Acrylic on canvas
153 x 203 cm
Photo : Guy L’Heureux
453, rue Lindsay, Drummondville
Description of the work
With its diagonal stripes and arrow motif, Tziyah is typical of Rita Letendre’s paintings in the 1970s. At first glance, it is precisely this eggplant-coloured tapered point that catches the eye. It seems to split the canvas in two, leaving a luminescent beam in its path. Every element in the composition infuses the work with movement, power and dynamism, from the juxtaposition of the bright and contrasting colours to the sharp and pronounced lines in the centre and the blended tones and vaporous lines around the edge of the canvas. The arrow draws the gaze beyond the painting, as an invitation to look into oneself. Author Marguerite Andersen accurately described Rita Letendre’s work as the echo of human emotions.
About the artist
Rita Letendre was born in Drummondville in 1928. After moving to Montréal with her family as a teenager, she enrolled in the École des beaux-arts in her early twenties. She left school a year later, disappointed by the education she received, which she considered too formal. She became affiliated with Montréal’s avant-garde art scene and frequently visited the Automatistes group. In 1954, she took part in a major Automatiste exhibition entitled La matière chante that featured her work alongside Paul-Émile Borduas, Pierre Gauvreau, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean-Paul Mousseau and Fernand Leduc. The attention it attracted gave impetus to her career as an artist.
Her first solo exhibition came in 1955, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts exhibited her large paintings in 1961. She had already developed her own artistic vision, which no longer fit with Borduas’ thinking. In the years that followed, the Québec and Abenaki artist gained international renown through exhibitions in New York and Europe. Critics dubbed her the shock painter of her generation. Letendre, who had become a symbol of independence and freedom, travelled and stayed in France, Italy, Israel and the United States, where she produced many works. She also created several public art murals in major cities across Canada and the US.
In 1970, Rita Letendre moved to Toronto, where she remained until her death in 2021. In her prolific career, she exhibited her work in nearly one hundred solo exhibitions and just as many group exhibitions. She is the recipient of numerous honours, including the 2010 Governor General’s Award and the 2016 Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas—the country’s most prestigious prize in visual arts.
“My painting is non-figurative, abstract. Maybe it’s lyrical. All this terminology doesn’t matter much to me. What matters is the painting. When you look at a painting, you look at something real, and that’s what counts,” Rita Letendre once said to sum up her approach. Abstraction was her way of creating new ways of seeing the world. Her practice was in perpetual motion, and she built on the infinite possibilities of casein, ink, oil, pastel, silkscreen, acrylic, aerosol and etching in a variety of media, including canvas, paper, cardboard, panel and exterior walls.
Rita Letendre depicted what we do not see with our eyes: movement, energy, vibration, emotions, light. The aesthetics of her work are transformed through her pictorial research. At the beginning of her career, she joined the Automatistes to explore the intuitive, experimental, non-representational approach, but quickly developed her own artistic language. As early as 1965, she began to use the hard edge technique, which is characterized by geometric masses with sharp contours and bold, vivid colours and designed the arrow motif that ran through her work in the late 1960s and 1970s.
In the following decade, the internationally acclaimed artist returned to the easel painting and oil brushwork for which she had become known. But she developed a new gesture of the oblique, one that was fierier and more spontaneous. Still, regardless of the process or the material, what we perceive in Rita Letendre’s work is her aesthetic strength, her innovation and her unique way of rendering light.