Jean McEwen (Montreal, 1923 -1999)

In 1944, Jean McEwen enrolls in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the Université de Montréal. He writes poetry, is part of the group of students that gravitates around the French-Canadian poet Francois Hertel, and he publishes several poems in the literary journal, Gants du ciel. In 1946, inspired by a film on the life of Gauguin (The Moon and Sixpence), he becomes convinced that painting constitutes a form of expression equal to that of poetry and decides to teach himself painting while continuing his studies in Pharmacy. He receives his Pharmacy degree in 1949. That same year he meets Paul Emile Borduas, head of the group, Les Automatists, who gives him regular advice and encourages him to go to Paris. Jean McEwen quits his job as a pharmacist in 1951 to spend a year in Paris, where he gets in touch with Jean-Paul Riopelle. While in Europe he travels to Spain, Italy, and Holland and spends his summer in Belle-en-Mer (Brittany, France) with Riopelle.

In 1953, Jean McEwen returns to Montreal and becomes a representative of pharmaceutical products for the pharmaceutical company Frosst. In 1956, he beomes a member of the Association of Non-Figurative Artists in Montreal (AANFM), and then is elected president in 1960. That same year, while vacationing in Ogunquit, Maine he creates his first artist’s book, Midi temps j’aime-Poème en couleur. In 1961, he receives first prize in the Concours artistique de la province de Québec, also the Hadassah prize, and a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. In 1963, he reduces his hours of work at Frosst in order to devote more time to painting. He receives an honourable mention at the Biennale of Sao Paulo, Brazil and wins the Jessie Dow Prize at the Salon du Printemps at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as well as creates a mural painting with five panels entitled Rouge en liesse, commissioned for the Toronto International Airport. That year he travels to Greece, Crete, and the Island of Rhodes, and vacations in the Island of Majorque (Baléares). In 1965, he abandons oil painting for acrylic painting and receives a bursary from the Canada Council of the Arts. In 1966, he creates a mural in stained glass commissioned for the Sir George Williams University (today Concordia University) in Montreal. In 1967, he creates a mural painting (in oil), Éclats de gaité verte, for the Port-Royal Theatre at Place des Arts in Montreal (today the Jean Duceppe Theatre) and travels to Italy, Sicily, and England. In 1968, he receives an honourable mention at the Sondage 68 Exhibition, held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The following year he is elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He abandons acrylic painting and returns to oil painting.

Jean McEwen quits his job at Frosst, in 1973, to dedicate himself entirely to painting. In 1977, he receives the Victor Lynch-Staunton award which honours distinguished artists
in Canada. This enables McEwen to work in Paris from September 1977 to June 1978. During the eighties he accepts a position as sessional lecturer at the Université du Québec à Trois Rivières as well as a position as sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts (Department of Visual Arts) at Concordia University in Montreal. In 1985, he receives a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts and leaves the Université du Québec à Trois Rivières.

In 1987, under the direction of Pierre Théberge, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts dedicates its first retrospective to McEwen’s artwork. In 1991, he creates a monumental piece, En remontant les rouges, for the headquarters of Scotia Bank, on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal. In 1995, McEwen retires from Concordia University. He receives the Paul-Émile Borduas Prize, in 1998, the highest distinction awarded by the province of Québec. Jean McEwen passes away from a heart attack on January 9th, 1999.