Jean Paul Riopelle Canada, 1923-2002

Biography

Jean-Paul Riopelle (b. 1923, Montreal, Canada; d. 2002, Saint-Antoine-de-l’Isle-aux-Grues, Canada) was an abstract painter and sculptor whose diverse body of work engaged several major twentieth-century movements including Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Nouveau Réalisme. Following his studies at Montreal-based schools the École des beaux-arts and the École du Meuble, Riopelle joined Les Automatistes, an artist’s collective inspired by the Surrealist practice of automatism. Such unconscious creativity proved central to Riopelle’s development as a painter. By 1947, he moved to Paris and participated in avant-garde circles where he encountered leading cultural figures including André Breton and Sam Francis. Riopelle’s early experiments in Surrealism transitioned in the 1940s to Lyrical Abstraction, and by the 1950s, he drew inspiration from Abstract Expressionist techniques to create his celebrated ‘mosaic’ paintings, executed with a palette knife or by direct contact between a paint tube and the canvas. In 1959, Riopelle began what would become a 20-year relationship with the American painter Joan Mitchell who too moved to Paris to join the avant-garde scene. The two artists greatly influenced each other’s practices (their work from the 1960s is especially exemplary of this exchange). In the 1960s and 70s, Riopelle expanded his media, working with watercolor, lithography, sculpture, installation, and collage assemblages. Inspired by Pop Art and Nouveau Réalisme, he returned to representational subject matter in the late stages of his career. Riopelle gained critical attention across his body of work and earned retrospective exhibitions at major international institutions including the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne (1958), the Musée du Québec (1967), the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, and the Musée Cantini, Marseille (2006).