Jean-Paul Riopelle R.C.A.
Sans Titre, 1974
Riopelle Catalogue no. 1974.104H.1974
Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal
Riopelle, Yseult, Catalogue raisonée de Jean Paul Riopelle, vol. V, 1972-79, p. 136
In considering the work of Jean Paul Riopelle, we know that he used varying degrees of gloss, and a wide range of colours of paint supplied by particular manufacturers. As for the canvas, the support itself, which we can see in this case comes from his preferred paint-maker, Lefebvre-Foinet, the painting tool, (he rarely – if ever – used brushes) is a final consideration. In Riopelle’s works from the 1970s, we see that has used wide, somewhat even strokes, wider and more blocky that those of prior years, and less varied in their angle of application. All this implies that a wider tool was used to lay on the paint. Further, if we look at his environment, we can see that in France, Riopelle’s daily visual stimuli would have been mostly architectural. By the time this work was executed, he had returned to Canada, and from 1969 to 1977, was venturing north, visiting the Canadian arctic, including Pangnirtung. If we consider the visual stimuli of that environment in contrast the that of the city of Paris, we have two very different things. A beautiful city and a beautiful remote landscape. With the danger of becoming too literal, but with acknowledgement that art is not created in a vacuum, or entirely with the confines of a studio, we should acknowledge the fact that icebergs are very big things. Their visual impact is profound, even small ones have the ability to dwarf us as viewers. Their presence – filled with odd sounds, unique smells, and the implication of their great age – is overwhelming. When Riopelle saw them, they gave rise to a significant body of work, and were an equally significant experience in his visual repertoire. They appear, in bold and direct as well as more subtle statements, in his work from 1969 on, and his use of a larger tool to apply his paint seems a logical response to the weightiness of the images he saw.
Riopelle stated that nature didn’t affect him, that instead, he dove into it. This idea seems upheld by his arctic works, wherein we have imagery that reflects ideas of arctic ice. There are berg-like forms that speak of the icebergs themselves, in black, white, and blends of grey. Looking out to sea in the Canadian north, we have that limited colour scheme. But in arctic works like this, those with a colour scheme that includes all sorts of bright touches, it seems we are looking inland. Sans titre evokes the brilliant colour of the villages, equipment, and the people that Riopelle would have encountered there. He did not travel alone, unaided by others, in the uninhabited arctic of Franklin’s day, and despite our preconceived notions to the contrary, the settlements in the Canadian arctic, where Riopelle would have spent much of his time, are a vivid and lively jumble of colour.