This double exhibition at Galerie Simon Blais is an unusual amalgam. What brings these two artists together is their pictographic sensibility. Yet each is dramatically different in the way of addressing the object/image in art. Marc Seguin is renowned for his controversial approach to art, to history, to anything in fact. He has a concept-driven acuity that has attracted a large audience for his work worldwide and in his native Quebec. The new works at Galerie Simon Blais are etchings and maniere noire prints. They are arresting mostly for their sparse, pictographic character. Seguin uses what is not in the work, as well as what he puts in — irony and an acute social sense. His portraits of Lee Harvey Oswald, Roman Abramovic, Julian Assange and Saint Thérèse of Avila touch all the right buttons when it comes to contemporary media sensation. Indeed, it is this formula, one could say, that has brought Seguin a lot of attention in New York and in Europe. Seguin’s sense of play is post-mediatic, for he can capture a concentration camp, or a destroyed church with equanimity. His is a Godless world, and hence the somber, dark, close to Gothic sensibility that permeates these etchings. This dark sense may have to do with Seguin’s Quebec Catholic origins. The infallibility of the Church, and the incredible let downs that followed, have coloured Seguin’s temperament. He cannot tolerate hypocrisy, nor reverence in any of its historical or contemporary forms. Seguin questions the media we feed on, and the palpable contemporary tensions his works evoke are ones any of us could understand. That said, the ironies and anguish he exposes make us question what the actual depth of his insight really is. And so Seguin’s strong graphic and pictorial sensibility is what impacts us most. It seems more important than the sublime and post-modern content. With the etching Chronique d’Automne #3 (2001), a bird is flying but the direction is downwards. We sense the gravity that pulls the bird, and the bird’s fragility; all this surrounding space and a few colourful marks in red and one blue circle complete the piece. It is stark, and has a singular, slightly morose soul. With Ruine (Black Out, Autel) (2010), a white bomb-like explosion of painted light is introduced to a mediaeval interior space complete with ribbed vaults. The light/dark contrast is brilliant and the abstract white Seguin introduces onto the surface of this etching hovers enigmatically right in the middle of what would otherwise be a classical architectural scene. Is this a re- fabricated memory of war? We catch the same sensibility in Ruines (2009) but here the pale outline of the ruins of a church is contrasted with a black circle whose edges are slightly uneven. On the border above, in bright colours — blue, red, yellow — we see a hazardous materials sticker. The seemingly innocuous label, a mere detail in this etching, emphasizes what you do not see, humanity’s impact on the world. The ruins of a church which could be seen in Romantic terms, is also an architectural remnant of one of the world’s great spiritual belief systems. The church image recalls Seguin’s piece exhibited at Mike Weiss Gallery in New York, that reproduced an image of a church at d’Oradour-sur-Glane, near Limoges in France where four days after the allies’ Normandy invasion in 1944, a Waffen SS division massacred the entire village. Seguin’s red marking on this image were powerful reminders of this atrocity.

François-Xavier Marange, who passed away on October 8, 2012, and was born in France in 1948, has lived and worked in Montreal since 1982. The works on view here are not the soft ground etching or intaglio prints for which Marange was known when he worked in Paris at the Leblanc, Lacourière-Frelaut and Maeght studios, where he came to know Juan Miro, Zao Wou-Ki, and Antoni Tapies, both of whom he printed for on occasion. (Marange also worked with the photographer Lee Friedlander). Instead, the present posthumous show comprises a series of fifteen mid-to-large sized acrylic on canvas paintings along with ten works on paper.

When Marange came to Montreal in 1982, he saw the need for a major print studio and he went on conceive the plans for and oversee the setting up of the big presses at l’Atelier Circulaire. Now situated on de Gaspé Ave. in Montreal, l’Atelier Circulaire continues to be a fulcrum of activity for printmakers in Eastern Canada. His studio on Casgrain Ave. was adjacent to Parizeau prize-winning printmaker Louis-Pierre Bougie. And so François-Xavier Marange played a very significant role in Quebec’s printmaking scene at a time when the medium was very popular.

Marange’s paintings do have a pictographic sensibility, but it is meditative. With each canvas he builds a three-dimensional tension, often with a singular image. His works verge on metaphysical, and what occupies the centre in each of these paintings can only be construed to be artefacts of the artist’s own imagination culled from his soul. There is something very Kandinsky about Marange’s search for a meaning through art. There is a soft textural effect that is soothing, as if a process of removal was involved where only one element becomes the focal point. Marange dissolves these singular elements down to an ethereal essence. De ce qui se fait et se defait 1 (2010) is near sculptural, a ribbed form whose elements form an arch with an ogival shaped and nature sculpture-like forms. The piece is sensitive, a reification of nature’s own undulating, variegated shapes. Other paintings on view look like tree sections and bone fragments. They are close to becoming archaeological, painterly presences. Sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal, Marange’s paintings’ “semi-abstract object forms” are sited within neutral painterly space, and achieve a three-dimension presence. There is a sonorous tactility to the meditative textures, patterns and traces in Marange’s painterly and thought provoking structural materializations.

Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal
August 10—September 7, 2013