20 x 16 cm

Huile sur panneau
Oil on panel
102 x 51 cm

Port de Montréal
Huile sur panneau
Oil on panel
122 x 155 cm

Intérieur studio Giunta
Huile sur panneau
Oil on panel
91,5 x 81 cm

Born in Montreal on October 2, 1911, Joseph Giunta was the son of a family of Italian immigrants originally from Sicily. Nothing in his home life predisposed him to an artistic career, even though his mother did easel painting as a hobby. Giunta’s father was a barber, and envisioned for his son the comfortable future that all immigrants landing on North American soil after abandoning their homeland dream of; Giunta, like Matisse, was supposed to study medicine or law. Yet, the appeal of artistic achievement was so strong that the young boy decided to study in preparation for a painting career, despite opposition from his father, himself a poet. From the age of fourteen, Joseph intended to study drawing.

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So, in 1925, Giunta enrolled in night courses at the Monument National under the guidance of Adrien Hébert and Johnny Jonhston, who taught Giunta drawing.
Two years later, he attended the École des Beaux Arts de Montréal, where Maurice Félix, Charles Maillard and Joseph Saint-Charles oversaw Giunta’s training for three years, i.e., until 1927. There, he met Stanley Cosgrove and was already working outside, producing studies “on the motif”. Finally, he did advanced studies for five more years with Dyonnet Edmond.

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During this final training period under masters, Giunta was accepted into the 1931 Salon du Printemps held at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where he showed again in 1934, 1937, 1940, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1957 and 1963. Finally in 1936, he was able to present the first exhibition of his figurative paintings at the Fine Art Department at the Eaton’s store in Montreal, alongside landscape painter Marc-Aurèle Fortin. From then on, Giunta participated in many events, solo and group, including the Canadian Hall of Fine Arts in Montreal in 1945.

In 1947, he showed landscapes at the Robert Oliver Gallery, and 1949 saw him give another major exhibition at the Antoine Gallery in Montreal before taking a study tour of France and Italy, whence he brought back several paintings, again figurative. The year of his ninth inclusion in the Salon du Printemps of the MMFA, he presented his work solo, at the Centre d’art du Mont-Royal and at the Zannetin Gallery in Quebec City.

This was the same gallery where, in 1965, he first unveiled work from his nascent abstract period, with highly gestural, textured and rhythmic paintings. Thereafter, besides two exhibitions at the Le Gobelet gallery and Eaton’s Foyer des Arts, he was invited by the Government of Quebec to show paintings in the Quebec Pavilion at the Osaka World Fair, while the Zannetin Gallery circulated a touring exhibition of his work. Later, during the 90s, he showed collages and constructions at the Vieux Presbytère de Saint-Bruno, the Gallery of the Alliance Française in Ottawa and, finally, the Vieux-Palais in Saint-Jérôme, among works by Ayotte, Beaulieu, Cosgrove, Fortin and Lyman.

Throughout Joseph Giunta’s career, the media coverage of his exhibitions comprised many daily newspapers, some of which no longer exist: La Presse, La Patrie, Le Petit Journal, The Montreal Star, The Gazette, Le Devoir, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph, Le Soleil and L’Action Catholique. Moreover, upon his very first exhibition in 1936 at the Fine Art Department of Eaton’s in Montreal with Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Giunta enjoyed his first articles in the Montreal papers, Montreal Daily Star and The Gazette, where they extolled his variety of materials, his complexity of touch and his excellent colour sense.

In addition to these commentaries, others appeared in a 1946 edition of the newspaper Le Devoir which picked up on the poetry Giunta’s paintings emoted, and on his synthetic spirit which submitted the details to the whole, a quality that would prove essential in his mature works. Another reference to this quality appeared in the same newspaper in 1949, when it was a matter “of ordering the parts around the whole.”

In 1964, Giunta’s transition into his abstract period was emphasized in La Patrie by Suzanne Lamer, who described its force and ardour, and the following year, L’Action Catholique in Quebec City elaborated on the importance of his exhibition at Zannetin. According to that paper, Giunta, in his “plastic poems”, had, through materials, come to “find his true [mode of] expression”. Claude Daigneault, in Le Soleil, went on to complete the portrait in 1973 when he wrote that
the artist was a “constructor”, a term that, all things considered, still proves to be
the most applicable one where Giunta is concerned.

