Begun in 1986, the Élégie criblée de bleu series— which included number 7—is exceptional in several respects. As art historian Constance Naubert-Riser points out in Jean McEwen: colour in depth: paintings and works on paper, 1951-1987 (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), this series refers back to research conducted in works on paper in 1976, now reaching its completion in paint: “Worked on through transparency in the drawings, these designs acquire a kind of solidity here due to the opacity of the coloured pigment. And yet, the tension among all these layers sustains an instability between centre and periphery.” The quadrilateral sections, arranged in a kind of mise en abyme, mimic the format of the support in a construction that revisits Colour Field painting, exemplified by Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.
The blue-tinged framework along the edge of the painting fades away in its lower section, suggesting a kind of engulfment, the onset of a fusion that takes place with the background material. A mass of light-pink pulp stretches under the cloudy strips, and below this flaking the pictorial space deepens in ever-darker khaki tones. The browns, reds, and oranges, applied in a wash or rubbed energetically onto the canvas, form the secret markers of an altogether McEwenesque topography.
In 1987, McEwen’s work was included the group show Histoire en quatre temps at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Later that year, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presented a retrospective of his work titled Jean McEwen: colour in depth: paintings and works on paper, 1951-1987, curated by Constance Naubert- Riser. At the same time, Waddington & Gorce Gallery in Montreal exhibited his most recent series, Élégie criblée de bleu, which featured the current painting. McEwen received numerous prizes and distinctions throughout his career, including Victor-Martyn-Lynch-Staunton Award from the Canada Council for the Arts in 1977 and the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas in 1998, one year before his death in Montreal.