untitled (1965, 36 ¼ × 11 ¾ in) would seem to be the genesis for this series of vertically striped paintings, in which Molinari would achieve his aim of freeing chromatic expression using a serial device activated by the viewer’s gaze. Here was painting in its most austere form, and yet the viewer’s eye moves from one stripe to the next, from one colour to the next, “from left to right as we walk along, almost like a piece of music,” as described by William C. Seitz.²
After the “dynamic space” paintings of Molinari’s Plasticiens period (1958–62), this series of paintings of equally spaced vertical stripes (1963–69) constituted the first formal and structural dénouement of the initial questions he’d set out to address. By using coloured stripes of equal width, Roald Nasgaard explains, Molinari solved his spatial problem once and for all. With his geometries distributed evenly across smooth, opaque surfaces; his clean, crisp edges; and his predictably alternating colours, Molinari “succeeded in ridding the pictorial area of any hint of subjectivity and underlying events; his compositions, so fortified, consequently leave ample room for the energy of the colours and their rhythmic interactions, which continuously solicit the eyes and nerve endings of the viewer,” Nasgaard writes. In fact, with Untitled (1965, 40 × 32 in), the stripe method is systematized, as colour is applied to the canvas directly using a hard-edge technique with surgical precision. The narrower of the two paintings features an intentionally wider reddish-orange band at its centre—a sort of visual stimulant—the larger repeats three equal bands of yellow, reddish-orange, and orange in three not-quite-complete sequences (the third orange band is omitted), an elegant optical stratagem whereby the eye glides once more across the surface, back to the beginning of the “score.” And while the first piece uses a palette of warm and cool colours, a total solar spectrum is observed in the second; a chromatic sequencing also present in Mutation jauneocre (1964) and Mutation rythmique bi-jaune (1965).
¹ Claude Tousignant, Yves Gaucher et/and Charles Gagnon.
² William C. Seitz, who curated the 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye, in which Molinari and Tousignant took part, used this phrase to describe a painting by Gene Davis in the short documentary of the same name, directed by Brian de Palma.