LOT 019

1932 -

Mandala #1
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled, dated 6/1969 twice and inscribed "42"
42 3/8 x 42 3/8 in, 107.6 x 107.6 cm

Estimate: $200,000 - $250,000 CAD

Sold for: $241,250

Preview at:

Private Collection, Montreal

It is hard to conceive, 55 years on, just how animated and far-reaching discussions of abstract painting were in Canada in the 1960s. The National Gallery of Canada exhibition Form—Colour toured coast to coast in 1969, the same year that Barnett Newman, whose influential paintings Claude Tousignant first saw on a trip to New York in 1962, spoke in Ottawa at the invitation of the NGC. Tousignant’s innovations were heralded in exhibitions across the continent in the 1960s, including 1+1=3: An Exhibition of Retinal and Perceptual Art in Austin and Houston, The Deceived Eye in Fort Worth, Op from Montreal at the University of Vermont, and The Responsive Eye, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Tousignant also represented Canada in the 8th International Biennial in São Paulo in 1965 and just a few years later, in 1973, when the artist was just 40, the National Gallery of Canada organized a retrospective that was presented in Paris and 12 Canadian cities.

Tousignant is a titan of abstraction in Canadian art. He was active in Montreal from the early 1950s, and his works have left an indelible mark on the history of painting, particularly his iconic circular canvases, characterized by bold colour in alternating bands of equal width. Tousignant’s ambition from the outset was to achieve autonomy within a painted object, paintings freed from representation, free of the tedious debates of figure / ground and horizontal / vertical, free from the landscape traditions of Canadian painting. Tousignant’s circle/target paintings were entirely new pictures, each with a simplified rhythmic system, which create unique, almost autonomous painted objects. “I was fascinated by the circle as a form, the circle had equal tension all round, equal tensions to all peripheries.”[1]

In Mandala #1, Tousignant delves into the essence of visual experience, stripping away extraneous elements to focus solely on the interaction of colours. The painting is structured around his hallmark use of adjacently placed complementary colours. Tousignant is an outstanding colourist, and counterintuitively, his adoption of the circle de-emphasizes form, propelling viewers into a realm of structured visual sensation. His paintings are staged visual encounters with colours that pulse and vibrate, set in motion by simultaneous centripetal and centrifugal forces, antagonisms of chromatic energy. The viewer’s gaze is unsettlingly drawn simultaneously inward and outward.

The simple structure of Mandala #1 rules out stability in the picture. This is achieved by the artist’s interlacing two serial systems, one being three qualities of red, the other just two qualities of green. It is both this regularity and the work’s asymmetry that generate a constant chromatic shift. First the red precedes the green, then the reverse. The two hues seemingly create a third, with an entirely vibratory chromatic quality. As Tousignant stated, “My intention was that the confrontation of the pairs of colours by their juxtaposition produce a third. Something not placeable as a surface in space.… Colour in the circle that pulsates, one no longer says, it is a circle.”[2]

One of the most striking aspects of Mandala #1 is Tousignant’s masterful use of alternating values of complementary colours. His vibrant hues applied with precision create luminosity and depth across just a few concentric bands. This stunning bull’s-eye both provokes contemplation, suggested here by the title, while challenging viewers to reconsider their perceptions of colour in the world.

We thank Gary Dufour, adjunct associate professor at the University of Western Australia, for contributing the above essay. A modern and contemporary art specialist, Dufour was formerly the senior curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1988 – 1995) and chief curator / deputy director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia (1995 – 2013).

1. Quoted in Roald Nasgaard, Abstract Painting in Canada (Halifax: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, 2007), 192.

2. Quoted in Danielle Corbeil, Claude Tousignant (Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 1973), exhibition catalogue, 14–15.

Please note: this work is unframed.

Estimate: $200,000 - $250,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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