Nathalie Bondil
Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Over the past 20 years, Anne-Marie Chagnon has reintroduced a somewhat forgotten metal: pewter, ‘silver’s moonlight’, as Georges Rodenbach once wrote, at a time when étains d'art were treasured, in the eras of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The Quebec designer took a personal passion, gave it an edge, added a brutalist touch, made it wonderfully offbeat, and gave it the strength of classic jewellery… or rather, the flair of a modern wearable sculpture.”

In a moment's glance


We wouldn’t ask an astronaut why he risks his life by going into space, no more than we would ask a painter why he paints. He just does it, period. He doesn’t need permission to do what he does, he does so without even thinking. That’s the true beauty of an artist’s work, the freedom to do, this creative impetus, like a breath from within.

It is safe to say that Anne-Marie Chagnon has breath as well as impetus. Creating jewellery that revolutionize a field is remarkable enough on its own, but creating them for 20 years is indicative of an artist with depth and a wide trajectory. I had the pleasure of meeting Anne-Marie at her studio just before her exhibit opening, to chat about her second passion: painting.

It is always a privilege to have access to an artist’s studio, especially at that singular moment when the canvases are still wet and inspiration still wafts through the air. Upon entering her studio, what first strikes me is the space. It is a large and long roomcontaining many workstations. Several workstations are arranged in the long, vast premises. Large tables are building sites for works in progress that will eventually end up in a painting or an upcoming jewellery collection. Dozens of paintings overlap haphazardly on the walls, supported upon each other while others lay flat on the floor.

From one work or art to the next, we quickly comprehend that there is a sense of urgency here. But why the urgency? The traces of work are still fresh on the canvases and say a lot about the energy that drives Anne-Marie Chagnon. These spots and lines tell us that the painter commits herself entirely to the motions and the act of creation, but they also reveal a pressing need for freedom.

What also catches the eye is the white, this emptiness that really is not, such as a universe where brute, organic, cosmic, and molecular forces unite; where the infinitely vast and infinitesimal collide in a big bang of shapes and colors. All this expansive energy deploys before our eyes without a sound, ever so silently, an improbable harmony, and an ephemeral moment of grace, set, there, on the canvas. These works, like soaring beasts, bear witness to a thirst for wide-open spaces.

The path from jewellery to canvas consists of but one step. Moreover, Anne‐Marie lets me know that her bare canvases are like pristine bodies upon which she will place colors and shapes. To get to her studio, one has to cross the company’s offices, thread his way past the employees, and pass boxes of material before finally reachinga room that serves as a kitchen, at the end of which is a door: the door to her studio. A genuine appendage of creation, the painting studio is physically connected to the office. They are communicating vessels.

If you are attentive to detail, you will note traces of her jewellery in the paintings, and traces of her paintings in the jewellery. A texture here, a motif there, certain shapes, but never an idle gesture. Her jewelly collections are sometimes inspired by tribal and primitive art that sets the body in motion, whereas her paintings speak more to the spirit and the eye.

Anne-Marie's work hints at the meditative absolute. To her, painting is an act of freedom as well as an exercise in mindfulness. Nothing is left to chance. Each shape relates to another, in a cunning and free balance. Time stands still, like a paused frame from a movie. Her paintings, abstract and vibrant, encourage us to let go and allow ourselves to get caught up in the pleasures of imagination. If a familiar form appears—a face, a figure—it is a product of our imagination, in a moment’s glance, since these paintings harbour no desire of representation. We indeed find ourselves within a space of pure expression.

Anne-Marie works on several paintings at once. She has no time to wait. When creation knocks, one must grasp it and let the paint flow: adding a circle to the canvas, in a grand and spontaneous gesture, without retouching it, to then let nothingness be.

Marcel Duchamps, who revolutionized art with his urinal and readymades, liked talking about a work’s “art coefficient”. For him, that is the difference between what the artist foresees and what erupts out of nothingness, without warning, in the moment of creation. There is some of this in Anne-Marie Chagnon’s paintings, the impression that the result is the work of the present moment, a strong and organic material, yet at the same time delicate and refined, a shape born of the subconscious and captured by the artist’s intuition.

I left her studio that night with a head full of images, my body emotionally charged. I appreciated each painting as one would during a trip through terra incognita, letting myself be transported by fate. I invite you to do the same, to let yourself be lifted by the inspirationin order to discover the remarkable work of an artist set free.

Long live Anne-Marie! LINO

In a moment's glance