Jean-Paul Riopelle
Year, Birthplace 1923, Canada
Year, Place of death 2002, Canada
Between 1936 and 1945, Jean-Paul Riopelle took private drawing classes in Montreal and attended the École des beaux-arts and the Collège Mont Saint-Louis, followed by the École polytechnique. He then studied at the École du meuble de Montréal, frequented the studio of his teacher Paul-Emile Borduas and abandoned traditional painting to devote himself to abstract art. At that time, he belonged to the group known as the Automatistes, with Borduas and Ozias Leduc, with whom he exhibited in 1946. That summer, he travelled for the first time to Paris and then stayed in New York, where he met Joan Miró and Stanley Hayter before returning to Paris with his wife, Françoise Lespérance, a dancer and choreographer. Living in Paris, Riopelle met Pierre Loeb, owner of the Pierre gallery, who introduced him to André Breton. He joined the surrealist group and participated in the 1947 Exposition internationael du surréalisme at the Galerie Maeght. During those years, Riopelle, who moved permanently to France in 1949, made the acquaintance of Jean Arp, Antonin Artaud, Max Ernst, Georges Mathieu, Zao Wou-Ki, Samuel Beckett, Aimé Césaire, Pierre Mabille, Francis Picabia, Jacques Hérold, Sam Francis, Georges Duthuit, Serge Charchoune, and Nicolas de Staël, among others. The painter and his wife, Françoise, were co-signatories of the 1948 manifesto Le Refus global. His first solo exhibition in Paris took place at La Dragonne gallery, owned by Nina Dausset, in 1949. The preface to the catalogue was presented as an Aside about the painter by André Breton, Élisa Breton and Benjamin Péret. Breton would reuse this text in the publication of Surréalisme et la peinture, accompanied by two reproductions (Gallimard, 1965). Riopelle broke off his relationship with the surrealist group in 1950, his automatism being closer to a lyrical, informal and gestural form of abstraction than to a materialisation of the subconscious. After a period in which his work approached Jackson Pollock’s ‘dripping’ pieces, Riopelle began to paint with palette knives and spatulas, applying thick layers of paint to bigger and bigger canvases crossed with veins of colour, works entitled Mosaïques. In 1952, Pierre Loeb bought all his work, allowing Riopelle to enjoy a certain level of fame. In 1954, thanks to Loeb again and Georges Duthuit, who wrote the preface to the catalogue, he was able to secure his first solo exhibition in New York at Pierre Matisse´s gallery (followed by eleven exhibitions around the world until 1989). In 1955, he met the American painter Joan Mitchell, with whom he would maintain an artistic and amorous relationship for twenty-five years (they would go to live in Vétheuil in 1966, in the vicinity of the places where Claude Monet used to paint). The Galerie Kléber (owned by Jean Fournier) organised a particularly important solo exhibition in 1957, later associating him, in group exhibitions, with Simon Hantaï, Jean Degottex, and Sam Francis, among others. He also signed a contract with the Galerie Jacques Duborg in Paris. In 1964, Riopelle returned to Jean Fournier’s gallery before working with the Galerie Maeght until 1970: he would spend several seasons at the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, mainly working on a ceramic and porcelain mural. He would also work with enamelled lava rock in Vallauris. In 1963, Canada paid tribute to the artist with a large retrospective held at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal , and finally at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. From 1969 onwards he would return to Canada in stages and explore the Great North region, devoting himself to the observation of wild geese, hunting, fishing, and life in the wilderness. He reincorporated figurative elements into his work, especially birds, the owl, and the goose. In 1974, he built a studio in Sainte-Marguerite-du-Lac-Masson in the Laurentians. Following the announcement of the death of Joan Mitchell in 1992, he painted Hommage à Rosa Luxembourg [Homage to Rose Luxembourg], an enormous, fifty-metre long fresco created with aerosols, which he had already been using for several years. In 1995, he retired to Île-aux-Grues, where he only received close friends. AC