Resisting classification due to its many trajectories, Ulysse Comtois’s practice occupies a decisive place in the history of Québec and Canadian art. His paintings and sculptures influenced an entire generation of artists who sought to break free from the constraints of traditional three-dimensional work. Comtois experimented with figuration and abstraction, the rigour of minimalism and the gestural style of automatic painting, while straddling the border between drawing, painting and sculpture. Toward the end of the 1940s, he briefly attended the École des beaux-arts de Montréal where he met the dynamic Automatistes, although he never associated himself with the group. In the early 1950s, his painting and drawing reflected the artist’s early experimentations with a purely pictorial space. A decade later, Comtois made a decided move toward sculpture and became one of the first Canadian artists to work with welded metal. He also worked with painted wood, creating twisted or intertwined self-standing sculptures, where the use of paint became purely decorative with no real relationship to form. In the mid-1960s, he studied the principles of mutation and movement through modular aluminum sculptures composed of industrially produced pieces that pivoted on a central axis. These “columns” humbly erase any trace of the artist’s hand in favour of a dynamic and malleable work that invites viewer interaction. The 1970s saw him return to painting using techniques that resembled pointillism and tachisme, and exploring the energy produced by chromatic juxtaposition.

<em>Ulysse Comtois</em>, 1988
Ulysse Comtois, 1988
Ulysse Comtois, 1988 © Richard-Max Tremblay • Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay