Jean Paul Riopelle: 1923 – 2002

Born on October 7, 1923 in Montreal, Canada, Jean-Paul Riopelle is one of Canada’s most famous painters. Riopelle studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Montreal in 1942, and then at the École du Meuble, graduating in 1945. He studied with Paul-Émile Borduas under whose direction Riopelle created his first abstract painting.

Riopelle was a member of a group of writers and artists in Quebec called the Automatistes, led by Borduas, and was a signer of the Refus global manifesto. In 1946 he traveled to France, where he returned and settled the following year. Pioneering a style of painting where large quantities of  coloured paints were thickly applied to the canvas with a trowel, Riopelle gained increasing success and immersion in the Parisian cultural scene. From 1949, he had numerous solo exhibitions in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, England, the United States and Sweden. He was represented in New York and participated in the biennials of contemporary art in Venice (1954) and Sao Paulo (1955). He spent his evenings in Paris bistros with friends including playwright Samuel Beckett and artist Alberto Giacometti.

In the 1960s, Riopelle renewed his ties to Canada. Exhibitions were held at the National Gallery of Canada (1963), and the Musée du Quebec held a retrospective in 1967. In the early 1970s, he built a home and studio in the Laurentians in Quebec. From 1974 he divided his time between St. Marguerite in Quebec, and Saint-Cyr-en-Arthies in France. Riopelle participated in his last exhibition in 1996. From 1994 until his death, he maintained homes in both St. Marguerite and Isle-aux-Grues, Quebec.  Jean Paul Riopelle died at his home on Îsle-aux-Grues on March 12, 2002.

Riopelle received numerous awards and honorary degrees in his lifetime including the 1958 Prix International Guggenheim award, the 1962 Unesco prize, the 1973 Philippe Hébert Prize, and in 1975, he was inducted as a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Riopelle’s works are in collections around the globe including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and The Museum of Modern Art, the Galerie d’art Moderne in Basel, Switzerland, the Museum of Modern Art in Brazil, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ottawa’s National Gallery.

Sources: Gallerie Walter Klinkhoff, National Gallery of Canada, All-Art.org,

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: 1571-1610

the-cardsharps-i-bari-caravaggioBorn in Milan, Italy on September 29, 1571, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is considered one of the first great painters of the Baroque school and a revolutionary figure in European art.

Caravaggio trained in Milan under the Lombard painter Simone Peterzano, a pupil of Titian – the leading painter of the 16th century Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance.

In 1592, Caravaggio fled Milan for Rome after becoming involved in a quarrel that resulted in the wounding of a police officer.  With next to no money to survive, he found work with Giuseppe Cesari – Pope Clement VIII’s favourite painter.  Here, he painted flowers and fruit in a factory-like workshop until 1594.

Carvaggio’s luck changed in 1595 when Cardinal Francesco del Monte became his patron, taking him into his house.  Here Caravaggio received his first public commissions which made him popular in a short period of time.

Carvaggio preferred to paint his subjects with intense realism with all of their flaws and defects in contrast to the typical idealized representations produced by Italian Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo. He also differed in his method of painting, preferring the Venetian practice of painting his subjects directly without any traditional lengthy preparatory drawings.

From 1600-1606, Caravaggio received numerous prestigious commissions for religious works, increasing his fame over this period. But for all his success, Caravaggio led an unruly life.  He was known for brawling and was arrested and imprisoned numerous times. In May of 1606, Caravaggio killed (possibly by accident) a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni.  Wanted for murder, he fled Rome for Naples where he also became well known, receiving several important church commissions.

Caravaggio stayed in Naples for only a few months before traveling to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta where he hoped to gain the patronage of the Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, who could help him obtain a pardon for his murder charge. The Grand Master was so impressed with Caravaggio that he made him a knight.

In August 1608, Carvaggio was in trouble again after a brawl and was arrested and imprisoned. It was not long after that he was expelled from the Knights and Caravaggio was on the move again – this time to Sicily where his friend Mario Minniti was living.

Caravaggio returned to Naples after nine months in Sicily, still hoping to secure a pardon from the Pope and return to Rome. In 1610,  believing his pardon would be granted, he began his journey by boat back to Rome.  With him were his final three paintings which he planned to give to Cardinal Scipione, who had the power to grant or withhold his pardon. Caravaggio never made it home.

Carvaggio’s death is the subject of much debate. No body was found and there were several accounts of his death including a religious assassination and malaria.  A poet friend of the artist gave July 18, 1610 as his date of death.  In 2001, an Italian researcher claims to have found the death certificate which says that he died on that same date in S Maria Ausiliatrice Hospital of illness.

For a full biography and to view Caravaggio’s complete works, visit Caravaggio-Foundation.org.

