Throughout his often-tortured career, Borduas always found the fortitude and courage to rise above his worldly problems of rejection, exile, and poverty when he stood in front of his easel. Indeed, the greater his anxieties and straightened circumstances, the bolder and stronger he seemed to become. At the end of his life, poor and alone, and only fifty-five, he capped his final five years in Paris with such major works as The Black Star (L'Étoile Noir), to which this regal festival of a painting was a forerunner in a different key.
Borduas abandoned his brushes for his palette knife in 1953, when he was in New York for two years. Getting into the United States had not been easy, since McCarthyism was rife and, having been interviewed once by a writer for Combat, a Québec communist journal, Borduas was up against the FBI, but won his case for entry. Nevertheless, his New York sojourn was not a huge success, despite the support of the Martha Jackson Gallery and such artists as Robert Motherwell. In the fall of 1955, Borduas set sail for Paris, where he thought his chances for acceptance and sales would be better. Alas, his hopes did not materialize, although a few Canadian friends visited and acquired some paintings. He was finally given a one-man show at the Galerie Saint-Germain in 1959, just a few months before he died.
Froissement Multicolore was painted in New York in 1955. It is buoyant, energetic, and excited; for the period, it's large, and its condition is impeccable. 'Froissement' can be translated as crumpling, creasing, folding, or as rustling, as in rustling silk or paper. Whether one sees the painting as a sort of shingled composition or as the auditory metaphor of multi-coloured rustling or crinkling, or possibly both, the effect is one of exceptional intensity.
At first the painting seems to be Dionysian and frenzied: the flying shrapnel spatters of red, green and blue certainly raise that aspect of the work to a very high level, since they have an effect far greater than the small areas they cover. But then the logic and order of the underlying structure upon which this all happens takes hold and all elements cohere. This may be due to an unlikely influence that may have affected this work. Borduas' first encounter with Piet Mondrian was in Montreal during the early 1940s and it was an epiphany that changed his thinking. When he got to New York a decade later, Borduas would have been seized by the spirit that created Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie and Victory Boogie Woogie. He believed that Mondrian sought 'the ideal depth' and seriousness in his painting.
Borduas rarely painted with such apparent abandon, yet neither did he lose any control. In this painting he created something totally different – a farewell to the past and a salute to the future. The painting's ecstatic execution and its solid foundation make it one of his great masterpieces.
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