Swiss by birth, Canadian by adoption, painter and master engraver Francine Simonin has enjoyed an international, prolific career for more than fifty years. Working in series, the artist develops one body of work after another with coherence, freshness, audacity, and a constantly evolving visual language. Ocean Beach, an acrylic-on-canvas work from 2004, marks her powerful return to painting in the early 2000s. During the previous two decades, Simonin painted only sparingly. Her Écritures (2000–02) and Écritures métisses (2002), followed closely by Les Jardins (2003) and Les Jardins jaunes (2004), led the way to her ocean and river works. For its part, Ocean Beach reads like a study of clear water near riverbanks whipped by waves and frothy foam. Evoking memories of invigorating swims and long walks along Normandy beaches, this work channels the sea’s deepest currents, the surging breath of body-memory, which the artist grasps with ample, all-encompassing gestures.
For Simonin, artistic expression unfailingly goes handin- hand with how she encounters the world, and her art is thus the product of an entirely physical experience. She lays her canvases flat upon a low table, less than a metre from the floor, so that she may engage with the surface from every angle while maintaining an overall sense of the whole. Unwanted drippings from her broad, self-assured brush strokes are minimized, save the trails and spurts left in the wake. Her movements leave decisive, unremitting traces. Painted in successive layers, with multiple drying periods between interventions, this piece builds its narrative with patiently added visual cues. Generous washes cover the background, followed by oblique forms, then zigzags and vigorous splashes. White and red vertical strokes conclude the work, recalling the artist’s past works, and those yet to come.
In Ocean Beach, Simonin presents us with a strong, visceral, even iconic work. (A. L.)