Manuel Mathieu, Survivance: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts | Montreal, Quebec, Canada
The arresting paintings of Haitian-born Montreal-based artist Manuel Mathieu draw viewers into a world of contrasts, tensions and poetry. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is proud to host this engaged creator for his first solo exhibition in a North American museum. Survivance brings together some twenty paintings never before shown in Canada. The exhibition also features an installation created especially for the MMFA, in which the artist’s roots and memories gradually reveal themselves, punctuating the vivid, striking compositions.
A prolific multidisciplinary artist and recipient of the 2020 Sobey Art Award, Mathieu’s creativity is fuelled by his life experiences. Certain works express insights gained during two periods of convalescence following serious accidents in both London and Montreal. Being forced to slow down, Mathieu claims these periods of confinement enabled him to grow, tap into his feelings and, consequently, better understand his place in the world and the importance of preserving the imagination of his native country.
These revelations led him to become interested in the impact of the genocidal Duvalier father-and-son dictatorships (1957 to 1986) on Haiti. Delving into his complex family history and the geopolitical context, Mathieu explores his identity from various angles: his maternal grandfather was a colonel in the early years of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s rule, while several members of his father’s family disappeared during the same regime. Mathieu, who views the dictatorship as collateral damage of the Cold War, does not see himself as an island in this world.
In Survivance, visitors will discover a fluid, expressive, quasi-Expressionist, and sometimes even abstract painting style, revealing vaguely figurative references. We can also detect a conceptual approach, where ideas and issues are coded in various signs, the composition of the paintings and the vibrant, contrasting colours. Mathieu’s work invites us to enter a dazzling world of intriguing colours, textures, and shapes.
The title of the exhibition is inspired by Georges-Didi Huberman’s Survivance des lucioles [Survival of the Fireflies] (2009), a book that had a profound effect on Mathieu. According to the author, the survival—and resilience—of fireflies, emitters of light, represent the keys to truth and freedom. For the artist, “Survivance” evokes the souls of those who have disappeared or what they have left behind.
– Curatorial text courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Manuel MathieuAutoportrait, 2017Acrylic, asoil stick, chalk, charcoal, spray paint, and tape on canvas70 x 80 in
177.8 x 203.2 cm
Manuel MathieuAnonymous Black Baby, 2018Mixed media on canvas80 x 75 in
203.2 x 190.5 cm
Manuel MathieuRempart, 2017Acrylic, oil stick, chalk, charcoal, spray paint, and tape80 x 90 in
203.2 x 228.6 cm
Manuel MathieuSt. Jak 1, 2018Mixed media on canvas90 x 75 in
228.6 x 190.5 cm
Manuel Mathieu38, 2018Acrylic, oil stick, chalk, charcoal, spray paint, and tape68 x 72 in
172.7 x 182.9 cm
Manuel Mathieu, Ouroboros, 2020