Charles Gagnon

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Charles Gagnon

1934 - 2003

At a time when an artist was usually defined by a single medium, Charles Gagnon created an extensive multimedia body of work. This ever-curious, influential artist always questioned and experimented, creating a diverse oeuvre as a result. He was born in 1934, and left his native Montreal in 1955 for New York City, to make art and pursue higher education. He enrolled at several schools (including the Parsons School of Design) and took classes in painting, art history and design. In New York he was exposed to Abstract Expressionism as well as collections of Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Mayan art. During this time he was also influenced by jazz, mathematics, Zen philosophy and experimental film. His various interests and passions pushed him to explore many different mediums and approaches to making art.

His abstract paintings are gestural with strong brush-strokes following repetitive trajectories to define space. In his work, one seems to be watching shapes and text form and dissipate. The contemplation of time became one of his main interests, and so it is not surprising that he worked in mediums like photography and film, which contain these experiences. His photographs usually present spaces apparently devoid of human presence, caught in the moment, prompting occasions for the viewer to engage in existential questions.

Gagnon returned to Montreal in 1960, and began to create collages and box-constructions. Like assemblages, these boxes contain photographs, cups, wallpaper and other domestic materials, somewhat like a box of momentos. Yet in defiance of this drive to preserve, many of these boxes have open tops, and their contents seemed to be accessible, even portable. This openness to mediums and materials reflects Gagnon’s general approach to life and art, always open to new ideas and possibilities. Gagnon even experimented with sound, making audio collages and experimental films. Throughout his career he had strong ties to Montreal. He was an educator at Loyola University (now Concordia) for almost 30 years, and was a mentor to many young artists.

He exhibited at Galerie Artek, Museé d'art contemporain (a retrospective in 2001) and Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. His work has been exhibited in Canadian and international museums, including at Musée du Québec, Tel Aviv Museum in Israel and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. His works are represented in several public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. In 2002 he received the Governor General's Visual and Media Arts Award.