LOT 019

1933 - 2004

Espace mutation
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled on a label and dated 6/1965
33 3/4 x 29 3/4 in 85.7 x 75.6 cm

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Acquired directly from the Artist, circa late 1970s
Private Collection, Montreal
By descent to the present Private Estate, Montreal

William C. Seitz, The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, 1965, pages 12 – 13, https://assets.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_2914_300190234.pdf?_ga=2.252021120.842777955.1609867420-289297965.1609867420, accessed January 12, 2021
Post-War & Contemporary Art, Heffel Fine Art Auction House, Fall 2019, essay by Lisa Bouraly, page 11

In 1972, Guido Molinari stated to the Canadian Society for Colour in Art, Industry and Science, “Colour as such does not exist. There exist only formal structures that offer meanings, layers of meaning that are not carried by colours, but by forms-colours units…That does not mean that we do not have ‘emotional’ responses to colours. On the contrary. Emotional responses to certain juxtapositions of colours are the basis of the art of painting.”

With its slender vertical stripes of intense colour, Molinari’s Espace mutation undoubtedly elicits such an emotional response. This 1965 acrylic on canvas is optically dynamic and a signature example of Molinari’s Stripe paintings, a series to which he dedicated almost 10 years of his career. Throughout the 1960s, Molinari made works consisting of vertical bands of equal width spread across a flat picture plane. Using vibrant groupings of colour, the artist revealed how the colours perform differently depending on their surroundings, and set off optical effects unique to each viewer.

Molinari’s innovative Stripe paintings catapulted him onto the international stage and established his reputation as one of Canada’s major abstract artists. The National Gallery of Canada and the Vancouver Art Gallery each acquired a canvas from this series, in 1963 and 1964, respectively. Another piece, Mutation vert-rouge (1964), was included in the seminal group exhibition The Responsive Eye held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among works by artists such as Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, Yaacov Agam, Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. The Stripe paintings also earned Molinari a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and the David Bright Prize when he represented Canada at the 34th Venice Biennale in 1968 with a selection of striped canvases. Executed in June 1965, shortly after The Responsive Eye’s run from February to April of the same year, Espace mutation comes from the heart of a dynamic decade of remarkable achievements for Molinari.

In the exhibition catalogue for The Responsive Eye, curator William Seitz wrote that the paintings included in the show “share a dependence on original and striking colour juxtapositions, a reduction of shape-vocabulary to the simplest units and combinations, and what Clement Greenberg calls a ‘clarity and openness that minimizes the importance of the frame.’ ” He further commented, “Their colours are chosen freely and subjectively with at most a passing thought to scientific or theoretical principles. The bold colour images arrest the eye immediately, like billboards, but retain interest because of their beauty, live interaction of colour, sensations of advancement or recession, lateral movement, spatial radiation, and subtleties of formal adjustment not at first apparent.”

By effectively simplifying his practice to essential qualities of chromatic intensity and formal rigour, Molinari created an entirely new pictorial space, doing away with figure and ground. In Espace mutation, green, red, ochre and orange bands move rhythmically, in non-sequential order, from one side to the other. As the viewer “reads” the work from left to right, each band is perceived in relation to the previous and the next, as the progression of colour changes. For example, the orange stripe might be perceived as more muted when placed between two ochre bands, as opposed to more vibrant when juxtaposed with a bright green one. Although the bands have influence over their neighbours, Molinari treats each individual colour with equal reverence and intensity.

Espace mutation is an engaging and spellbinding work, and the emotional response generated by its chromatic juxtapositions perfectly embodies what Molinari calls “the basis of the art of painting.”

Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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