Fernand Toupin. Crème. Mixed Media on Canvas. 7.8x10.6".  

Recently brought in from our permanent collections storage, Crème by RCA artist Fernand Toupin (1930-2009) represents an important chapter in the conceptual evolution of Canadian painting. Distinct with a flat expanse of white paint set in contrast to a thick textural application, this work embodies the character of a generation of painters who aspired to rid their medium of any vestiges of visual reality.

Born in Montréal, Toupin is best known for his involvement with the Canadian non-figurative painting movement known as the Plasticiens. With fellow members Rodolphe de Repentigny (1926-59), Louis Belzile (b.1929), and Jean-Paul Jérôme (1928-2004), the Plasticiens above all valued the plastic facts of painting: tone, texture, form, line, and overall unity. They renounced the romantic conception of painting as a form of self-expression and instead, sought to accentuate the objectivity of the canvas. For them, a painting was to be perceived as an autonomous object rather than a believable window onto the world.

The Plasticiens' work presented a reaction and alternative to the work of the earlier Automatiste movement. While both groups wanted to highlight the objectivity of their paintings, the Plasticiens opted towards more rigorous traditions of geometric abstraction, as opposed to the chance-based method of the Automatistes. Instead of allowing the unconscious mind to dictate the art-making process, the Plasticiens exerted an orderly control over the formal elements of painting. Their work was built by balancing one structural part against another in pursuit of compositional balance and equilibrium.

The paintings and writings of the Plasticiens helped to shape Montréal’s future as a centre in which geometric abstraction would find its fullest expression and theoretical justification. With their contribution, the groundwork was laid for more formalist abstraction to take hold by the 1960s.