In Marcel Barbeau’s joyous and festive painting Les musiciens de la rue, shapes seem to dance in a circle.
During the winter of 1989, Barbeau began a new body of work based on collages he had made the preceding fall and summer. At that time, the pictorial areas were larger than in his earlier minimalist compositions from 1988. However, similar forms reappeared and were enlarged freehand on large sheets of kraft paper, then cut out and used as stencils for his large-format paintings. Barbeau often freely modified his palette and the work’s spatial organization, leaving only a hint of the initial form and composition. Although, a year earlier, he had sought to use complementary colours, he now broke free from this rule to create unexpected, even bold chromatic associations.
With regard to the 1990s, Ninon Gauthier points out that Barbeau continued the momentum of his previous works from 1987 and 1988, favouring “complementary tones, interplay of tones” and reducing “his palette to a balance of black, white, and grey sometimes lightly tinted with purple or blue,” as is the case with Les musiciens de la rue. Here, against a dark-grey background, Barbeau positions a constellation of black and white polymorphous, curved elements, including one propped up by an orange band on its right edge, which brings to mind his optical-stripe paintings from 1965. This bold accent highlights the contrast of complementary tones through the sharpness of its colours—a contrast that is subdued somewhat by the pastel-shaded pictorial space.