Jacques Hurtubise

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Jacques Hurtubise

1939 - 2014

Born in Montreal in 1939, Jacques Hurtubise graduated from the École des beaux-arts de Montréal in 1960, having been taught by Albert Dumouchel, Suzanne Rivard and Jacques de Tonnancour. He won the Max Beckmann Scholarship to study in New York that year and was exposed to the work of Constructivist painter Kazimir Malevich and Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning. Hurtubise however, was firmly rooted in Quebec modernism, and it was his work in hard-edged geometric abstraction that would garner critical acclaim at his first solo show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1961. He was only 21, and would go from there to shows at many prominent galleries in eastern Canada and the United States, while continuing to work in the manner of hard-edged abstraction.

Hurtubise secured a teaching position with the Catholic School Commission of Montreal in 1961, and taught there until 1965. By this time he was married to fellow student Monique Colangelo, and they had a daughter in 1962. Hurtubise's early success continued when he won the Province of Quebec Prize in 1965 and had a solo show at the East Hampton Gallery in New York in 1966. In 1967 he began to study the effects of light and colour, being particularly interested in neon and fluorescence, and produced light-box works using neon and incandescent tubes in 1969. He explored linear motifs as well as geometric abstracts through various series of works using brilliant, almost shocking colour. His Radioactivity series led to his inclusion at the Bienal de São Paulo in 1965, and he would represent Canada (together with Jack Bush) at São Paulo again in 1967. Of particular interest are his mirror images, where one side of the canvas is painted then folded, and thus printed onto the other side. He has explored stencilling and masking within these works, and more recently, has explored movement through paint.

In the early 1970s, Hurtubise began the Blackout series, perhaps his best known works. These large canvases contain squares of black broken up by fluorescent shapes in a grid pattern, and were shown at the Musée du Quebec in 1972 and at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal in 1973. These were followed by a series involving splashed paint, which he translated into silkscreen prints. He continues the practice of printmaking to this day. In the 1980s he was awarded a Canada Council Art Bank travel grant, which he used to visit Paris with a group of fellow artists that included his peers Guido Molinari and Claude Tousignant. At this time his work began to lose its hard-edged qualities, loosening into wing forms and cloud shapes.

After his return to Montreal, Hurtubise's daughter was killed by a motorist, after which he and his wife decided to travel in a camper van for a period of two years. During this time he produced small format canvases. In 1983 they re-settled in Cape Breton, and as he then had studio space, Hurtubise began to work in a large format again. He produced the Mask series, using tar paper and animal prints. This would be followed by the Sun and Coaltar works in the late 1980s, as well as the Octopus series, consisting of works that are paired or in groups of four.

At periodic intervals throughout his career Hurtubise also worked in black and white, sometimes with small additions of colour, but most often not. These works, he wrote in a letter in 1977, were a method by which to clarify his continued explorations in brilliant colour, stating that using only black and white "is the simplest and most direct means to discover and explore all the paths that will lead to a new image. Only after will colour and its harmonies perhaps come forth to contribute to the creation of this mystery that I want to achieve in making a painting."

In 2000, Hurtubise won the Paul-Émile Borduas award. His painting in recent years has become more gestural and spontaneous, exploring ideas of movement in addition to those of colour. A recent series is based on maps. In 2011 a retrospective of his work was held at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and included a survey of his prints. Hurtubise's work can be found in many prominent collections in Canada, the United States and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the University of Alberta, and the Peter Stuyvesant Art Foundation in the Netherlands.