Magazine article Artforum International

Jean-Paul Riopelle: ACQUAVELLA GALLERIES

Magazine article Artforum International

Jean-Paul Riopelle: ACQUAVELLA GALLERIES

Article excerpt

An eight-volume catalogue raisonne currently being published in Canada asserts the country's claim to this patriarchal figure of modern French painting, who was born in Montreal in 1923. Hometown boy makes good. Yet it was all Jean-Paul Riopelle could do to escape the city and its time-hardened resentments: francophone, Roman Catholic Quebec versus anglophone, Church of England, maple leaf America. Riopelle found refuge from Quebecois revanchism in the alternate AbEx universe of postwar Paris, where he soon became a highly regarded artist, right up there with Pierre Soulages, Georges Mathieu, Vieira da Silva, and other painters devoted to art informal or tachism (as the French equivalent to Abstract Expressionism was known).

Acquavella has, in measure, reconstituted "Grands Formats," Riopelle's 1977 exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, and added several large works on paper to the survey. These characreristic large-format oils date from 1952 through 1975; though but seven in all, they illustrate certain broad (and ultimately deleterious) changes that overtook Riopelle's work during that quarter century.

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Like many North Americans--Canadians and Yankees both--Riopelle in fact participates in what is above all a French story. Contemporaneous artists such as Sam Francis and Joan Mitchell are likewise representative Paris painters despite their deep American roots. Indeed, after meeting in Paris in 1955, Riopelle and Mitchell survived an alcohol-inflamed affair that endured over decades. No tales out of school there, though both the scale and blocky simplicity of Mitchell's works of the 1970s and after echo aspects of Riopelle's later style and possibly their turbulent relationship.

In the '50s, when he was doing his best work, Riopelle developed a method in which he manipulated heavy layers of dark oil paint flecked with lighter color through the supple use of palette knives. This created the paradoxical effect of a dappled, whipped-up, frenzied turgidity. His personal, flickering, decentralized composition at the time--a kind of Ah Ex allover--is often attributed to the painter's love of speed and the automobile, a canard that Jean-Louis Prat, the former director of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence, repeats in his catalogue essay. …

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