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Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation and Concordia partner to collect and share oral history

The Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling embarks on a project to mark the centenary of the iconic painter's birth
May 17, 2021

black and white portrait of Riopelle in front of an abstract painting Jean Paul Riopelle at his Atelier Durantin in Paris, 1952 | Photo: John Craven

As a lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the birth of artist Jean Paul Riopelle in 2023, the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation and Concordia have teamed up for an ambitious project: to create a digital oral archive that will deepen our understanding of and share knowledge about the life and career this world-renowned artist.

The three-year partnership — the result of a new collaborative agreement with the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling (COHDS) in Montreal — was made possible by a $150,000 grant from the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation, with the generous support of the Audain Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation.

The grant will support the work of Lea Kabiljo, BFA 04, MA 09, an oral history expert and doctoral student in the Department of Art Education at Concordia. Over the next few years, Kabiljo will collect stories from family members, friends and colleagues who knew and worked with Jean Paul Riopelle during his lifetime, as well as from contemporary artists who were influenced and inspired by Riopelle's unique work. In her research, Kabiljo will work closely with Emma Haraké, MA 19, the COHDS’s coordinator, under the direction of Sébastien Caquard, the COHDS’s co-director. The team will also benefit from the support of Colette St-Hilaire, researcher for the Riopelle Foundation.

The goal is to make these stories accessible to the general public as part of a new kind of digital project, which will enhance the broader understanding of the artist's work and vision. The result of this partnership will be unveiled as part of the celebration of Jean Paul Riopelle's centenary, scheduled for 2023.

water fountain installation with flames, by Riopelle La joute, a kinetic sculpture by Jean Paul Riopelle, Montreal.

“We are very proud to announce this new partnership and warmly thank Concordia University, the Audain Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation for their invaluable collaboration on this magnificent project," says Manon Gauthier, executive director of the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation.

"The extensive expertise of the COHDS team will enable the creation of a high-calibre digital oral archive, combining cutting-edge technology and the human factor in order to trace and document for posterity the extraordinary career of one of the world's most influential 20th-century artists," Gauthier adds. "This oral archive promises to take us beyond the images, photos and works of Riopelle to discover the artist behind the art. The stories collected through this partnership will be an invaluable legacy for future generations of artists who will surely find endless sources of inspiration.”

Caquard at the COHDS is equally pleased with the collaboration, offering a fitting analogy. He says that oral history is to history what pointillism is to painting.

"It allows us to arrange diverse and singular voices like so many dots on a canvas to offer an overall vision of a period, an event, a community, a life or a work," he explains. "The project on the work and life of Jean Paul Riopelle is part of this perspective, as it takes a fresh and diversified look at the artist's work, his era and his contemporary influence through the voices of those who worked with him or were inspired by him.

"The COHDS is honoured to collaborate with the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation to redraw the contours of this artist's work and life through the nuances and depth that oral history offers.”   

Kabiljo will have a busy summer at the COHDS, preparing for the public outreach.

“It will be a privilege to deepen our knowledge of Jean Paul Riopelle beyond his art, through the anecdotes, experiences and memories of those who knew him personally or were inspired by his work. An artist of Riopelle's calibre leaves his mark on the world around him in many ways," she says. "It will be fascinating to discover the extent of his influence on the art world from the past to the present.”

Lea Kabiljo: a multidisciplinary artist and researcher

Lea Kabiljo's research interests include oral history, photography, empathy in a pedagogical context and teacher-education programs. Her art practice combines oral history and photography and she teaches visual arts at the high-school level, as well as undergraduate temporal media.

Kabiljo was previously the executive director of LOVE: Leave Out Violence, a leading violence-prevention organization for vulnerable youth. She is a recipient of the Fonds de recherche du Québec doctoral scholarship as well as numerous awards from Concordia.

Oral history: a thousand-year-old discipline

Since the dawn of time, knowledge has been transmitted through oral narratives. This traditional practice, which is particularly prevalent among the First Nations and Inuit of Canada, fascinated Jean Paul Riopelle. The artist even went so far as to dedicate an entire series of works inspired by the string games — "ajaraaq" in Inuktitut  — played by young Inuit.

Linking oral history, virtual media, art and education, this collaborative project combines tradition and modern technology to ensure the stories collected about Riopelle’s life, work and influence will be passed on to future generations.

Public contributions to the oral archive project

Did you know Jean Paul Riopelle during his lifetime? Are you an artist whose work was partly influenced by Riopelle? The Riopelle Foundation and Concordia want to hear your stories!

Stay tuned over the next few months as a public call goes out for contributions from all those who knew Jean Paul Riopelle during his lifetime, in Canada and around the world. Your story could be recorded by the COHDS team and added to our oral archive of the artist’s incredible life and prolific career.

About the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation

Founded in 2019 by a group of Canadian philanthropists, the Jean Paul Riopelle Foundation's mission is to celebrate and perpetuate Riopelle's vision and work in Canada and around the world, to support and inspire emerging visual artists, to encourage creative exploration and experimentation, and to promote teaching and learning. The foundation acts as a reference point for all matters relating to the artist's work, and as a centre for research and analysis of documentation, publication and discourse on the work of Jean Paul Riopelle. The year 2023 will mark the centenary of Jean Paul Riopelle.


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