November 2020

Rita Letendre, Beginning, 1987, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 50.5 cm. Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie. Gift of Beverley and Boris Zerafa, 2003. Photo: Andre Beneteau

Rita Letendre
Beginning, 1987
oil on canvas
40.5 x 50.5 cm
Collection of the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie.
Gift of Beverley and Boris Zerafa, 2003

In November, 2018 we highlighted Rita Letendre’s Beginning, 1987 in honour of the artist’s 90th birthday. It’s rare that we go back and focus on artworks that have already been featured, but this year is no ordinary year.

Rita Letendre is an artist of Abenaki and Quebecois descent, whose abstract paintings made over the course of a sixty-year career continue to shift our expectations of what is possible in a long and fearless practice. “Painting, all forms of art, is an experience of wanting to communicate with others and affords us great freedom if we want it,” Letendre noted. “I want it.” From her earliest days as a student balancing the competing demands and priorities of the Automatistes and the Plasticiens, the artist has always managed the subtle balance between learning from and contributing to the milieus of her time while staying true to the verve and energy of a highly personal vision.

Beginning is a small and accomplished painting showing Letendre’s progression from her hard-edged abstractions of the 1970s and early 1980s into something more intimate and impressionistic. Beginning implies not only the beginning of the day, but the primacy of light in our experience of the world: “light, from the first shock of birth to the last breath of life – light is life,” she reminds us.

At the beginning of this week, we set our clocks back an hour as we prepare for winter and what will likely be months of physical distancing and uncertainty. The symbolic weight of the time change—shorter days, longer nights, and a retreat from the outside world where infection is less likely—weighs heavily this year. In contrast, Beginning reminds me of the sun that now rises as I brew my coffee and start my day, with the velvet darkness of a fall morning breaking up against the provocation of dawn. Noting that she uses deep blacks and dark pigments in her paintings of light, here as in other works, Letendre states: “black is not a danger; the colour and light are fighting it and winning. You don’t accept darkness, you pass through it and you win.”