1986-1991 – Painting

Lauréat Marois first came to prominence for his extensive serigraphy production, but has devoted himself to painting since 1983. However, this change in direction didn’t signify a major break in his pictorial approach. The rationalism required by the printing process yielded to a more impulsive gesture, but a gesture in which the rigor and methodology of his first years were nonetheless preserved. It is true that the large geometric surfaces formerly circumscribing the human or naturalistic figures changed, becoming interspersed with texturized, hachured, pasted, and layered masses. Even so, an attentive examination of his work completed between 1983 and 1991 shows a faithfulness to geometry, especially to the triangle, sometimes discreet, sometimes fickle, implicit but more often conspicuous. A faithfulness also to blue, a blue increasingly buried beneath a deep coat of black that reinforces the obscure nature of the “landscape” subject. The artist has tirelessly pursued this landscape since the beginning of his career, using it to provide an authoritative framework that heightens the intense symbolic impact of all the formal agents in his work.

Since 1983, Marois’s painting has continued to employ the basic syntax of his serigraphy: division and superimposition of planes, hard edge technique, defiance of the laws of perspective. Marois has again taken up the criteria of the formalist school in which he received his training as an artist. Through tight interplay between color and form, the figures yield progressively. Previously more apparent, they are now hidden by the heavy, dense masses of paint.

Marois has never surrendered to the rigid dictates of geometric abstraction. He uses landscape as a leitmotiv for what appears to be an infringement of the subject as much as of the geometric movement itself. In this period between 1983 and 1991, we bear witness to the clash between figuration and abstraction, between the regularity of forms and the freedom of the pictorial gesture. The landscape, when it is not clearly explicit, is rubbed out either by zones with wild strokes or by sections containing rigid angles. The surfaces fold and unfold, hide and reveal, fragmenting a nature largely beyond reach. Étoile (1984) and Cavité terrestre (1986) are fitting illustrations of this duel between figuration and abstraction. In the first case, the sea is crushed by a thick black band topped by a shiny triangle with clear contours. The triangle sits enthroned on the waters, which appear “eroded ” by abstraction. In the second case, the combat becomes equalitarian, with a figurative zone (waves) crashes against the opaque, almost monochromatic second plane of the surface, marking a winding but definite dividing line right in the middle of the picture.

From these formal comings and goings emerge recurring or subjacent tensions generated by the opening and closing of this window onto the exterior. Four paintings suffice to summarize this statement. In Nuit pour jour 5 (1985), a sea horizon in graphite looms circumspectly from a triangular window whose shutters are folds on a large, dark silkscreened surface. In contrast, in Vue de Québec (1986), the more classical view from above of an glacial island is expanded by the wide opening in the foreground. Paysage marin (1987) closes this gap even further on a tiny expanse of water rendered as a single luminous point. This surface seems to collapse under the weight of the large rocky masses from which it hesitantly emerges. The blocks, static by nature, benefit from the agitated strokes, infusing the painting with a slow, insidious movement not unlike the shifting of tectonic plates in their power to break up and divert. Hence comes the sensation of a disturbing sea-blue glow caused by the cracks. In Le chant de la terre (1988), the effect is the same. Across large slashed surfaces, a line of shrubs rises up against an ochre background, like a scarcely visible light in the thickness of the atmosphere.

Here, nature and its contradictory forces coincide with the artist’s work, full of dissonances, accidentals, arrangements, and relationships. The influence of romanticism in Marois’s work has often been pointed out, and with good reason. We see it in the intensity of the blacks, in the shadowy, exalted and mystical nature of the compositions. The introduction of human figures in some of his work intensifies this aspect. Homme traversant un paysage (1988) is a good example of this. The tiny silhouette of a person, barely perceptible, moves about in an obscure, oppressive universe that hangs over him and within which, despite several right angles, the painter’s stroke flares up, this time in a burst of fiery red.

In Lontano (1988), an avalanche sandwiched between two dark black monoliths illustrates the overwhelming power of nature, carrying along with it a shower of tiny triangles and rectangles stuck together. The atmosphere of two other works, the stormy L’arbre cosmophore no. 2 (1989) and the explosive Bouquet d ‘arbres (1990), is certainly among the most warlike of the collection.

But there is much more than romanticism in the work of Marois. Nature, omnipotent by definition, here obeys the artist’s own laws, as if by transfer. Folded, unfolded, amputated, divided, restrained in its outbursts, it yields itself to the inquisitive eye in a highly postmodern enterprise of deconstruction and reformulation. The Cartesian model of composition scrutinizes, examines, dissects, organizes, and exercises a sort of control, or at least an attempt to grasp a subject that is certainly steeped in connotations, but at the same time inexhaustible and still profoundly enigmatic. It is an exercise of deference as much as one of irreverence, so long as the symbiosis between man and nature is interpreted in terms of rivalry.

The act, if it supposes any form of influence or engagement on the part of the artist, is not necessarily anything other than subjective. In this sense, the shift toward an increasingly gestural—perhaps even more insubordinate—form of painting marks a logical evolution. This uncontrollable nature requires not only a violation of its analogical rules, but also a hand-to-hand combat, a sort of ritual between the artist and his work. Thus we have matter, distorted, scraped, shelled, as if its insides were being probed, as if the layers of skin that conceal memory were peeled away. Collage is not incompatible with these strategies. lt accumulates layers, breaking up mnemonic and mental images and putting them back together again like a mosaic. Starting with L ‘arbre cosmophore (1989), Marois’s collage is given even freer rein. In this work, the brilliance of the whites and yellows and the joyful atmosphere are in radical contrast to the dusky tone of his previous paintings. The same can be said about Vase à l’iris bleu (1989), in which milky white strips applied in relief light up a dark background, creating a space with both tension and atmosphere.

The mysticism of this production must also be seen as a direct consequence of the artist’s physical and psychic involvement. Hence this congruence in the interaction between the quest for inner balance and for origins, as well as the recurring symbols: arc, water, mountain, island, tree and triangle (moving from one painting to the other). The result is a whole network of spiritual connotations solidified into a kind of hard core. And along this extremely coherent path, the motif of the flower has imposed itself since 1987, exhaling its perfume of poetry like a hiatus in the lyrical drama playing out before our eyes.

Mona Hakim