Lot # 017
Spring 2013 - 1st Session Live auction

Jean Paul Riopelle
AUTO CAS OC QMG RCA SCA 1923 - 2002 Canadian

Sans titre
oil on canvas circa 1954 ~ 1955
23 1/4 x 28 1/4 in  59 x 71.7cm

A gift from the Artist in Paris in the 1950s to Belle Burke, New York

At the time this painting and lot 14 were produced, there were discussions among the Surrealists and their friends about abstract art. It seemed impossible to give primacy to the unconscious and at the same time not to reject the calculating reason that seems to be at work in geometric abstraction. Certain critics, like Charles Estienne, a close friend of André Breton, suspected abstract art to be a “new form of academism”. And indeed, abstract painters like Auguste Herbin and Georges Vantongerloo, by rejecting the slightest allusion to the natural world in their paintings in order to affirm the spiritual world of geometry, ended up in repetitive and decorative patterns of little interest. But there were other ways to abstraction. Estienne later defended the so-called “abstraction lyrique” movement with which Jean-Paul Riopelle has often been associated. Riopelle, who was part of these discussions, defended the possibility of a non-figurative art to be as unpremeditated as the dream-like work of Salvador Dali or René Magritte. He was not the only one, of course, to defend this position. Georges Mathieu, Hans Hartung, Pierre Soulages and many others were all with him on this. One could find the same inventiveness in an abstract painting done without pre-conceived ideas as in a painting depicting a dream. And you could be abstract without being geometric.
The moment we become more aware of the technique used by Riopelle, as in this Sans titre, we are better able to understand why. He had discarded long brushes and was exclusively using painting knives. When he used that tool, each trace left on the canvas more or less retained its shape. This could be seen as a matter of small importance, but I do not think that is the case. The painting knife has the particular ability to hide the pigment, the medium underneath it, at the very moment when it applies the paint on the canvas. This is a thing we could not say of brushes, and even less of pen or crayon. The knife introduces in the process of painting moments of surprise when the instrument is lifted from the surface of the canvas. At that very moment, Riopelle was confronted with a situation he could not completely predict and had to proceed from there, dealing with the new situation. Thus, the element of unpredictability is introduced. The apparent order of the finished work of art is, in fact, the result of an incredible number of decisions made by the artist. The result is never guaranteed in advance - the painting could end up in total chaos. That the opposite happens confirms the mastery of Riopelle. The result is amazing, and again, as with lot 14, life and movement are the key elements of the work.
We have often noticed that black is used as a colour in a Riopelle painting, never the absence of light. It gives strength to the red, blue, yellow and white – which are particularly brilliant in this striking painting – as a kind of supportive background. In fact, it helps to control the unpredictable effects of the application of paint. With Riopelle, one can speak in the same breath of hazard (chance) and control. The element of chance is at the core of creativity, but it makes the use of control necessary - in Riopelle’s art, a non-preconceived idea required the use of conscious decisions in the process of painting.
One last note on the size of this work and lot 14. Looking at the photographs of these paintings, one could easily imagine each being larger than they actually are. One cannot say that of all works of art, but with Riopelle, his paintings have a monumental impact no matter what the scale.
We thank François-Marc Gagnon of the Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowsky Institute of Studies in Canadian Art, Concordia University, for contributing the above essay.
This work is included as an addendum in Yseult Riopelle's online catalogue raisonné on the artist's work at http://www.riopelle.ca/

Estimate: $80,000 ~ $120,000 CAD  
Sold for: $81,900 CAD (including Buyer's Premium)

All prices are in Canadian Dollars.

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