This spectacular work by Lise Gervais, an oil on canvas dated 1961, is among the most remarkable in her production.
The phenomenally energetic atomized composition of this piece is the fruition of two forces: one induced by the autonomous magnetic field of the white mortar background and the other dictated by the blast of black, red, and Indian yellow spots, of all sizes, that fuse on all sides and seem to overflow the pictorial space. These drifts of Tachist-like matter form islands of colour that range from small leafy mass to long lanceolate ribbon and proliferate more or less freely in the pictorial space, much like certain black slabs on a white background in the work of Automatist painter Paul-Emile Borduas, particularly the oil painting titled Expansion rayonnante (1956, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). Moreover, the design of the black plates, with the addition here of red and yellow, are identically encased in a white rim. The streaks of impasto thus propelled and laden with pigments sometimes collide and, in doing so, raise rolls of material into peaks and sharp-edged ridges, recalling other Borduas paintings from the same batch, such as 3 + 4 + 1 and Goéland (1956, National Gallery of Canada). Interestingly, although Gervais’s Untitled is typical of the post-Automatist period, her chosen colouring also recalls the Plasticiens’ palette, especially the work of Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant in the mid-1950s and 1960s.
Lise Gervais was born in 1933 in Saint-Césaire, a small town in the Montérégie region. She studied at the École des beaux-arts de Montréal, where her talent was quickly recognized. In the early 1960s, she found herself in the midst of the conflict between the Automatists and the Plasticiens, and, like many other painters of the time, she aligned herself with Borduas’s entourage and became one of the key figures of the post-Automatist movement, along with Rita Letendre and Marcella Maltais. Despite her exciting and promising début, Gervais’s production slowed significantly due to illness, and she died prematurely in 1998. Nevertheless, she left behind a remarkable, impassioned body of work.