Art = Libération: Automatist Revolution comes to Vancouver’s Baron Gallery
There are openings where the work seems almost incidental. People have come to schmooze. But last month’s opening of Art = Libération at the Baron Gallery was different. At least for me, if only because I have been obsessed with les automatists ever since I first saw Jean-Paul Riopelle’s massive triptych, Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, in Quebec City in the fall of 2001. Les automatists and their manifesto, Le Refus global, are generally thought to have been the real beginning of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.
My dilemma has always been this: I want to like the work of these painters more than I do—at least at first glance. What has me under their spell is their process, not what’s left behind on the canvas. Their real accomplishment was in how they painted, not what. And in the end, an originality and essential energy that has a great deal to say to us today. Especially as we watch what’s happening across North America and Europe in the Occupy Movement.
My other problem is finding a way to talk about this work. My response to these painters has always been intuitive. Somehow I can only get at them obliquely, and often only by using their own methods: automatic writing, free association, spontaneous combustion, deep sea diving … the kind of wakeful dreaming out of which these paintings, poems, dances were made—and out of which many of these artists lived.
On the night of the opening, I noticed I needed a way back into this work, in a sense a way back to Quebec. Four years in Vancouver, and I’ve grown used to the milky quality of light, the soft blue-grey cast, out of which more primary colours pop. My own palette has darkened considerably since I moved here. So when I came into the gallery and saw the work, it all seemed too bright, somehow. And too flat. Like extraordinary (and very expensive) wrapping paper, which begs the question: what, then, lies underneath this bright surface? At first, there seems no way in. I kept being bounced off, and so I snuck upstairs to be quietly with the smaller work. And for me it opened the door.
For if the work of Pierre Gauvreau and Janine Carreau can be said to be “about” anything, it is about the mind that makes it. No, it’s a level deeper—what lies beneath the mind, the psyche, in which we find the glorious chaos of images, words, tribal memories, sexual initiation and heroism. It is, as C. G. Jung kept reminding us, the source of our creativity in art and in all other areas, and it is collective—a shared resource.
It is never—no matter how much money the last Riopelle sold for—about the product. Therein lies the integrity of les automatises. And for me their relevance today.
“Le règne de la peur multiforme est terminé. (The reign of multi-faceted fear is over.)” Paul-Émile Borduas writes in Le Refus global, the automatist manifesto in 1948.
fear of facing prejudice—fear of public opinion—of persecutions—of general disapproval;
fear of being alone, without the God and the society which isolate you anyway;
fear of oneself—of one's brother—of poverty;
fear of the established order—or ridiculous justice;
fear of new relationships;
fear of the superrational;
fear of necessities;
fear of floodgates opening on one's faith in man—on the society of the future;
fear of forces able to release transforming love;