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Artist François Xavier Saint Pierre makes his Rome debut

‘Art is essential because it connects us to something greater than ourselves,’ says the fine-arts graduate
February 13, 2023
By Richard Burnett, BA 88

A diptych of two paintings by François Xavier Saint-Pierre François Xavier Saint Pierre's paintings "Pink Ephebus" and "Ephebus". | Photos by Alexandra Cousins

For Montreal painter François Xavier Saint-Pierre, BFA 99 (painting and drawing), making a Rome debut with his solo exhibition The Spiders and the Bees at Galleria del Cembalo in the historic Palazzo Borghese is both an exceptional honour and a homecoming of sorts.

The prestigious 15th-century palace was once the home of the collection of Baroque Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the patron of Caravaggio. Works from that collection were later moved to the Villa Borghese and the Louvre.

“It’s glorious to be in the Palazzo!” says Saint Pierre. “To be here is a conflation of a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but very exciting and rewarding for me.”

In 2020, Saint Pierre moved from Canada to Venice, where he established a studio. The Spiders and the Bees also marks a return to Rome for the painter, who was previously an artist-in-residence at the French Academy in Rome, Villa Medici.

Much of the work I am presenting is inspired by classical culture and our problematic relationship with it,” says Saint Pierre, whose artwork is informed by both early modernist painting and classical and romantic tropes.

A man with long dark hair and a greying goatee stands with his arms crossed François Xavier Saint-Pierre, BFA 99

‘A surreal thrill’

Saint Pierre says his fascination with the ancient Greco-Roman world began as a young boy reading Greek mythology. At Concordia, his courses in classical studies nurtured his curiosity and piqued his interest “in the tragedians who emerged from fifth century BCE Athens, as well as the early Roman authors.”

Named after Jonathan Swift’s Fable of The Spider and the Bee, Saint Pierre’s latest exhibition “is very much about the historical debate between the so-called ancients and the so-called moderns,” he says. “It’s a discussion about what to do with classical culture, what to do with all the things that we inherit, and how to be contemporary while acknowledging that which came before us.”

Before completing his MFA in painting from University of Waterloo, Saint Pierre says that his time at Concordia — where he was taught by legendary Canadian artists Guido Molinari, Leopold Plotek and Yves Gaucher — was instrumental in helping shape his work and career. “And Montreal itself was an exciting place to be,” Saint Pierre recalls, “because of its connection to both anglophone culture and French culture.”

Four paintings hang at Galleria del Cembalo Saint Pierre’s The Spiders and the Bees exhibition at Galleria del Cembalo runs until February 18.

He went on to a successful multidisciplinary artistic career before moving to Venice: In 2010 he was commissioned by the Toronto International Film Festival to create an immersive sound installation; he taught drawing and colour theory at OCAD University in Toronto from 2011 to 2016; and in 2021 he began a fruitful collaboration with the printmaking department of the Academy of Fine Arts of Venice, where he was invited to produce a print for the Archeological Museum in Altino.

Versions of Saint Pierre’s The Spiders and the Bees were previously presented at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto in 2021, and during the Venice Biennale in 2022.

“Art is essential because it connects us to something greater than ourselves,” Saint Pierre says. “It has been a surreal thrill to share my work in Italy.”

François Xavier Saint Pierre’s solo exhibition The Spiders and the Bees continues at the Galleria del Cembalo in Rome until February 18.


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