Zan Barrage
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  • Mississauga
  • Canada
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Narrative In Design - A pastel by Clarence Gagnon


Lucille Rodier Gagnon, Olive and Edna Pretty at Sainte-Pétronille, Île d’Orléans / Clarence Gagnon - 1919

This deceptively simple pastel by Clarence Gagnon is a study in design and composition. The design is not simple or formulaic or done for aesthetics alone as we will see. It impacts directly on the subject of the painting in a way that builds a narrative that can only be told through this design.

At first glance the pastel is a simple image of three ladies sitting on a fence at the edge of a river. The scenery is de-emphasized in favor of the three figures that are painted in higher chroma (brighter), and harmonious colors that make them stand out from the rest of the painting. But is there more about these girls than meets the eye? What is the story?


The blue clothing brings the right and middle figures together in the shape of the letter M forming a bond between them. The white clothing does the same in the shape of a W between the left and right figures. Their harmony of color intermingle to tell us of a friendship or a relation of the three. But something is amiss. While the two figures on the left each has her own lines that signal affinity with the figure on the right, somehow this linear affinity is not shared between them. They are close in proximity, but they each have an underlying secret affinity with the figure on the right.



There is an air of deceptive calmness to the painting that is brought about by the horizontal likes that outline the river banks. these split the painting into three almost equal horizontal areas also adding to the seeming calm. It is when you divide the painting vertically that you start seeing the tension that Gagnon has placed in there. You can clearly see that the left and middle figure have their heads almost touching. This is counter balanced by the further head of the right figure. The direction of the torsos in the figure also echo this affinity of the left and middle figure and the alienation of the right one.



More importantly though if you also draw vertical lines to divide the painting you would see how the tension is so expertly placed. The two figure on the left occupy the calm center of the painting. While the right figure literally teeters on the edge. 

The scene is peaceful, but something is not quite right with the ladies in the painting. How complex are their relationship with each other? Are there secrets that are not shared between the three? Gagnon hints to that, but leaves us to build the rest of the narrative. What an amazing painting isn't it?

Casting, Watercolor

Longing for the summer days but not the black flies. Still I long for the cold water on warm skin. That moment of anticipation when your body is say "no no no" and your mind is say "yes please yes".

For all of you who enjoy fly fishing. This one is for you.

 Casting, watercolor 14"x10"
Casting, watercolor 14"x10"

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Through my artwork I attempt to explore light on the Canadian Landscape. There is a certain temperature to the light up here, a crispness that is uniquely Canadian. Maybe because I have lived and traveled around the world, I have become sensitive to the light signatures of different places. The orange glow of the Mediterranean, the blazing mauves of the South West, and the viridian cast of the Highlands. They all speak to me in a harmony of colours. The Canadian radiance is a language of its own. Delicate but savage; rich but not overwhelming – elegant. I hope it comes through in my work.

What began as an inward journey to escape the war ravaged city that I grew up in, has metamorphosed from dark brooding symbolism in my youth, to colourful optimism and a celebration of light today. My brother made a living as a painter and his work gained a level of success overseas. I grew up in his shadow and still remember his birthday gifts of watercolour boxes that served as the gateway to my inward escapades. I still remember bleeding the colours together while the crackle of machine guns and mortar rounds rose above ELP, Pink Floyd and Yes. Nous Sommes Du Soleil. Ha! Those were the dark days.

Some say that a great body of artwork tells a story. Perhaps a body of artwork can be pronounced great or tell a story when it is done. I don’t know. Others say that you are not so great that you can afford to be humble; I am not trying to be. I paint because I fall in love with a moment. Sometimes I capture it successfully, and other times – too many times – I fail. In my journey, I am sure a story is unfolding. For now I live in the narrative one colour note, one stroke of a brush, and one moment at a time.

I am proud to say that my artwork has seeped into private collections from Australia through Europe to North America. I cherish all my collectors and value their choice to own my artwork. In a way, a work of art is not whole until someone owns it. I am grateful for that.
I am the recipient of the 2010 Forest Award and the 2009 Lodge Award for plein air painting in Ontario. I have organized and presently lead the Ontario Plein Air Society, a group of Ontario painters dedicated to painting the Canadian landscape from life.

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Comment Wall (11 comments)

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At 2:09pm on January 18, 2014, James Middleton said…

I don't run it anymore, as I moved to Nova Scotia last year. One of the members, Tara, has taken over and they have moved to a new location.

I now do life drawing in Mahone Bay and paint along the beautiful South Shore. I have also met quite a few painters here, as the place seems to attract artistic types. 

At 1:58pm on January 18, 2014, James Middleton said…

It's been a few years - my, how time flies!

At 12:48pm on November 10, 2012, Martha Laverty Allan said…

My gosh, I really like the 'clearing' and the Opeongo sunset too!

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City?
Mississauga
Medium of choice?
Oil, watercolors
 
 
 

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