MOLINARI TIMES TWO : Paintings 1964-1968 and Works on Paper 1953-1957
Our opening exhibition proposes two groups of works, separated by some ten years. We are put in mind of chamber music upstairs and symphonic music downstairs. Or the works of a young creator shown alongside the production of a mature artist. Both comparisons are somewhat true, but then again….
It is worth recalling that only fifteen years separate the drawings of 1953, with their echoes of European surrealism, from the large paintings for which Molinari earned the David F. Bright Foundation Prize at the XXXIVth Venice Biennale. Which is to say that the painter, already considered a major proponent of abstract painting is Canada, remained eligible to take part in exhibitions of “under thirty five year-olds” which were frequent at the time, and would today be considered a bit young for the Sobey Art Award.
The much-noted precociousness of Molinari accounts for his early fame. He was only eighteen years old when his series painted in total darkness gave the Automatistes lessons in their own theories, a short three years after the Refus Global. Four years later, the self-taught artist, who described himself as the theorist of “Molinarism”, opened the L’Actuelle Gallery devoted solely to non-objective art. This exhibition space, a joint undertaking with his companion Fernande Saint-Martin, was one of the most stimulating intellectual exercises of the decade. During the same year, he joined in the debate between Borduas and Fernand Leduc on the merits of Montreal versus New York City painting. He was still in his forties when he won the Paul Émile Borduas Prize in 1980.
The Foundation has plumbed the thinking of the artist for this first show. As a result, the nine canvasses in the large room date from 1964-1968, the period selected by Molinari (and also by Bryden Smith of the National Gallery of Canada) to be shown in the Canadian Pavilion at Venice in 1968. That was the first instance where the artist, not known for exploiting at great length single strands of inspiration, embraced a structure which served him for a significant time, over eight years in fact, consisting of a series of identical vertical bands serving as coloured planes with which he jousted as a poet or a musician, but above all as a painter deliriously in love with colour. With unending variations, given the artist’s own rigorous self-imposed constraints.
We then turn to the works on paper, an artistic practice for which Molinari is less well known but in which he was remarkably prolific – the Foundation owns some 800 sheets. These works were featured in the artist’s earliest shows, at L’Échouerie in 1954 and at Espace 55 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where they were singled out by Rodolphe de Repentigny, the most authoritative critic of the day, who wrote that Molinari’s drawings “occupy a place of their own in the exhibition”. From then on, a selection of drawings invariably accompanied each of Molinari’s important exhibitions; so much so that at the beginning of the Eighties, art historian David Burnett devised a show of his works which remains a landmark in the history of contemporary drawing in Canada.
For the time being, our rooms enable us to show only thirty seven drawings, but they succeed in being a veritable treatise on this form of art, with the added delight of three iconic canvasses which shed a useful light on the graphic works. And vice versa.