The Beauty of Getting Lost in Translation

This week we continue our series highlighting artworks derived from or inspired by the written word—in conjunction with the special exhibition R. B. Kitaj: Don’t Listen to the Fools—by embracing color and the novel.

While the paintings of Francine Savard (Canadian, born 1954) initially appear graphic or minimal in nature, Savard’s approach to artmaking is rooted in something far beyond just applying paint to the canvas—it reflects a multidisciplinary, conceptual process that often pulls from inspirational sources outside of the visual arts, such as mapmaking or literature. A Man Asleep (Perec), 2010, and Le Verdict (Kafka), 2010, are from a body of work in which Savard explored the relationship between color, form, and language.

For each work, she translated the first sentence of a novel (from which the work takes its name) into a painting by assigning a color to each word in the sentence. Words that were similar in nature—or that Savard decided could be grouped together grammatically or conceptually—received the same color. The colored sections, each sized according to the word’s or words’ length, were then strung together to create a new form. Savard takes the concept a step further by embracing the opening phrase in both English and French, choosing from among many translations and working out the delicate relationship between the two languages.

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