Colonne sans fin no 3 (1962) offers irrefutable proof of McEwen’s status as a master colourist, a painter at the peak of his artistic maturity.
In the early 1960s, McEwen created Meurtrières, Grand fil à plomb, a series of paintings that gave precedence to verticality and binary structure. Colonne sans fin no 3 is thus divided into two halves, left and right, slightly asymmetrical and furrowed by a broad median line that seems to resist the pressure of infiltrating colour and substance. The rich and creamy shadows and marbled, rhizomatic light appear to swallow everything in their path. Variations of yellow are expressed in different tones, from bright mustard to saffron, from khaki to cinnamon, from sienna to burnt umber. Here, McEwen seeks to establish a new chromatic language capable of any lyrical inflection, creating a sensation of vibrato between masses. A deep purple lends additional depth to the background and reveals its pure pigmentation in diluted washes at the edge of the frame.
A self-taught artist, Jean McEwen quickly abandoned the paintbrush and palette knife in favour of his own technique, using only his fingers. His images were heavily stratified—up to a dozen layers per painting—eventually realized in a dense, multi-coloured base in close dialogue with the pigments beneath. Through his formal, rigorous approach, he rejected measurement and the calculated precision of hard-edge geometry, instead embracing the organic compositions that emerged from grafting colours in successive layers. Identified for this reason with the Néo-plasticiens, McEwen drew inspiration from the aesthetic currents in American art at the time—Abstract Expressionism and Colour Field painting—freely appropriating them as he continued to explore the duality of colour and structure. The introduction of colour fields, which he subjected to a rigorous, sequential spatial ordering, allowed him to explore the full potential of colour and surface-depth dynamics.