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Culture news
Canada calling
06.30.2006 13:48

jean-paul_riopelle By Stephanie Patterson

Special to St. Petersburg Times

The work of Jean-Paul Riopelle, a painter and sculptor from Montreal and one of Canada’s most famous artists of the 20th century, is on display for the first time in Russia at the State Hermitage Museum.

When the show opened two weeks ago, the Canadian curator of the exhibition, Stephane Aquin, said that after exhibitions of other post-war artists, Riopelle, who died in 2002 aged 79, was the Hermitage’s logical next choice.

“They had de Stael and Soulages, and the Riopelle exhibit just made sense,” Aquin said. Nicolas de Stael and Pierre Soulages are both French abstract painters from the late 20th century.

The exhibition — a panorama of Riopelle’s career — begins with large canvas paintings from the 1940s, which he made by hurling paint at a canvas, and “Decalcomania No. 1.” Decalcomania is a technique of folding a piece of paper with paint on it, leaving the results up to chance.

In about 1954 Riopelle started making what is known as mosaics, squirting paint on the canvas and then sculpting it with a masonry trowel to create blocks and triangles that are set apart more by texture than color or subject.

One of the more imposing works is “The Ice Canoe,” from the 1990s after Riopelle had moved to Canada after spending much of his life in France. Officially described as “mixed media on wood,” it is a canoe with every surface painted, mostly with spray paint cans.

This work refers to an annual canoe race from Quebec city to Levis, with white geese painted on the bottom from a local myth that with the help of supernatural powers a canoe can fly.

Riopelle started among Les Automatistes, a group of artists under Paul-Emile Borduas, who experimented with automatism and its ties to the subconscious. In 1948 he signed the “Refus Global,” a manifesto written by Borduas that rejected institutions of religion and government, among other things.

Riopelle then moved to Paris where he studied with Marc Chagall and Natalia Goncharova. Although he is well known for lyric abstractionism, Riopelle said he did not intend to create abstract paintings.

“Abstract means to come from, I want things to return to,” he said, in notes accompanying “Back from Spain,” a painting whose long lines and dark swaths of color seem to be anything but concrete. His art is an attempt to understand nature, not to achieve distance from it, but in doing so he has found a new perception of his subject that comes across as abstract.

For all his evolution as an artist, from throwing paint to using trowels and spray paint, ever present is his concern to use paint to reveal the essence of a subject, not to disguise it. All of his paintings capture natural movement or tension, between colors, textures, or even materials.

The works are on loan from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Power Corporation of Canada. The Montreal museum recently hosted an exhibition of treasures from the Hermitage and speakers at the opening proudly demonstrated that art can bring people from across the globe together in friendship. Joe Friberg, chairman of the State Hermitage Foundation of Canada, praised the Hermitage as a “dynamic, forward-looking museum with very ambitious plans on a world stage.”

It is not just a “grand old museum,” he said, and cited the reconstruction of the General Staff building as one example of the museum making space for more modern art, promising the Foundation’s support for these endeavors.

“Riopelle” runs through Sept. 17 in the Aleksandrovsky hall (Room 282) at the Hermitage.

News source: times.spb.ru
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