Artwork by Jean Paul Riopelle,  Petite Californie, 1962

Jean Paul Riopelle
Petite Californie, 1962

oil on canvas
signed lower right
23.75 x 23.75 ins ( 60.3 x 60.3 cms )

Sold for $70,000.00
Sale date: June 1st 2016

Galerie Claude Lafitte, Montreal
Theo Waddington Inc., Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Guy Cogeval and Stéphane Aquin, “Riopelle”, Montreal, 2006, pages 9-41 and 80-86
Roald Nasgaard, “Abstract Painting in Canada”, Toronto/Vancouver, 2007, pages 78-83
Roald Nasgaard and Ray Ellenwood, “Automatiste Revolution: Montreal, 1941-1960”, Toronto, 2009
Yseult Riopelle, “Jean Paul Riopelle: Catalogue raisonné, volume 3, 1960-1965”, Montreal, 2009, reproduced page 142, catalogue #1962.001H.1962
The artist began his career as a student at the École Polytechnique in 1941, studying engineering, architecture and photography, while painting as a hobby. Later enrolling with the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal, Riopelle shifted away from his formal, academic painting studies and transferred to the École du Meuble, studying under Paul-Émile Borduas. Given the artistic freedom to experiment with abstraction, Riopelle's technique and style matured throughout these studies. From his tutelage, the artist, among other students, with Borduas formed the group known as the Automatistes, socializing and exhibiting their abstract works which drew on the subconscious as a key source of inspiration. Riopelle later began sharing a studio with Marcel Barbeau, a fellow member, where the pair freely experimented with Automatiste methods of abstraction and formed their respective styles. Coupled with the socio-political landscape of the post-war era in Canada with intense sentiments of a fractured national identity, particularly with respects to French and English Canada, this environment influenced the group's works, responding to this uncertainty and general anarchism.

“Petite Californie” gives nod to the marvelous mosaic style for which the artist is best-known, with green, white and blue sprays of painted forms in the upper right quadrant of the painting. Exploring the limitations of the medium, energetic bursts of paint are applied thickly with a palette knife, giving texture and definition to the canvas. The green cluster of forms created by the artist’s quick movements of the knife are balanced by the contrasting red borders in the lower left corner, and a more neutral dark grey background applied with a decidedly smoother pace. Rather than rely on line to delineate form, Riopelle works through the physicality of the paint to build and define form through strategic application technique.

Balance was key for Riopelle's work throughout the sixties; while experimenting with abstraction and the physicality of the medium, he maintained compositional harmony, harnessing the energy created in the application of paint. The viewer is constantly oscillating between macro and micro inspection of the work, negotiating between the large-scale patterning of the forms and finite details of striated colour in the individual sweeps of the palette knife. In this respect, the artist breaks from the rigid modernist grid and flat all-over abstraction in vogue throughout the 1960s and defines an artistic oeuvre all his own.

Riopelle's evenly weighted composition is not completely abstract in a formal sense, nor can it fit squarely into the definition of figurative painting. His practice rests in a distinct autonomist middle ground. Taking the lead from impressionism with the importance of colour and light, the artist incorporates expressive application of paint to evoke energy from the canvas in a more abstract form.

Riopelle’s works are both expressive and formal, responding to the art historical and socio-political environment of the post-war era, unique from his abstract-expressionist peers. Jeffery Spalding writes on the artist's work: “Each and every painting was an individual creation, not merely a member of a set or series. Yet, simultaneously each painting remained unquestionably identifiable as signature-brand Riopelle.”

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Jean Paul Riopelle
(1923 - 2002) Les Automatistes, RCA, SCA

Born in Montreal in 1923, abstract painter and sculptor Jean Paul Riopelle is widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of contemporary Canadian art. Internationally acclaimed during his lifetime, his works are housed in museums and galleries around the world including the National Gallery in Ottawa, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Riopelle spent most of his career in France where he befriended some of the twentieth century's most influential artists. These included writer Samuel Beckett, surrealist Andre Breton, and sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Riopelle returned to Quebec in the 1970s. He created his last major work, “L'Hommage a Rosa Luxemburg” (Tribute to Rosa Luxemburg) after the death of his long-term companion, American painter Joan Mitchell, in 1992. The narrative fresco of 30 paintings was more than 130 feet long and was made using aerosol spray paint. He died at the age of 78 in 2002.