Claude Tousignant, c. 1966
After a stint at the École des beaux-arts, Claude Tousignant’s journey toward a simplification of form with an emphasis on the dynamics of colour began when he studied with Gordon Webber at the School of Art and Design at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1948 to 1952. He had his first exposure to Abstract Expressionism through Contemporary Art: Great Britain, United States, France shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1950 and it moved him deeply.
Even as a student he experimented boldly. He attended classes at the Académie Ranson in Paris in late 1951. In 1954 the Automatist exhibition La matière chante inspired him to resume his work with abstraction.
In 1955 his paintings are tachist, like those of the Automatists, but quite anti-, or is it Post-Automatiste, in how they divest themselves of Surrealist illusionary space and reject the muted colours and tonalities of the Automatistes and, for that matter, of the first Plasticiens, in contrast they favour pure colours, colour form placed next to colour form, laid out literally of the canvas support. They have crosses the threshold into “chromatic abstraction”.
It continued throughout the 1950s, as he followed in the footsteps of the first Plasticiens, who sought a rational geometric approach to abstraction. By then, Tousignant was producing canvases of radical simplicity, sometimes with just two colours, flatly painted and divided by hard, clean edges.
Over the decades he worked with concentration and intensity, always acutely conscious of the history of painting.
In 1962, the work of American artist Barnett Newman convinced Tousignant of his mission to create art with a minimum of means. While the shape of the circle began to appear in his compositions of the early 1960s, only in 1965 did the painting itself become circular in format. Tousignant then embarked on a series of works resembling targets, composed of several concentric bands of colour resonating with optical dynamism.
After the circle paintings, Tousignant returned to the monochrome and the monochrome as object, taking up again issues he had first begun to investigate in 1956.
As early as 1959, Claude Tousignant was clear about his intentions: “ What I want to do is to objectify painting, to bring it to its source, there where only painting remains…there were painting is only feeling”.
Source: Roald Nasgaard, Abstract painting in Canada, Douglas&McIntyre, Canada, 2007; Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly books, Canada, 2000