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Two striking works by abstract expressionist Jean-Paul Riopelle

Lots to be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 9 – 10 November 2022

“Riopelle succeeds where memory fails.
The intangible is given a body, desire a pictorial life. Objects astray, discarded impressions, forgotten emotions are put together in a cocktail-shaker and are poured out on the rocks in a Venetian glass of exquisite transparency in a splendid explosion.”

– P. Boudreau, introduction to exhibition catalogue, London 1959.

With his individual and characteristic style, Jean-Paul Riopelle was among the first Canadian artists to achieve international fame and recognition. Known for his abstract works that are expressive, strong and powerful, Riopelle later described his style as ”abstract landscapism”. From scraping with his palette knife, letting the knife succeed the brush, he managed to create a unique painting method. A method in which he dragged the colours, often straight from the tube, across the surface of the canvas, arranging the colours in different fields that crosses one another, concluding in a rhythmical and dynamic harmony. Included in this sale are two striking paintings by Riopelle from a Swedish private collection, an abstract composition from 1962 and ”Baie James” from 1973. 

Born in Montreal in Canada, Jean-Paul Riopelle commenced his artistic training at the École des Beaux-Arts and the École de Meuble during the 1940s. He became associated with the group Les Automatistes that conducted of Canadian artists working adjacent to the European Surrealists. The group was founded by Paul Émile Borduas, for whom Riopelle studied. The members of Les Automatistes turned away from the traditional establishment and traditions and instead searched for the subconscious influence on the abstract nonfigurative painting. After the end of World War II Riopelle decided to leave Canada and travel to New York and Paris where his works became included in several important Surrealist international exhibitions. Riopelle met the American artist Joan Mitchell who was one of the leading Abstract Expressionist painters. They both influenced one another during the following decades and at this time, in the beginning of the 1950s, Riopelle started to experiment with his medium and material, dripping, splashing and throwing paint onto his canvases. This eventually advanced into the using of the palette knife, where he approached the canvas with thick, very distinctive fields of colour in imposto, creating a sculptural relief surface. One can easily find parallels to other Abstract Expressionist painters in Riopelle’s paintings, like in the works of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, however Riopelle never joined them officially. Instead he often referred to his style as a kind of interpretation of the nature, the abstract landscapism, and joined the European variant, the Art Informel movement, where he became a key figure joining among others Pierre Soulages, Jean Fautrier and Georges Mathieu.

“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,” he once said of his practice. “But it never works, so I add more, without realizing it.” The signature style of Riopelle, in which he is smearing the paint with his palette knife became highly acclaimed and he got the opportunity to take part in many important exhibitions during his lifetime. He participated at three Venice Biennales, at the Sao Paolo Biennale, at the Kölnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée du Québec, Foundation Maeght and at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His first solo exhibitions were held in the year of 1956, at Gimpel et Fils Gallery in London and Galerie Jacques Dubourg in Paris.

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Jeanna Ahlin


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