Although he worked in various mediums throughout his lifetime, Jean-Paul Riopelle is best known for his nonfigurative, brightly coloured paintings worked with a palette knife.
Growing up in Montreal where he was born in 1923, Riopelle first pursued art-making as a hobby rather than a career, and in contrast to his later work, the landscape and still life paintings he produced during these early years were academic in style. He later studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Ecole du Meuble in Montreal, graduating from the latter in 1945.
It was under the direction of Paul Emile Borduas, with whom he studied at the Ecole du Meuble, that Riopelle produced his first abstract painting. During his years at the Ecole du Meuble Riopelle became involved in the Automatistes, a group of progressive writers and artists in Quebec who rebelled against the academic and social constraints of the time, and were heavily influenced by Surrealism and its theory of automatism.
Riopelle was to later sign the Refus Global in 1948, the 12-page anti-establishment manifesto written by Borduas.
In 1947 he moved to Paris where he met Surrealists such as Andre Breton, and had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Dragonne for which Breton wrote an accompanying text. Riopelle refused to identify stylistically with any one group however, instead choosing to experiment with expression by way of medium and colour, and by the 1950s Riopelle had moved on to creating drip-like paintings.
Throughout his career Riopelle exhibited internationally extensively, and received many awards and acclamations including the UNESCO prize in 1962 and the Order of Canada in 1969.
He returned to Canada in the early 1990s, and passed away on March 12, 2002. As the leading Canadian abstract painter of his generation and a founder of the modern art movement in Quebec, Jean-Paul Riopelle permanently transformed Canadian painting traditions.