|As World War II broke out in Europe, he and his
bride Virginia, settled on living on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The impression
was tremendous. Here he had an opportunity to escape the materialistic world a la Gauguin,
and begin to discover the myriad possibilities within himself and in his paintings. Short
of financial resources, they relied on their own ability to build a thatched-hut and their
own furniture. Letter about Tortola
Coconut Tree, 1941
Sugar Mill, 1941
More Images of Tortola:
In most of the
watercolors and oils he dealt objectively with varied subjects from natives climbing
coconut tree to a copper mine. Yet he simplified the objects by' omitting all extraneous
detail that would detract from its essential quality, and combined them to form an
exciting design. His stress on design no longer required a model from nature. Inside his
studio he planned his own composition in an effort to capture the spirit of the island. He
also experimented with applying only close color harmonies of gray-greens or soft red and
browns pricked with touches of brilliant red.
The humanist expression in this tranquil setting was man in harmony with nature
and with an "optimistic awareness of a closed, intelligible and ordered universe. His
composition was partially based upon the Renaissance formal
domain of beauty regulated by algebraic equations and platonic notions of harmony. The
artist assumes the god-like role of creator whose concept of beauty is an aesthetic
experience based upon pure mathematical ratios of order like the "golden measure.''
The composition was enriched with the oriental pattern of black and white values of Notan.
Renaissance humanists, Leonardo de Vinci and Alberti intellectualized, so did Fontaine in
his experiments with color. Disregarding the exact rendition of local color, he was more
interested in the moods created by the relationships of the intensity of clear colors. It
is the design and color that remains in the mind. Local artists who saw his work were
stimulated by the new way he had seen and painted the islands. The vigor of his expression
is revealed in his broad strokes and the exciting pattern of simplified shapes and by the
original treatment of clouds and trees.
At his first one man show at the Grace Home Gallery in Boston, art critic, Fred
Merckle praised him. "No blobs and crazy lines; here everything is recognizable. It's
such a relief to understand what the pictures are all about. Here is a painter for
Paul felt damned by this faint praise. "How could he do his
own thing if they were so pleasant and popular?" He realized his compositions were
not simple and pure enough. Striving for purity was the modern process of identifying the
limits of two dimensional flat surface of the canvas.
Painting, in asserting its self-identity,
had to divorce itself from illusionist sculptural, narrative and figurative elements. This
was in his opinion essential in creating a good painting.He wanted to free his imagination
completely from the restraints of painting from nature. As Frank Lloyd Wright said,
"The spirit of man would be uplifted and gain his own integrity through freeing his
imagination and consequently discover the basic vision of truth of an organic harmonic
life." Fontaine's feelings are rooted here.- This purity was best interpreted in his
abstract works in 1947.