In the late 1940s, a young man from Montreal broke with his family, his culture and his country to establish himself as an artist among the avant-garde in Paris. Boundaries could not contain the innovative, iconoclastic spirit of the painter and sculptor Jean-Paul Riopelle. He achieved immense success abroad and earned international acclaim, but his passion for nature eventually brought him back home to Canada, where he died in March, 2002.
Today, Riopelle is revered as one of the great modernist painters of the twentieth century. To honour his achievements, Canada Post has continued its "Masterpieces" series with a pane of six stamps issued at the domestic rate (6 x 48¢) and a souvenir sheet featuring a dove made from perforations at the international rate (1 x $1.25).
Riopelle was born in Montreal on October 7, 1923. As a young man he studied art there, and was profoundly influenced by the avant-garde, "surrealist" art of Paul-Émile Borduas. In 1945, he produced his first abstract paintings. His parents, disappointed in his decision to become an artist, withdrew their support of his career.
Riopelle began to exhibit with other abstract painters who called themselves "automatistes," and in 1948 they published a manifesto called "Refus Global," urging artists to reject the repressive social constraints they saw in Quebec. By this time Riopelle had set up a studio in Paris, inspired by its atmosphere of artistic freedom and experimentation.
His abstract works involved fields of intense colour, often applied thickly with a spatula to achieve a highly textured effect. He produced flamboyant, multi-coloured abstract mosaics. He exhibited widely during the 1950s, and his reputation soared as he won international awards and accolades.
"In its organization, nature is my reference," said Riopelle. During the 1970s, he began once again to paint figurative works based in nature. He visited Quebec frequently to hunt and fish, and these sojourns prompted a creative renewal. He began to explore new painting techniques, using spray paints and negative images, and produced several series based on natural figures, such as owls and snow geese. Riopelle returned to Canada and made his home on Isle-aux-Grues, east of Quebec City, where he died at the age of 78.
ABOUT THE STAMPS' DESIGNS
On each of the seven stamps, designer Steven Spazuk features parts of Riopelle's great work "L'Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg," which the artist produced in 1992 upon learning of the death of his former companion, Joan Mitchell. More than 40 metres long, it is a complex meditation on love and the passage of time, in a narrative sequence of 30 paintings. In order to capture the richness of this enormous work on postage stamps, Spazuk chose to keep graphic elements simple and discreet, and ensured meticulous attention was paid to reproducing the painting's colours.
All stamps in the Riopelle Masterpiece edition use a blend of process and metallic inks to recreate the paintings as they actually exist. Among the largest commemorative stamps available (equal to the 1997 $8 Grizzly Bear definitive), the Riopelle issue also features a hidden copyright date that appears as a drop out in the fluorescent tagging. Use your collecting tools to try to locate the copyright date. We will print the exact location in the Notices section of Vol. XIII No. 1.
The souvenir sheet also features the image of a dove created from a unique perforation comb process.