A prominent figure in contemporary art in Canada, Charles Gagnon is considered one of the first multidisciplinary artists of his generation. Known primarily for his vast pictorial and photographic body of work, he also experimented with sculpture, film, drawing, collage and engraving. Gagnon began working in painting and photography in 1946. After discovering Abstract Expressionism in 1954, he left to study art in New York between 1955 and 1960, at a time when the city was brimming with artistic effervescence. His curiosity was deeply stimulated, and he soon embarked on a period of intense and dynamic production. Gagnon presented his paintings in group exhibitions in New York, and participated in the inauguration of Galerie Artek, in Montréal, with Guido Molinari, Claude Tousignant, Paul-Émile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle and Alfred Pellan, among others. After returning to Montréal in 1960, he began the production of his first landscapes, and also during this period, a series of box-constructions. Works from this series paved the way toward a sustained exploration of spatial ambiguity. The year 1965 marked a turning point in his practice, which was becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, eventually encompassing painting, photography, film, and even kinetic and sound environments. No matter what form it takes, from the recurring presence of numbers, letters, or words—as present in his early work as they are in the 1980s and ‘90s—to nature as an ongoing motif, his diligent practice is imbued with a deep sense of rigour.

Histoire naturelle VI (Nubilæ), 1988-1991, 2 gelatin silver prints and oil on masonite.
© Succession Charles Gagnon • Photo: courtesy of Galerie René Blouin