Exhibition looks at the later, Indigenous-influenced work of Quebec’s Riopelle
Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures
The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures comes courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It brings together rarely seen paintings, prints and sculptures from the 1970s, a lesser-known period of Riopelle’s career.
“This exhibition is a high-water mark for the Museum,” said Collins, who has been with the Audain since 2018. “Considering the depth of the show, the quality of presentation, and the fact that Jean-Paul Riopelle is an internationally recognized artist, I’d say it’s one of the more important shows in its five-year history.”
Collins earned his Master’s and PhD in Riopelle’s hometown of Montreal, and focused much of his academic studies on Les Automatistes. Founded in the early 1940s by painter Paul-Émile Borduas, the group of Quebec painters were influenced by Surrealism. Riopelle was part of the group which, in 1948, issued an anti-establishment, anti-religious manifesto, the Refus Global. “It was quite a radical movement, and it marked a new era in Quebec’s art history in moving to non-objective work,” Collins said.
By the 1970s, the artist, who had made his name in Paris, began returning to his home province more often, including Northern Quebec and Nunavut.
The exhibit’s title, The Call of the Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Culture, refers to the Indigenous motifs he began working into his art later in his career. Collins says the artist became familiar with Northwest Coast masks while living in Paris, where they were collected during the 1950s and 1960s, “particularly among proponents of Surrealism. And that is something he turns to in more and more prominent fashion in the 1970s though there are references to it in his earlier work as well.”
The exhibit also features a number of soapstone works by Inuit artists. “Riopelle’s references to Indigenous cultures extends to Inuit art,” Collins said. “He does a whole series based on string games. There are a couple of soapstone sculptures of individuals playing string games. Behind them you see the string that Riopelle uses as subject matter for his work. There are both tangential and direct references to the landscape as well as Indigenous cultural practices.”