Fifteen years ago, Paul Fournier’s canvases seemed typical of his generation of Toronto painters. Like his colleagues K. M. Graham, Daniel Solomon, Paul Hutner and David Bolduc, Fournier demonstrated an almost Fauvist sense of color and an ability to be both playful and lyrical in the same picture. Like them, too, he clearly admired Matisse and Jack Bush. Yet Fournier’s pictures were and have remained stubbornly personal, in a challenging territory of his own, a narrow zone between reference and invention.
Fournier’s ambiguous images assert his dedication to abstraction, yet they remind us that he is a master draughtsman and graphic artist, capable of meticulous realism. It’s not that he dissembles a naturalist impulse. Rather, his pictures operate simultaneously in several ways. In the 1970s, declarative expanses of color also suggested windows with distant landscape views, calligraphic swirls also evoked cascades of foliage, and stiffer drawing both contained interior incidents and conjured up window frames and balconies. More recently, “foliage” drawing has read simply as polychrome loops and whorls, rather than as plant life, as in a series inspired both by sound and by the appearance of musical notation. But a sense of motion, of growth, persists. Sometimes, in pictures that seem equally about the concept of all-overness and cosmic oppositions of tempest and calm, dark and light, drawing is submerged by sheets of diaphanous color, while at others, buried flourishes are allowed to break through the enveloping pigment to set up new rhythms and call up new associations.
Fournier’s viewpoint varies, so that we feel engulfed by aggressive undersea life or lost in a tropical garden, stand comfortably at a wild flung window or float, like figures in a Tiepolo ceiling, into a limitless skyscape. But Fournier’s passionate dialogue with both nature and the stuff of painting links even his most diverse works. No matter how potent the allusion, Fournier, as a highly intuitive artist with a profound belief in the expressive power of his materials, always makes us aware of the sensuality of paint, the excitement of the act of painting. His best works continue to be joyous metaphors for intense feelings about the natural world, filtered through experience of the painters he admires most, and translated into a non-specific language of gesture, inflection and color.