Paul-Émile Borduas

Sans Titre, 1954

watercolour on paper
20x24 in.

Borduas Catalogue No. 2005-1013

J. Ron Longstaffe, Vancouver;
Private collection, Radium Hot Springs;
Masters Gallery Ltd, Calgary;
Private collection

Vancouver Art Gallery, 1984;
Masters Gallery Ltd., Paul-Émile Borduas Retrospective, September 11 – 21, 2014;

Famously, and on the heels of the Refus global, in 1953 Paul-Émile Borduas left Canada for the United States. After some time in Provincetown, he eventually ended up in Greenwich Village, where he would encounter the explosive and arresting work of the American Abstract Expressionists. Adding fuel to an already raging fire, the work he saw had a profound impact on his own. Françoise Marc-Gagnon tells us that Borduas’s work in watercolour was where he worked out new directions. In them, Borduas explores things he has seen, ideas that have been spurred by them and determines how he will respond. In works such as this untitled watercolour from his second fall in New York, we can see the influence of Jackson Pollock, where the white background (here the cream of the paper) plays a critical role in the whole. Not quite dripping, but on the very edge of doing so, this work is much more complex than a first glance tells us. There is control, precision, and restraint in the application of paint. Watercolour can be an angry beast despite its reputation as a user-friendly medium, and here Borduas has controlled the image with the skill of a wary animal tamer. No area is messy, blurred or over-worked, he has allowed the pigment to move and blend when only he wants it to, without resulting in colour chaos.

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