Yves Trudeau was a staunch defender of the status of the artist and a committed activist for the professionalization of the arts in Quebec. A sculptor, Trudeau enjoyed a particularly prosperous period in the 1960s, each successive year resulting in many breakthroughs and major successes. Buoyed by this momentum, the artist worked on several pieces simultaneously, his sustained efforts culminating in his celebrated 1967 work Phare du cosmos. His more figurative and lyrical style from the early part of this period gradually gave way to more formal experimentations inspired by abstract and symbolist imagery. His astute combination of iron and wood—of the organic and the inorganic, as Jacques de Roussan states—gave rise to skilfully measured works that explore existentialist ideas on human nature and reveal the artist’s own struggles with and reflections on the human condition.
Trirème, from 1966, is particularly evocative in this regard. Using common yet timeless materials, the artist offers a new vision, at once intimate and postmodern, on an ancient subject. Fascinated with watercraft, as evidenced in other works such as Le Carrosse des Dieux (1965) and La Barque des Dieux (1966), Trudeau appropriates the simple lines and tapered design of a trireme—an ancient warship that could hold up to one hundred and seventy rowers stacked on three decks within its hull—as symbolized by the sculpture’s iron rods. The charred wooden pieces, impaled by dozens of small metal bars, represent the deck, bow, and sail, while bent iron plates form the hull. The welded seams often spill out onto the flat surfaces and arches, adding texture to the overall sculpture. As such, perfect harmony is achieved between the work’s spatial balance and the richness of its craftsmanship. (A. L.)