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Reflecting on the Legacy of Marcel Barbeau

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  • Marcel Barbeau. Untitled, 1948. Image courtesy of National Gallery of Canada Musee des Beax-Arts du Canada Ottawa.
    Marcel Barbeau. Untitled, 1948. Image courtesy of National Gallery of Canada Musee des Beax-Arts du Canada Ottawa.

Aidan Ware, Gallery Director | January 8, 2016

It feels a bit ironic that this New Year’s Eve I was at the National Gallery standing in front of a towering Marcel Barbeau abstract painting, admiring the big energy and slaps of suctioning colour.

Two days later the news came that Marcel, one of Canada’s most influential painters and sculptors, had passed on at the age of 90. Reportedly, he died with the paintbrush in his hand - a suitable departure for an artist who helped lead the revolution in Canadian abstract painting along with Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Françoise Sullivan.

Marcel Barbeau was a central figure in the Automatiste and Op art movements in Montreal between the 1940s and 1960s. He believed that paintings should communicate through instinct, imagination, and emotion, thereby defying the edicts of the previous art movement and the rigid education systems of the time. He was an avante-garde leader in the art scene, a defiant yet spirited artist. A remarkable Canadian.

Despite the decades that had passed since he painted those works I stood before in the bright and quiet of the National Gallery on December 31, it seemed to me that experiencing Marcel Barbeau somehow never becomes a stale or travelled experience. Somehow it is always fresh. That despite time, despite the changing scenes and trends and turns, his paintings are always ready to shake you a little, and to show you something new.

In Memory of Marcel Barbeau (1925 – 2016)