Painter who loves dripping and splashing paint

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A part of Jean Paul Riopelle's Sculptor 'La Joute'

“When I begin a painting I always hope to complete it in a few strokes, starting with the first colors I daub down anywhere and anyhow, but it never works, so I add more, without realizing it. I have never wanted to paint thickly; paint tubes are much too expensive. But one way or another, the painting has to be done. When I learn how to paint better, I will paint less thickly.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Jean-Paul Riopelle

An image of Jean-Paul Riopelle

Canadian Abstract Expressionist Jean-Paul Riopelle is best recognized for his non-representational landscape paintings. Riopelle created his mosaic-like pieces by squeezing paint directly from the tube and lavishly applying it using a palette knife. Riopelle had experimented with dripping and splashing paint in the early 1950s, producing densely covered paintings in vibrant hues. He continued to refine his technique, spreading the paint across the canvas in short, crisp strokes using a palette knife. This produced a “impasto,” or heavily wrought surface.

Perspectives: A painting with dripping and splashing paint by Jean-Paul Riopelle

Jean-Paul Riopelle was born on October 7, 1923, in Montreal. Early on, he became interested in painting and drawing, using the natural world as his inspiration, much like the previous generation of Canadian painters had done. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts and the École de Meuble during the 1940s.  He received his training under Paul Émile Borduas, a key figure in the foundation of Les Automatistes. After World War II, he visited New York and Paris, where his artwork was displayed at multiple Expositions alongside the top Surrealists.

Brush, pen and clack and coloured ink on wove paper by Jean-Paul Riopelle.

Riopelle was deeply engrossed with the theories of Lyrical Abstraction, an aesthetic approach similar to Abstract Expressionism. He merged its expressive freedoms and dynamic movements with the innate compositional method he had been developing. He worked quickly and instinctively, experimenting with a variety of media and techniques to portray basic concepts like volume, line, colour, and value.

La Joute, by Jean-Paul Riopelle, during the flaming phase of its kinetic cycle at Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle

He occasionally used ink and paint on paper. Other times, he poured large amounts of paint directly from tubes onto a canvas and spread it out with knives or spatulas. Riopelle produced a powerful and original impression. But by the middle of the 1950s, he had expanded into printmaking and sculpture because he was not content to limit himself to painting. In fact, La Joute, a kinetic sculpture fountain in Montreal, is among his most well-known creations. La Joute is a timed succession of matter, mist, and fire elements that repeats twice per hour and is made out of cast bronze abstractions of people and animals.

Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg: A painting by Jean-Paul Riopelle

After his companion Mitchell passed away in 1992, Riopelle produced what is often regarded as his masterpiece, a huge spray-painted painting called Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg. It demonstrates his knowledge of colour, his ability to control the harsh emotive impact of black and white, and his capacity to create volume in space. However, its flatness is most telling. “Riopelle created the work by laying its panels flat on a table, one after another. In producing Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg, a work more than ten metres long, the artist used up three bolts of canvas. As he unrolled each segment he would paint. On it he placed various objects—some more unusual than others—including dead geese, horseshoes, radiator fans, various tools, bolts, nails, and screws. Riopelle sprayed each item with paint to make a real-life cut out of the object, leaving a silhouette or trace. This evocation of an absent item is particularly significant when one considers that the work was made in the context of the death of a loved one” as described by François-Marc Gagnon.

He was, of course, a sculptor as well as a painter, working first in clay, then moving on to wax, sandstone, porcelain, and even bread crumbs. In all his work, and in all of the many media he explored, he cared deeply about the materials of art, which for him were a constant preoccupation and challenge.



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