Throughout the past century, the Canadian canvas has been stretched and coloured by a remarkably rich and vibrant spectrum of artists, ranging from Emily Carr and Tom Thomson to Alex Colville and Christopher Pratt. None, however, has equalled the international influence and recognition of Jean-Paul Riopelle.
Born in Montréal in 1923, Riopelle is, as cultural icons go, the least well known of this year's Walk of Fame honourees; but his achievements will resonate for centuries to come. Equally accomplished as an abstract painter, sculptor and graphic artist, Riopelle studied at L'ecole des Beaux-Arts and with Henri Bisson at L'ecole du Meuble.
While still a student, he became integral to Québec's emerging Automatistes school of painting, in which surrealistic painting techniques are used to express the patterns of the unconscious. Together with his life-long friend and colleague, photographer Maurice Perron, Riopelle was also a founding member of the revolutionary Refus Global, which challenged the traditional values of Québec's post-war society.
In 1946, Riopelle moved to Paris, where he embraced the emerging Tachist movement and its spontaneous approach to abstract expressionism. Like such American contemporaries as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Willem De Kooning, Riopelle was both celebrated and scorned for his radical technique, which involved applications that sometimes extended to dripping or even throwing paint onto the canvas. Naysayers dismissed such work as random and accidental. But keen-eyed critics recognized that such seeming chaos truly emerged from a strict artistic sense of order and discipline.Later in his career, Riopelle further refined his technique with his daring and imaginative use of white space to create an expansive effect. He also focused on the evolution of his sculpting talent, culminating with his masterpiece La joute, created for the site of the 1976 Montréal Olympics.
The list of citations, prizes and honorary degrees awarded to Jean-Paul Riopelle over the past six decades is long enough to fill a book. Highlights include his being awarded the 1958 Prix International Guggenheim and, in 1962, the coveted Unesco prize. Here in his homeland, Riopelle's many accolades include the 1973 Philippe Hébert Prize and, in 1975, induction as a Companion of the Order of Canada.
His paintings, sculptures, and lithographs, treasured by collectors around the globe, grace the permanent collections of the world's finest galleries and museums, including New York's Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, the Galerie d'art Moderne in Basel, Switzerland, the Museum of Modern Art in Brazil, Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ottawa's National Gallery. There they will long remain testament to Canadian genius.