An original member of the AUTOMATISTES, Jean Paul Riopelle is the Internationally-acclaimed Canadian painter of the 20th century. While a student of Paul-Emile Borduas at the Ecole du meuble, Riopelle met with other artists to discuss surrealism, political radicalism and psychoanalysis. In 1946 Riopelle exhibited in Montreal along with Borduas and several others, marking the inception of the Automatistes on Canadian soil and the first show in Canada by a group of Canadian abstract painters. Under the influence or surrealism, with its emphasis on the “liberation of the human spirit,” Riopelle moved from figurative painting to the gestural abstractions for which he is now famous. After WWII, against the growing standardization and depersonalization of industrial capitalism, Riopelle’s paintings were characterized by personal improvisation and “raw” gestures that attested to the uniquely human process by which they were made. To increase the spontaneity of his art, he used several experimental techniques: supple gestural brushstrokes (1946-49); the controlled drip techniques of squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas (c 1950); and, in the early 1950s, the use of the palette knife to create mosaic-like surfaces of paint – a hallmark of his later style.
Riopelle went to Paris shortly after WWII, participated in the Automatiste exhibition at the Galerie du Luxembourg, and signed the surrealist manifesto Ruptures inaugurates. International recognition came quickly. He was singled out by critic Michel Tapie and surrealist leader Andre Breton. In 1948 Riopelle returned briefly to Montreal where he signed the manifesto REFUS GLOBAL, the cover of which featured one of his ink drawings. After returning to Paris in 1948, Riopelle increasingly gained recognition. A high point of this fame came in 1962 when Riopelle was given the UNESCO Award for cumulative achievement. He was honoured in 1963 with a retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. (bio)