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prefer a 'structural' rather than 'iconographical' approach to his works
( Paul-Émile Borduas , 137). But given the painter's key tenets - (1) that
inner phenomena cannot be expressed without reference to the visible
world; (2) that the artist's accumulated techniques and knowledge al-
low him to translate these phenomena; (3) that inner phenomena like
the dream often have recognizable figures; (4) that titles are added
afterwards based on prior associations evoked by the forms; and (5)
that the finished painting will contain and reveal psychic phenomena 5
- the importance of the tree in Borduas's intellectual and visual forma-
tion must be taken into account. Indeed, Gagnon himself turns to L'arbre
de la science du bien et du mal , another Borduas painting of 1943, to inter-
pret this one: 'L'allusion biblique nous donne peut-être le sens de la
nuit dans cette production de 1943. La nuit s'oppose au jour, comme le
mal au bien … On pourrait ajouter du poids à cet argument en notant
qu'au moins deux tableaux de la série ont quelquechose à voir avec le
franchissement des interdits.' ( Paul-Émile Borduas , 155-6; The biblical
allusion provides perhaps the meaning of night in the production of
1943. Night is opposed to day, like evil to good … One could add weight
to this argument by noting that at least two paintings in the series have
something to do with crossing forbidden barriers.) Yet further inter-
pretive weight might be added by also considering Borduas's copy of
Leduc's Arbre de la vie , where a sword descending from the heavens to
forbid future access to Paradise may explain the inclusion of the blade-
like forms and the raised hand in Les arbres dans la nuit . Furthermore,
the trees here may well stand for 'good and evil,' as argued by Gagnon,
but also for knowledge ('science') in the face of the ignorance suggested
by the surrounding darkness, as well as for one's natural origins.
From one psychological standpoint, the erect white trees, round red
forms with dark centres, and suspended blade might invite a symbolic
(phallic, vaginal, castration) reading; by concentrating, rather, on
broader structures or patterns, one can hypothesize a more general
sense of repression and interdiction in the surrounding darkness, rein-
forced by the hand and blade, yet pierced by a desire for liberation or
transgression represented by the trees and the yellow flashes of en-
ergy, which also suggest the primitive forces of life and create a certain
harmony among all the seemingly disparate forms they appear to en-
gender. If indeed, as Borduas states, this individual context also ap-
plies to social values, then, against a dark background recalling the
repressive nature of Quebec society and prefiguring the impending
'grande noirceur' and 'grande nuit' of the Duplessis era, a 'revolution-
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