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Les Refusés

By John Pohl

Organizing exhibitions to show one’s own art – often with friends to share the costs of renting a gallery and having a nice vernissage – is reality for most artists who want their work to be seen.

Joining an artist-run centre can present opportunities, but such places seem to be the preserve of young conceptual artists and I, for one, have never been able to define a conceptual basis for my art. The closest I can come is that art fulfills an emotional need to express something, but what? Despite the near-universal love for Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, expressionism often comes off as self-indulgent and/or lacking in skill.

For me, a successful painting does contain emotion, but it is bound by the tensions created by its elements: the colours, the imagery and its structure, and revealed through close study. That’s my theory, anyways.

And showing my work? I organized two group exhibitions in 2018, and had a tent in the annual MTL en Arts downtown street festival in 2019. I also showed some work last year in the unlikely venue of Mount Royal Cemetery and got accepted in a juried exhibition at the Beaux-arts des amériques just before Christmas.

Then came the pandemic. The street festival was cancelled. The cemetery show was permanently cancelled. So you can imagine my joy when I was invited to submit one piece to an exhibition organized by Benjamin Klein, curator of McBride Contemporain.

I imagined about 20 artists in Klein’s Salon des refusés, but I shouldn’t have been surprised when it turned out I was one of 80 artists chosen: all the works are small and “salon” indicates the style of hanging paintings from from floor to ceiling that was typical in the 19th century, particularly with the original Salon des refusés in Paris in 1862. That was when the upstart Impressionists were rejected by the official salon and put on their own, now famous, show.

Klein chose a painting I called Marguerite Bourgeoys Park Sculpture 4, an abstracted image of a steel pipe sculpture in the Pointe Saint-Charles park of that name. The “4” refers to the fourth in a series of oil paintings begun in the park and concluded with two paintings made in my studio. I am presenting the full series here to illustrate how the somewhat representational first two plein air paintings got progressively more abstract – which is how I generally work.

No. 3 is an outlier because of the way it was made: covering the canvas in linseed oil and dripping the paint into the oil. It took several drippings to build up enough colour, and a long time to dry. But No. 3 also indicates the experimental nature of my practice.

In No. 4, the sculpture has become a figure among the figures that are the trees.

Salon des refusés runs to August 22 at McBride Contemporain, 372 Sainte-Catherine St. W., Suite 414. Website:

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