Pierre Coupey's New Paintings Embody the Passage of Time
Kevin Giffin

Exhibition View |Pierre Coupey | Recent Work
Gallery Jones, Vancouver, October-November 2016

Pierre Coupey‘s new paintings are open and full of feeling and intelligence. In many ways, they look autumnal, although I doubt they were painted with this time of year in mind. They look seasonal because of the amount of reds and oranges and rusts that remind me of leaves turning colour as the days grow shorter. But those colours also share space on the surface with dark and light blues and yellows. It’s the particular combination of colours that make me think of them as paintings for later in the year rather than earlier.

Technically, the paintings are considered abstract in that they’re not of any recognizable figures or shapes. Because the marks are made by the hand of an artist — the painter’s paw — they’re idiosyncratic, gestural. I found that the colours — both separately and collectively — and their shapes evoked feelings and stories in me.

The paint is applied with a combination of intention and chance. The intention includes the marks or gestures that look like a single vertical dash or stroke of a paint brush. From there, an excess of paint drips down on the surface towards the bottom edge of the painting. Some of the drips and the drip-like lines of paint are so long, they create strong vertical lines of blues, reds and oranges. These vertical drips are accentuated by deliberate vertical gestures as well. The long thin verticals drips look raw and unfinished — like emotions that are still being felt.

One that I found particularly open and evocative was Untitled XXII (Rock Pool for PHC). It made me think of the passage of time. The first and most obvious kind of time is the literal, measurable amount it took for the paint to be applied and drip down the surface. There is also metaphoric time: the long verticals made me think of the way sand passes through an hourglass from one glass globe to the next.

If each gesture represents a human life, is the vertical line each person’s allotted time? Each drip may meander a little this way or that with the help of gravity and the surface. But in the end, the drips are fairly similar: despite their subtle variation, they’re vertical and mostly peter out on the canvas.

Detail of Untitled XXII (Rock Pool for PHC) by Pierre Coupey is at Gallery Jones. Image courtesy Gallery Jones. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Untitled XXII (Rock Pool, for PHC) (2016), oil on canvas, 80 x 60 inches
Private collection, Dallas

My reading may make the paintings sound like they’re primarily about sadness and melancholy. They’re part of what they are but not the whole story. Untitled XXII and others struck me as a much more complex works. They’re a kind of reporting about life with paint. Several of the works, some of which are oil on linen, create a feeling of depth like a weave on a flat surface. Light blue next to orange next to orangey red, for example, create a feeling of projection and recession that make the surfaces lively and diverse.
The subtitle has a very personal meaning for Coupey. The PHC refers to Coupey’s older brother, Philippe Henri Coupey who died in June, 2015; the Rock Pool, the lake in the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec where the two brothers spent their summers growing up. The painting is an visual elegy to Philippe.

The works at Gallery Jones are similar to Coupey’s Untitled XV triptych in the lobby of the office tower at Thurlow and Alberni. When I wrote about that work last December, I said that it reminded me of “coloured rain.” It still does. The new ones build on that breakthrough painting.

Also included in the exhibition at Gallery Jones are several paper works. Stanza X is an oil on paper with strong blue gestures against a largely green background with splatters of rust and orange. The dark gestures reminded me of a visual representations of people’s lives that zig and zag in different directions: some overlap and touch one another but many are isolated and by themselves.

Detail of Untitled XIX by Pierre Coupey at Gallery Jones. Image courtesy Gallery Jones. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Untitled XIX (2016), oil on linen over panel, 45 x 90 inches diptych (detail)
Corporate collection, Toronto


Images courtesy Gallery Jones, Vancouver

Kevin Griffin writes on culture and art for The Vancouver Sun, covering local, national and international exhibitions, events and issues in the cultural world.

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