Biography of Jean-Paul RIOPELLE

Riopelle 1947 Photographie Maurice Perron MNBAQ

Riopelle 1947 Photographie Maurice Perron MNBAQ



Born in Montreal in 1923, Jean-Paul Riopelle studied at Montreal’s École Polytechnique and drew nature on evenings and Sundays. In 1942-45, he studied at Montreal’s École des beaux-arts and with Paul-Émile Borduas at the École du meuble, where he came into contact with Surrealist theories of automatism that encouraged a spontaneous expression of the subconscious in art. In 1946 he travelled to France and New York. He moved to Paris and in 1947 organised an exhibition of the work of the “automatist” group. He met writers associated with surrealism such as Aimé Césaire and painters such as Picabia and Nicolas de Staël.                              

In the 1950s, the painter’s style develops enormously during this period. Riopelle experiments, one after the other, with highly varied techniques and media: painting with a brush, impasto layers of paint that evoke sculpture, lines of paint sprayed on the canvas and paint applied with a knife. Recognized abroad by the late 1940s, Riopelle had achieved success by the 1950s. At the end on the 1950s he made sculptures. In 1964-64 it’s the beginning of the return to representation. In 1966 he discovers engravings. In 1984-85 he worked with ceramic techniques. Although Riopelle had moved to Paris in 1946, he was an integral part of the artistic revolution that took place in Montreal in the late 1940s.

He died in 2002 at l’Isle-aux-Grues.



“My purpose is not abstraction”, said Riopelle, “it’s moving towards a free gesture; it’s trying to understand what is nature, starting not with the destruction of nature but with the world”.



He designed the cover for the 1948 manifesto Refus global with a gestural allover linear patterning that characterized his work at the time.



From 1947, Riopelle exhibited a lot in Paris and New York. In 1953 his work is included in the exhibition “Younger European Painters” at the Guggenheim museum. In 1954 he represents Canada in the Venice Biennale with Paul-Émile Borduas.

Source: Riopelle, Connaissance des arts, The montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2002; Anne Newlands, Canadian art from its beginnings to 2000, Firefly books, 2000

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