Claude Tousignant

Image © Copyright Claude Tousignant (2020)

Claude TOUSIGNANT ( 1932- )

Oil on linen, 1955
56 x 66 cm, 22 x 26 in.

• Galerie L’Actuelle, Montréal.
• Waddington & Gorce Inc., Montréal.
• Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, Art Sales and Rental Service
• Private collection, Toronto.


Label verso

Between 1954 and 1955, Tousignant moved beyond this automatiste-inspired vocabulary, which had begun to seem rather limiting. His work of this period were notable for their tachiste-like surfaces. By separating the taches, which had been abutting or overlapping, on a white ground, the artist began to explore the relationships between masses of colour. There is a phenomenal dynamism, an impression of playful and evanescent movement in these works that rewards our continued viewing. For instance, in the major paintings Les asperges (1955) and Les taches (1955) (plate 10), Tousignant worked with economical elements – minimal but inordinately self-present streaks or blobs of bright paint daubed almost expressionistically on a white ground – but achieved peculiarly expansive and even enlivening effects. The individual strokes seem to resist stasis at every turn; they restlessly interweave and engage in a visually intoxicating dance across the surface plane. The dynamism of these works is simply unprecedented for the time; the implicit desire and provocative jouissance they evoke are enticing.
See: After Geometry: The Abstract Art of Claude Tousignant, James D. Campbell, ECW Press, Toronto, 1997 P.52.


Claude Tousignant, born 1932, Montreal, Canada. One of Canada’s foremost painters, Claude Tousignant has produced some astounding paintings. These works often shock the viewer with their simplicity, their reduction in formal vocabulary, and the frontality of their planes. In the context of Quebec art, Tousignant is a luminary of the first rank after Riopelle and Borduas.

Claude Tousignant came of age in the shadow of the Automatists. To him, the figure and ground relationship of the gestural “action painters” (Riopelle, Borduas), still implied landscape. Tousignant sought a greater purity in art. Influenced by the geometric abstractions of Piet Mondrian, the artist began to make his first hard-edged paintings in 1956. Rectangular in form, each painting featured two or three colours in vertical or horizontal format. Working in alkyd resin enamel, he applied many layers of paint with a roller – the defined edges achieved with masking tape. For Claude Tousignant, the horizontals and verticals still carried an anecdotal reference to something outside the painted object. Seeking a way out of the Mondrian influence, Tousignant left the cultural baggage of the rectangle and began to explore the possibilities of the circular form. In these “bulls eye” paintings, concentric bands of colour vibrate inward and outward in a dazzling display of technical virtuosity.

Whether working in rectangular or circular format, Tousignant is always in pursuit of the painting as an object rich with meanings only it could possess. The unique chromatic space of his work is possible because his practice always has as its anchor the goal of securing for a painting the radical status as object. In his 1999 catalogue essay on Claude Tousignant, James Campbell best describes the power of his work: “Claude Tousignant’s paintings read as living distillations of colour and form. He has always used colour to express space, space to express colour. In doing so, his spaces lend colour a thick dimensionality and distended presence that can be genuinely eloquent and which can pull the viewer into a powerful gravitational orbit from which he or she only reluctantly escapes.” Tousignant’s work is represented in most museum collections across Canada.

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