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Charles Gagnon (1934-2003) was one of the generation of Montreal artists born during the 1930s that included Claude Tousignant, Guido Molinari and Yves Gaucher. Gagnon stood out from the others, exploring various media such as film, photography, collage, box constructions as well as painting. At a time when other Montreal artists were looking to Paris, Gagnon was heavily influenced by his time spent in New York from 1955-1960. His style of painting, unlike his “plasticiens hard-edged” friends, was more akin to the abstract expressionist movement in the US.
Gagnon’s compositional style is also heavily influenced by his interest in photography and film. Similar to his earlier paintings, the pictorial space is geometrically divided. In the Inquisition paintings, the divisions of space are of a certain width, a neutral colour and generally grey.
Gagnon also applied words or numbers to the surfaces of his later paintings, which transformed them from self-referential entities into something like illustrations out of a scientific manual or a dictionary.
Charles Gagnon: “I started wondering about how we looked at paintings. We normally read from left to right and from top to bottom, which is a very occidental concept. But do we look at painting the same way? I started incorporating how we normally read into my work, but then came to the question of whether we really need it that way? Suppose we notice things differently? Big things before small things? So I started adding labels, a,b,c,d and 1,2,3,4, to deal with how we read in terms of scale, which in turn brings in perspective. I became very interested in how, depending on where you came from, you could read a work in many, many ways.”
This painting was exhibited in “Charles Gagnon: A Retrospective”, Musee d’art contemporain Montreal, 2001, Cat #108 (illustrated)
Charles Gagnon, Inquisition WTR / HVR, Oil on Canvas, 1981-1982, 80 x 72 in.