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Jacques Hurtubise and one of his works, in 1991.

Globe and Mail archives

Jacques Hurtubise, a Cape Breton-based artist whose bold, abstract paintings gained an international following during a productive, 50-year career, has died at the age of 75.

Described as an intense but warm workaholic, Mr. Hurtubise's award-winning artwork has been featured in exhibitions in Canada, the United States, England, Belgium, France, Brazil, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany.

"He was part of a generation that really helped define what we think of … as abstract painting," said Sarah Fillmore, chief curator at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. "His influence is considerable."

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In 1983, Mr. Hurtubise moved to Nova Scotia, where he continued painting until his death on Dec. 27 at his home in Inverness.

"He really needed the kind of space that being in Cape Breton afforded him," Ms. Fillmore said. "That allowed for very rich production, very intense production."

Born in Montreal, Mr. Hurtubise began studying at the age of 17 at École des beaux-arts de Montréal; he graduated in 1960 with a scholarship to study in New York in 1961. That same year, he staged his first solo show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – at the age of 21.

Ms. Fillmore said she got to know him in 2011, when the Halifax gallery put together a large retrospective devoted to his more recent work. "It's hitting me how sad it is, how much of a loss it is," she said.

"He was a fiery man with an incredible work ethic. He was very dedicated to his practice," she said. "What he leaves behind is a carefully defined body of work that very strongly speaks to his particular language and way of seeing things."

Mr. Hurtubise's paintings often feature hard edges, bold colours and, in his later work, deep-black pools, rivers and geometric forms that often mask upside-down maps and text.

"He masked his paintings with a gestural splash that repeats with different forms and backgrounds," Ms. Fillmore said.

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He also dabbled in sculpture, creating what he called light paintings by using neon tubes and bulbs.

He was the recipient of many awards, according to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia's website, including the Grand Prix de Peinture, Concours Artistique du Québec (1965), the Prix Victor-Martyn-Lynch Staunton from the Canada Council of the Arts (1993), and the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas from the government of Quebec (2000).

Ms. Fillmore told the CBC that the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia had planned a small exhibit in February to showcase its recent acquisitions of his paintings. Now "we'll be working to dedicate that show to him in a slightly different way," she said.

Represented by Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal, Mr. Hurtubise was well connected with the international art community, travelled often and had regular exhibitions.

Ms. Fillmore said that when she visited him last summer, he was – as always – hard at work.

"He was making a whole new body of work that was just fascinating. He was finding new ways to reinvent his practice."

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