Yves Gaucher’s Grey on Grey Paintings

Grey on grey series “one of the stellar achievements of Canadian painting (or international painting…)”

Yves Gaucher’s “grey on grey” paintings have been described as “one of the stellar
achievements of Canadian painting (or international painting, for that matter).” [1]. Reviewing
an exhibition of three grey on grey canvases at the 1968 Edinburgh Festival, British curator and
art critic Bryan Robertson described them as “possibly the most beautiful and original – and awe
inspiring – paintings I’ve seen since the advent of Pollock and Rothko.” [2]

In the case of Gaucher’s grey on grey paintings it is arguably their near-noiselessness – the
consistency of a neutral grey ground and the ever so delicate nuances in colour and line – that
makes them initially conspicuous and intriguing.

Specifically, with”PPL-1-JL-68″, when I tried to appreciate the entirety of the painting its nuances
were easily lost but when I zeroed in on those nuances the unframed edges faded. My focus
continued to oscillate back and forth between a broad view and the positive elements. I
particularly enjoy J.D. Campbell’s descriptions of the grey on grey paintings as a “living entity”,
born of what at first glance might seem like simple grey canvases. [3] They “seduce not only
the eye but the imagination as well.” [4]

Gaucher’s viewer-oriented methodology is founded in his appreciation of the transcendental
qualities of a great Rothko and his antithetical approach inspired by musical composer Anton
Webern. The result is an unique experience.

Gaucher painted about sixty of these grey on grey paintings between 1967 and 1969 [5]. In
PPL-1-JL-68″ (sold last year), the nuances are so fine that it was a challenge to capture them
even with professional photography. The painting dates from 1968 (acrylic on canvas 36″ x 48)
and was originally purchased from Galerie Agnes Lefort around that time. It had not been on
the market since.

Works Cited:
[1] Campbell, James D. “The Asymmetric Vision: Philosophical Intuition and Original
Experience in the Art of Yves Gaucher”, Mackenzie Art Gallery, 1989: p. 57
[2] Reid, Dennis. “A Concise History of Canadian Painting (3rd Ed)” Oxford University Press,
2012: p. 263
[3] Campbell, James D. Ibid [1]. p. 58
[4]Ibid 61
[5] Martin, M. Nasgaard, R. “The Plasticiens & Beyond: Montreal 1955-1970″, Varley Art
Gallery of Markham and Musee national des beaux-arts du Quebec”, 2011 p. 92

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