Born in Rimouski in 1929, Louis Belzile worked with paint, drawing, and sculpture. He studied with Jock Macdonald at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto from 1948 to 1952, at Académie André Lhote in Paris the following year, and finally at the Montreal School of Fine Arts in the early 1960s. Belzile was among the first of the avant-garde Plasticiens, along with Jauran (Rodolphe de Repentigny), Jean-Paul Jérôme, and Fernand Toupin. The group exhibited together and published a manifesto in 1955. According to this document, “the Plasticiens’ work is especially concerned with formal qualities—hue, texture, form, line, the complete entity of the painting, and the relationship between these elements. These elements are taken for ends in themselves.” Moreover, Roald Nasgaard writes that “based on Cubism, new geometric abstraction marks an initial reaction to the pictorial spontaneity of the Automatists” (Martin and Nasgaard, Les Plasticiens et les années 1950/60, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, 2013).
In this painting, Belzile shows mastery and confidence in his handling of the cubist grid, segmented, faceted, and ordered following a precise though subtly asymmetrical architecture in order to create a “push and pull” effect in the optical space. The outlines, gradually more pronounced from 1955 on, are emphatic here. The coloured greys and broken hues lie muted under the aegis of the central orange diamond shape, like a viewfinder aimed at a secret target. “In the mid 1950s, among the works of the first Plasticiens, those of Belzile are the most illusionist,” writes Nasgaard [ibid.]. “The paint is always laid thick on the surface, the texture often worked with a palette knife, stylistic traits that he maintains even as he flattens his compositions and hones the outlines. When he tightens the geometry of his painting in the late 1950s [as in the present oil on panel], his images often function as signs, diagrams, or architectural structures.”
Louis Belzile, the last surviving Plasticien, died at 89 years of age on February 12, 2019, marking the end of a chapter in Quebec art history.