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Throughout his career, Joseph Giunta produced figurative canvases inspired by such subjects as landscape, the studio, still life and portraiture, even through the major periods of abstraction and geometric construction since 1958. Surely, such consistency may be surprising, but it found no less justification in the artist’s creative thinking. For, even if practicing these genres corresponded, on one hand, to the inevitable early years and, on the other, to certain periods of critical financial need, it primarily drew the painter into a state of communion with the world, which was undoubtedly necessary for fuelling his prospective vision of pictorial material.

From this perspective, we recall certain late works of figuration that were distinctly different from the initial canvases, where realistic representation was subject to the illusion of depth. In the oil paintings, Violon (1940), Port de Montréal (1963) and, in particular, Intérieur studio Giunta (1979), the various motifs actually reveal themselves as pretexts for constructing a pictorial plane that ignores the effects of depth
and clearly approaches the painter’s conceptions of abstraction.

According to Giunta’s own testimonial, it was around 1958 that he made his first attempts at abstraction directly inspired by the world around him. Like Leonardo da Vinci, who advised young painters to discover forms by observing old walls,(1) he began to find urban textures interesting. Walking on a sidewalk, for example, he would see spots, textures, sinuous lines, organic and geometric marks, rather than the figurative motif itself. In the natural aftermath of this nascent development, he began collecting diverse objects without predetermining how he would use them in his paintings.

This collecting attitude, combined with his growing attraction for the exclusive play of pictorial plane and material, lay at the essence of the artistic personality of Joseph Giunta, who manifested it most beautifully in constructions from the 70s and 80s.

Hence, Giunta refused the literalness implying strict fidelity to a subject in order to, on the contrary, submit the world’s objects to what henceforth would prove to be the adventure by which he made his mark: the pure desire for materials – the ones he used at a given moment and the other ideal ones that remained to be constructed. Before him, “the great wherefore doesn’t exist” and he added, “I am amazed so much energy is dedicated to the representation whereas, on the contrary, one must admire the effort devoted to making something material. The decision accompanying a simple line is already significant. In one or two lines, one can see a major story. So how, then, is a landscape or a head relevant?”(2) This declaration clearly illustrated the artist’s keen awareness in the face of the modern adventure and certain of its major figures. Among them, Antoni Tàpies – for whom “the struggle with material must be added to reflexion” (3) – asserted, not unlike Pierre Soulages, that his thinking was formulated gradually over the course of working. One might imagine Giunta saying this.

Respectively seeking an equilibrium resulting from a dynamic tension between person and material, Giunta also stood among the heirs of Paul Klee. Klee’s precept, “the work is not form but formation,” (4) reminds us that, among other things, contemporary production characterizes the work of art as a development that is progressively determined according to how it is advancing. Painting, here, is the record of its own construction. This is undoubtedly why Giunta often insisted there was a certain type of motivating action to the work meant to be, from the standpoint of postmodernity, the result of a sequence of encounters which only exist a fortiori through the person that generated them, (5) and on a unique occasion. In this vein, he said, “If I reflect too much and think of my painting in terms of progressive explanations and conclusion, I don’t get anywhere.” So according to him, there is “another person acting in you when you change a line, and that’s a way to know oneself better”. This opinion was shared by Matisse, (6) and indicates another important aspect of this century’s thinking, which Giunta entirely assimilated and effected, along with the play of materials: the material of the artist who constructs himself through his work. Far from the concept of the romantic genius who considers the canvas as simply a receiving surface for the projections of his person, the introspection accompanying the modern adventure fosters – between the concrete painting, the painting to come and the artist – a constant exchange, during which each of the three partners responds to the calls of the other two towards a common achievement. Finally, Giunta’s artistic thinking emphasized that “the important thing for the painter is to assess himself in action in order to reach his own truth and emotions. Thus, the work brings him close to himself, deep down inside.” For Giunta, making work meant creating objects of communion in which the viewer would recover the hope of imagination – and doing this from a most contemporary vantage point; through material, found object and self-revelatory painting.
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