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LOT 024

William Paterson Ewen
1925 - 2002

oil on canvas
initialed and on verso dated circa 1962 on a label, inscribed "INV. PF71" and "PFE 328 oc" on a label and stamped Galerie du Siècle, Montreal
42 x 50 in 106.7 x 127 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000

Sold for: $49,250

Preview at:

Collection of Françoise Sullivan, Montreal
Collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, Montreal
Estate of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, Montreal

Jacques Folch, “Paterson Ewen,” Vie des Arts, December 25, 1961, page 53
Matthew Teitelbaum, Paterson Ewen: The Montreal Years, Mendel Art Gallery, 1987, pages 28, 29 and 41
John G. Hatch, “Biography,” Paterson Ewen: Life & Work, Art Canada Institute, 2017 - 2018, https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/paterson-ewen/biography, accessed March 8, 2019

Galerie du Siècle, Montreal

Directly acquired from the collection of artist Françoise Sullivan, Paterson Ewen’s partner, Untitled is an exquisite example of his 1963 monochrome works that marked an important transition in his oeuvre. Following the creation of his first fully abstract work in 1954, Untitled (lot 21 in this sale), Ewen sought to experiment with the structure and style of his abstract works in the following years. He would draw inspiration from artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Ad Reinhardt and Paul-Émile Borduas during his numerous gallery and museum visits in both Montreal and New York.
In 1961, Ewen produced two bodies of work, Blackout and Alert. In both series, he juxtaposed geometric planes, building compelling compositions with a painterly approach. To achieve this highly textured effect, he would drag a saw blade across the surface of the canvas, creating deep creases and high ridges of paint. Jacques Folch of Vie des Arts described these works as “streaked, scraped with parallel, very deep lines, yielding surfaces on which light could play.” While the Blackout works showcased a restrained colour palette and were suggestive of the night sky, the Alert ones were almost monochromatic and were influenced by Russian Constructivism and the works of Piet Mondrian.
The black and white paintings of Borduas would also leave a great impression on Ewen. When discussing a visit to Borduas in New York, Ewen later said: “He had got rid of the figure-ground [distinction]. He was doing white paintings, with black…and they were great…Later he was doing monochromes and they were works of genius.” Moreover, when he saw the Borduas retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1962, he realized the painterly possibilities that the palette knife held.
These important encounters and influences culminated in 1963, when Ewen created a series of exceptional monochromatic works. These highly pigmented and deeply saturated canvases were heavily worked with the palette knife and were realized in a number of colours, such as blue, red, purple, white, yellow and orange. In Untitled, Ewen applies vibrant orange paint in broad strokes, building up texture at the centre of the work. Laying one slab next to the other, he manipulates his thick impastos in a mosaic-like rectangle delineated by soft ridges. Compelling and lavish, Untitled’s painterly surface effectively engages the viewer in a sensuous experience.
Ewen’s monochromes quickly brought him both popular and critical recognition. Curator Matthew Teitelbaum explains: “With all their tasteful energy, the 1963 monochrome paintings brought Ewen what was, until then, his greatest popular and commercial success.” Indeed, his monochrome show in February 1963 at Galerie Denyse Delrue nearly sold out. Teitelbaum continues: “For Ewen, monochrome painting was an exploration of a romantic, even mystical light and space, which followed, through reduced means, the landscape provocation of the Blackout and Alert series. With their pronounced impasto, the monochrome works summarize an essential aspect of Ewen’s work from the early 1960s: the painterly surface which signals a sensuous engagement with materials.” In 1964, Ewen was awarded a Canada Council fellowship for his monochromes and Russian Constructivist-inspired works.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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