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Concordia-led oral history project breathes new life into the world of Canadian art legend Jean-Paul Riopelle

Raconte-moi Riopelle reveals untold stories about the artist through personal narratives, mapping and research-creation
November 23, 2023
An image of many screens, showing a variety of men and women of different ages, all being interviewed by someone off-camera
Lea Kabiljo: “Through these conversations, we’re able to get a 360-degree view of Riopelle.”

This year marks the centennial of the birth of Jean-Paul Riopelle, a towering figure in 20th-century Canadian art. While much of his life has been documented, a new Concordia-led research project — launched at 4TH Space on November 21 — reanimates his past through over 20 personal stories shared by the people who knew him.

As a founding member of the Montreal avant-garde art group Les Automatistes, Riopelle played a pivotal role in shaping modern Canadian art.

Raconte-moi Riopelle is spearheaded by Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling and the Jean-Paul Riopelle Foundation. The project is a goldmine for students, researchers, institutions and artists hungry to dive deep into Riopelle’s world and feel the heartbeat of his life and art.

Combining oral history, mapping and research creation, Raconte-moi Riopelle intertwines the work of three academics. Each scholar uses their respective expertise in oral history, cartography and research-creation to explore the artist’s world.

Former Concordia Public Scholar Lea Kabiljo, BFA 04, MA 09, PhD (art education) 23, interviewed 23 individuals in Quebec and France who offered their memories, anecdotes and encounters. The stories provide unique insight into the man behind the groundbreaking contributions to Abstract Expressionism and Automatism.

“Through these conversations, we’re able to get a 360-degree view of Riopelle. Every person has their unique version of their interactions with him,” Kabiljo explains.

“The beauty of oral history is the subjectivity of each person’s stories and memories. These people then become part of the larger story.”

Smiling man with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing a blazer and pants and dragging some kind of sculpture on the sidewalk Riopelle with Le chien, his bronze dog Isabelle, in front of the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris in 1972. | © Estate of Jean Paul Riopelle / Copyright Visual Arts - CARCC (2023). Photo from the archives of the Catalogue raisonné de Jean Paul Riopelle, directed by Yseult Riopelle

Sébastien Caquard, professor in Concordia’s Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, created the Raconte-Moi Riopelle Atlas using Kabiljo’s data and a software called Atlascine. This distinct open-source, online mapping platform was developed at Concordia specifically to blend storytelling and geographic visualization.

The atlas allows for in-depth exploration of individual narratives and provides a seamless transition between stories interconnected by shared themes or locations.

Inspired by the stories found in the atlas, artist and master’s degree student Sarah Bengle created Vivre (et écouter) autrement, a multimedia installation that serves as a contemplative space for processing grief.

The installation is also a personalized exploration of the narratives within the Raconte-moi Riopelle project.

The installation interweaves stories from Riopelle’s social circle with the landscape between Montreal and Isle-aux-Grues, a significant place in Riopelle’s life. The area is tied to the creation of his final masterpiece.

“Through this project, my aim was to delve into the enduring emotional imprints a person leaves, resonating through time even long after their passing,” Bengle notes.

“It also presented a unique opportunity to immerse myself deeply in the cultural ambiance surrounding my paternal grandparents, Otto and Rollande Bengle, whose lives were intertwined with Riopelle’s throughout the years.”

For Manon Gauthier, executive director of the Riopelle Foundation and general commissioner of the Riopelle Centenary Celebrations, Raconte-Moi Riopelle is a treasure bequeathed to future generations.

“The Riopelle Foundation is delighted to have joined forces with Concordia University to make this important project possible and to enrich knowledge about the life and career of Jean Paul Riopelle, with a view to inspiring the artists of today and tomorrow,” she says.

Visitors to the exhibition can explore Vivre Autrement at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling in the J.W. McConnell Building, 10th Floor, Room LB-1042.02, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd W.

The installation runs from November 24 to December 15.

Raconte-Moi Riopelle is supported by the Audain Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation.

Delve deeper into who’s who in the art world by checking out the courses in
Concordia’s Department of Art History.



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