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Nature's Parachutes..towards a
Definition of Borduas' Pictorial "Surrealism"
by François-Marc Gagnon
| 3 | 4
Borduas continued his botanical
musings in other paintings done in 1947. We have already examined one
of these: 8.47 or Flowering Quivers (fig. 2), which Borduas himself
spontaneously associated with Nature's Parachutes, since he had
sent them together to the Spring Salon. In addition to their similarity
of style and form, these canvases are both suggestive of the plant kingdom.
The calyx formed by the flower's sepals could be compared to a "quiver",
and the word "flowering" used to describe the corolla and its coloured
petals. These would be rather strange flowers, since they have no stems
and would float in space like true "nature's parachutes."
The third painting from 1947
that possesses the same kind of allusiveness is called 16.47 or Spring-Loaded
Fruit (fig. 13). It was painted a little before Nature's Parachutes,
as indicated by its number. The lower part of this composition is occupied
by a sort of takeoff ramp, from which yellow, black, and white objects,
resembling little aeroplanes, are taking
flight into the brick-red background. However, the literary title given
by Borduas to this canvas is based on another group of associations. The
"spring-loaded fruit" par excellence of the damp, dark forest glades
is the seed of the Touch-me-not, two species of which exist in Quebec:
the Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida, Nutt) and the Cape Touch-
me-not (Impatiens capensis, Meerb), the latter being commonly known
as Lady's Earrings. The flower of the former is pale yellow, whence its
name, and is mottled only slightly if at all; the latter's is orange and
deeply mottled. The stem of the Pale Touch-me-not is translucent and pale
green; and that of the Cape is tinted with red. This spectrum of colours
is precisely the same as in our painting.
The word "impatiens" is used to describe the flower because
of the way the elasticity of its pod causes it to burst open. The dry fruit
of the plant, which contains the seeds, is very sensitive to the touch;
hence the name Touch-me-not. The slightest touch causes the capsule to
open, and the seeds burst forth in all directions, as if triggered by a spring.
(4) The term "spring-loaded fruit" is therefore highly appropriate.
All three titles, Nature's Parachutes, Flowering Quivers, and
Fruit, are all constructed in the same way, with a noun and an adjective.
essentially to the same phenomenon, whether real or imaginary: during part
of their life cycle, some plants defy gravity and float into the atmosphere
before landing and germinating. From this point of view, the plants in
question are like dancers, breaking away into the air and then floating
back down to earth. Moreover, at least two 1947 paintings allude to the
theme of dancing in their titles. The first of these is 2.47 or The Dancer. It can be seen to the left of Leeward of the Island in that
photograph that shows Borduas sitting under his painting at the Sherbrooke
Street exhibition (see fig. 14). Borduas had first thought of calling it 2.47, or
Morning Meeting. The painting's background is
suggestive of morning light and it features two forms pivoting on one axis,
like the central element of Nature's Parachutes. But Borduas discarded
this title, appropriate though it was. He perhaps preferred calling the
painting The Dancer because the attempt to defy gravity interested him
more than the evocation of a particular atmosphere.
The second painting done in 1947 in which dancing is referred to is not
extant. Its title is known: 12.47 or Fish and the Dancer on
Red. This seems to have been inspired by the 1943 title, The Yellow
Dancer and the Animal, but in this earlier painting the protagonists were
on the ground, and were not part of the general theme of the possession of
space that seems to mark the thematics of 1947.
In this context even the suspended objects in 1.47 or Leeward
of the Island (fig. 3), the first painting in the series, could be seen
to be a company of dancers wearing feathers. The title even suggests that
they are being blown by the wind.
The title of 5.47 is The Wings of the Cliff or The Winged
Postman of the Cliff (fig. 5). From plants and dancers the subject matter
now shifts to birds, probably that large colony to be found around the cliffs
of Bonaventure Island, or Perce Rock in the Gaspe Peninsula. Borduas visited
this part of the province in the summer of 1938, and like Andre Breton he
could not help being moved by the sight; Breton wrote:
...it was on Bonaventure Island, one of the world's biggest seabird
sanctuaries....We had been listening to the flags flapping in the wind when
our attention was captured by the mind-boggling appearance of the Island's
steep wall fringed at its various levels by foam; living snow which was
constantly being replenished by the capricious and sweeping gestures of the
waves' blue trowel. I was caught up with the sight of it, and for a good
quarter of an hour I tried to blend my thoughts in with the pounding waters.
Sometimes a wing would come close. It would be ten times longer than the
other and would deign to spell a letter - never the same letter twice. I
would soon be caught up again in the exorbitant nature of the entire
inscription....Who would have thought that wings could be used to rise above
an avalanche!...How marvellous that the wrinkles cleft in the land by the
years could be used to shelter life in its most inviting aspect: the
luxurious sweep of a seagull gliding close by. (5)
The birds of Bonaventure Island defy gravity and move about in the same
segment of the cosmos as the winged seeds referred to above, namely the
It appears then that from one painting to another Borduas, probably
without realizing it, was meditating on something much more coherent than the
avowed Automatism of his procedures might lead us to think. Admist the
diversity of content, (floating plants, dancers, seabirds) is a single
structure of meaning: escape from gravity and possession of the atmosphere.
In 1947, the Automatism of Borduas took flight and established a place for
itself in atmospheric space. Rather than depict biomorphic beings pinned to
the ground or hanging from dead branches, Borduas made his canvases a place
where the birdcage is opened, where dancers jump high, and where "nature's
parachutes" float freely.
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