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David Bolduc (1945-2010)

by Jeffrey Spalding

David Bolduc was our leading maker of poetic, lyrical colour abstract paintings and the inheritor of the mantle of modernism within the legacy of Jack Bush and Gershon Iskowitz. Bolduc, well-read and widely traveled, accumulated the lessons learned from a lifetime spent exploring the pleasures of the rich visual history of civilization. His works paid homage to his admiration for an inclusive array of places and traditions. His peripatetic wanderings took him to Paris, Spain, North Africa, Mexico, Turkey and the Middle East, China as well as clear across Canada. His art draws upon and celebrates our vibrant collective world artistic heritage: Persian miniatures, Oriental rugs African art, Asian calligraphy and the splendours of the inventive progressive art of the modern age.

He came to attention in the early seventies through his exhibitions at the prestigious Carmen Lamanna Gallery, Toronto. These works were taut, refined all-over monochrome compositions operating within the tradition of reductive, geometric abstraction utilizing homogenous treatments or a single mark-gesture repeated consistently across the entire surface. They were shown in the company of a band of minimalist-inclined painters: Brice Marsden, David Diao, Les Levine and Paterson Ewen. By mid 1970s, he and fellow Lamanna exhibition mate, Ewen were breaking free of this mould. Both had spent time studying at the school of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and their new work sprang forth with vivid colour and accentuated linear mark-making. Their works shown in the 1975 exhibition The Canadian Canvas signaled the dawning of a new art. While Ewen gravitated towards New Image figuration and landscape, Bolduc evolved a unique signature approach to central imagery abstraction.

Bolduc's art re-asserted a strong figure-ground relationship of a hovering main motif articulated in bold impasto colours squeezed and drawn directly from the tube atop a stained background. Bolduc extended the modernist dialogue championed by Jack Bush, Robert Motherwell and Jules Olitski triumphantly showcased first by the David Mirvish Gallery and subsequently Klonaridis Gallery. In so doing, Bolduc became the locus of the evolution of a tendency strongly associated with a generation of Toronto painters referred to variously under the rubric: exotic or eccentric modernism. Marcus Garvey, (collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario), is reflective of a career-long obsession with colour, pattern and collage references. For all its modernity, its compositional form harkens to antiquarian appearances gleaned from time spent among libraries of rare, hand-stamped leather book covers and decorated bookplates. His sensitivity to this history prepared him to be the contributor of exquisite illustrations to a number of hand-made books and accompaniments to finely-crafted literary publications.

Bolduc openly embraced the joyous fauvistic colour of Matisse, Derain and Dufy. Like his kindred spirit, David Hockney, he relished the primacy and graphic play of free-hand drawing and acknowledged the benefits to be derived from constant daily work upon advancing his art: Nulla Dies Sine Linea. For four decades Bolduc nuanced every opportunity to evolve his characteristic style and formats. The temperament and tone of the works differed widely from stately, restrained and under-spoken neutrals to riotous exuberant gregarious colour symphonies sporting metallic and iridescent pigments. Quietly, behind the scenes, Bolduc, synonymous with abstraction, had begun again to sketch from nature: floral motifs, still-life, trees and stars. He and painter Alex Cameron commenced annual sketching trips across the country, notably recurring visits to the rocky coastlines and forests of Newfoundland. Organically, Bolduc's studio canvases embraced this admixture; his invented spaces would be refreshed by direct observation of revered places. David Milne, John Meredith, Paterson Ewen and John Clark come into play, so too the watercolours of Greg Curnoe. In an act of re-unification with glories of art's past, Bolduc created a number of moving, transcendent nocturnes redolent of Van Gogh's Starry Night. (with Lawren Harris's late abstractions not too far from sight).

In the seventies and eighties Bolduc was celebrated as a bright star in the constellation of Canadian art. He was a heralded exhibitor in Andrew Hudson's 14 Canadians that introduced progressive Canadian Art at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington. He held annual solo exhibitions dating from the early seventies; his works are in the collections of public collections from coast to coast. Of late, many have turned their gaze away from the visual pleasures of formalism. Recently, Bolduc completed and mounted a final show for Christopher Cutts Gallery, Toronto. Confident mastery of his craft combines with a humble acceptance of his personal place within art's cosmos; the final show is a triumph of the personality as well as of the hand.

The Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art
The Canadian Art Database: Canadian Artists Files

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