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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 wpe4.jpg (31661 bytes)

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Coconut Tree, 1941


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Sugar Mill, 1941

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More Images of Tortola:
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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.


As the 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 everyone."


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.


This site was last updated on 07/26/00
The Paul Fontaine Archive