© Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / SOCAN (2022)
Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Elie Posner

Jean Paul Riopelle

Canadian, 1923–2002

Labours sous la neige (Plowing under the Snow),

ca. 1957

Oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm
Gift of Baron Berthold and Baroness Gigi Urvater, Paris and Antwerp, in memory of Levi Eshkol

Best known for his non-representational high-texture landscape paintings, Canadian Abstract Expressionist Jean Paul Riopelle studied with Paul-Émile Borduas, a founding member of Les Automatistes, and was among the first signatories of the 1948 anti-establishment and anti-religious manifesto “Refus Global.”

Plowing under the Snow illustrates Riopelle’s investigations into free experimentation and instinctive exploration, developing his distinctive tool – the palette knife. Relinquishing the brush, he forces us to rethink texture and color, creating a tactile surface you can almost feel with your eyes. Riopelle squeezed paint directly from the tube and applied it in thick layers with a palette knife, creating crests and peaks all over the surface. According to the artist, the thickness of the paint was unintentional: “When I begin a painting, I always hope to complete it in a few strokes, starting with the first colors I daub down anywhere and anyhow. But it never works, so I add more, and more, without realizing it. I have never wanted to paint thickly; paint tubes are much too expensive . . . .” The copious amounts of paint result in a dense, voluminous impasto, which bestows on the painting a distinctive sculptural quality and mosaic-like effect. Irregular multicolor trails, resembling sliding fingers, evoke a sense of pattern. Dominated by white and bright colors, the palette appears at times matte, at others glossy.

Sarah Benshushan

Artists in Action

Jean Paul Riopelle, Untitled, Collage, 1999. A film by Pierre Houle

Riopelle, Atelier Durantin, 1952 by John Craven.

Jean Paul Riopelle was a painter and sculptor from Quebec, Canada. He had one of the longest and most important international careers of the sixteen signatories of the Refus Global, the 1948 manifesto that announced the Quebecois artistic community’s refusal of clericalism and provincialism.