“He loved first and foremost the direct and spontaneous contact with the elements, digging in with hands full, without sophisticated tools, except perhaps for the custom-made palette knives that he often used in working with paint. It could be said that for Riopelle the essential and unavoidable task was to acquire knowledge about the materials of his art, the better to master or even transcend them.” (Y. RIOPELLE,quoted in M. Corbeil, K. Helwig & J. Poulin, Jean-Paul Riopelle: The Artist’s Materials, p. XI
Flickering in a mesmerising kaleidoscopic pattern, the surface of Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Untitled dances with warm, rich tones of thick impasto paint accented with cool white geometric slivers. Applied with a palette knife in the artist’s signature tachiste style, the gestural act exposes multiple layers of jewel-toned splinters of paint. Organic abstract forms, triangles and rectangles overlap and meander across the surface, revealing and concealing the rich and textural layered landscape. At once expressive and controlled, the surface of Untitled exhibits a vibrant juxtaposition between Riopelle’s generous, unrestrained application of paint, and his attention to controlled geometric composition. Together, the thick impasto and geometric patterns form a highly sculptural surface, the expressive energy manifested in contrasting colours, textures and planes.
Painted in 1958, when Jean-Paul Riopelle was steadily gaining international prominence as an artist, Untitled exemplifies the key facets of the artist’s characteristic style. Notably 1958 marked the year in which Riopelle began to work with the medium of bronze, the sculptural qualities of Untitled testifying to the artist’s interest in the three-dimensional. Combining the visual language of Abstract Expressionism with qualities of Surrealism, Untitled reflects Riopelle’s unique status as a Canadian artist in Paris who straddled circles of European and American artists, writers and intellectuals. Having arrived in Paris in 1947 from his native Canada, Riopelle quickly associated himself with the Surrealists and exhibited work in the Exposition internationale du surréalisme, organised by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, in the same year. Moving away from a Surrealist to a more abstract direction in the 1950s, his work continued to reverberate with Surrealist notions of the automatic and the ritualistic. Riopelle declared his interest in nature and maintained that his technique should dominate his rational thought when making a painting. As he explained, ‘The painting must work itself out … it is a process ... I never tell myself, for instance, that I have to paint like this or like that to get one effect or another. If I reach that point, I stop’ (J.-P. Riopelle, quoted in M. Waldberg, ‘Riopelle, the absolute gap’, in Y. Riopelle (ed.), Jean-Paul Riopelle: Catalogue Raisonné, Vol. 1, Montreal 1999, pp. 39-54). Addressing the tension between abstraction and figuration, the expressive, geometric, surface of Untitled simultaneously reflects the random yet allegorical patterns of natural landscape and subconscious human thought.