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Joyce Zemens

Françoise André at the Gallery Moos, Toronto

Canadian Art #83, January/February 1963
[ 582 words]


Almost every painting in the exhibit of the recent work of Françoise André is an exciting experience. Her work is at the same time visually satisfying and mentally stimulating. Although the human figure is central to her work, Miss André's painting is not purely descriptive. Neither does she yield totally to the non-objective aspect of contemporary art. She rather combines the abstract qualities, inherent in her subject, with the figurative, to produce a symbolic representation. It is this synthesis, this understanding and ability to combine the best of two worlds which is so impressive in the artist's work.

Born in Belgium and trained in the European academies, Miss André's academic training must certainly have influenced her technical skill and craftsmanship. She has also inherited from her European tradition a basic classical and humanistic concern with mankind. Indeed, her work represents a psychological probing into the meaning of man. Engraved in her paintings is the experience of man's suffering and the mystery of his life, heightened by a strong sense of identification with the past. Miss André's debt to the classical tradition is most obvious in The Inheritor, The Past, wonderfully emphasized by the subtle mixture of gold leaf into her paint, is represented by a backdrop reminiscent of the Florentine baptistry doors and the inheritor — modern man perhaps — stands before it, heir to the past and charged with the duty of shaping the future.

Miss André's involvment with the mystery of the human condition is most clearly repre-sented by her individual figure studies. Applying her paint in thin washes, with the occasional addition of gold leaf, she brightens or deadens her palette according to her subject matter. Her line is expressive and clear, sometimes nervous and sensitive, sometimes sharp. In Old Man the ground is somber black and grey, and the age of the superimposed face is simply stated by the slackening jaw muscles in a face which bespeaks a full life. The Boy presents a most obvious contrast; Miss André treats her subject gently in pale shades of blue. The facial features of the youth are not yet distinct — his character is yet to evolve. The sympathetic awareness and understanding of the artist for her subject is evident in The Miner. Here a white face veers out of a forever-darkened world to sum up the anonymity of his existence. In La croisade, for me the highlight of the show, a human figure in the attitude of the cross seems to bear upon his shoulders the responsibility for mankind. His outstretched arms in one gesture protect the figure which stares over his shoulder, and accept the suffering and burden of life.

Miss André's newest concern seems to be an experiment with the double image. The repetition of this subject lends an aura of mystery and surreality to the show. The double face seems to indicate at different times the ambivalence of man's nature, and the watchman, or guardian of life. The form is most successful in The Shield where the double image is placed upon a black matte and seems in contrast, vibrantly alive — always watching, always alert. In Self-Portrait, Miss André reveals a statement of her artistic principles and aims. She presents the artist dominated by her work, her portrait relegated to the bottom half of her canvas. But most important is her face, staring out, challenging and ready to explore the mystery of life.


Canadian Art #83, January/February 1963

Text: © Joyce Zemens. All rights reserved.


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