Sources: Caravaggio Foundation, MET Museum, BBC, Wikipedia

Mark Rothko: 1903-1970

Born on September 25, 1903, Mark Rothko (Marcus Rothkowitz), was a major Abstract Expressionist artist and had an important influence on the development of colour field painting. Latvian by birth, Rothko emigrated with his mother and sister to the United States in 1913, joining his father and 2 brothers who had come a few years before. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Rothko did well in school and upon completion was awarded a scholarship to Yale which he attend from 1921-1923.  He found the Yale community to be elitist and racist and dropped out after two years of study.

Rothko moved to New York in 1923 where he worked in the garment district. He studied sporadically at the Arts Students League but was essentially a self-taught artist, educating himself by visiting exhibitions and the studios of other artists. In 1929, Rothko began teaching children at the Center Academy of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a position he retained for more than twenty years.

Rothko’s first paintings were typically of Expressionist landscapes, still-lifes, and bathers.  He was also commissioned to illustrate for Rabbi Lewis Browne’s The Graphic Bible (1928) which included maps, sphinxes, lions, serpents, and other symbols and scenes that reflected the book’s content.

Rothko’s paintings of the 1930s had an eerie mood and created a sense of mystery with tragic figures in apartments, on city streets and subway platforms. From 1935-1940 Rothko, along with other artists including Ilya Bolotowsky and Adolph Gottlieb, was a part of an independent group called “The Ten” that held exhibitions in New York and Paris.

In the early 1940s Rothko abandoned Expressionism and, under the influence of Surrealism and Jung’s ideas on the collective unconscious, began to use archaic symbols as archetypal images. The first of these paintings were based on mythic subjects and were composed of humans, animals and plants arranged in a manner similar to archaic friezes. By the mid-1940s Rothko was also painting organic forms that were close to abstraction. During this time, he also developed his technique of applying watercolour, gouache, and tempera to heavy paper. Rothko’s paintings during this time were well received and he exhibited at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, the Betty Parsons Gallery, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Between 1947 and 1949, Rothko sought to create an original approach of abstraction by replacing the figure with shapes. His large canvases with bold colour and form were intended to create the impression of constant movement. His goal was to express profound human emotions as directly as possible stating: “The progression of a painter’s work…will be toward clarity; toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer”

Beginning in 1958, in conjunction with three major commissions, Rothko darkened his colour palatte painting with maroon, black, and olive green. He believed his view of the tragic human condition would be conveyed more clearly than with his earlier brightly coloured works.

Despite his success, Rothko felt he was misunderstood as an artist and feared that people purchased his paintings out of fashion. He rejected the label of an abstractionist and colourist saying that his interest was “only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.  . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.”

In 1968, as a result of chronic high blood pressure, Rothko suffered an aneurysm of the aorta. Despite his physicians advice, he continued to drink and smoke heavily, avoided exercise, and maintained an unhealthy diet. He did however focus his efforts on smaller format works that required less physical exertion. On February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko committed suicide. He was 66 years old.

For a more detailed biography,  visit the MoMA site as well as the National Gallery of Art (USA) website which has a large collection of Rothko’s works online.

Sources: Ciudad de la Pintura (images), MoMA, National Gallery of Art, Wikipedia

Andy Warhol: 1928 – 1987

Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol was a painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a  pivotal figure in the formation of the  Pop Art movement.

Warhol was the son of working-class Slovakian immigrants. His frequent illnesses in childhood often kept him bedridden and at home. During this time, he formed a strong bond with his mother.  It was what he describes an important period in the formation of his personality and skill set.

Warhol studied at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), majoring in pictorial design. In 1949, he moved to New York City where he quickly became successful in magazine illustration and advertising, producing work for publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the The New Yorker.

Much of Warhol’s work the 1950’s was commissioned by fashion houses and he became known for his whimsical ink drawings of I. Miller shoes. In 1952, Warhol’s illustrations for Truman Capote’s writings were exhibited by the Hugo Gallery in New York and he exhibited at several other venues in the 1950′s including a 1956 group show at the Museum of Modern Art. Warhol received several awards during this decade from the Art Director’s Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Warhol was enthralled with Hollywood celebrities, fashion, and style and by the early 1960’s these interests were reflected in his artwork. Borrowing images from popular culture, Warhol’s “Pop Art” paintings were characterized by repetition of everyday objects such as soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, and 100 dollar bills.  He also began painting celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Most of Warhol’s paintings were produced in his studio that he called “The Factory” with the help of assistants. Photographic images were screen-printed on to painted backgrounds and mechanically repeated – a process that mimicked the manufacturing industry and parodied mass consumption. During the Factory years, Warhol associated with and “groomed” a variety of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities including Edie Sedgwick, Viva, writer John Giorno, and film-maker Jack Smith.

Warhol worked prolifically in a range of media including painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, and film. Between 1963 and 1968 he produced more than 60 films and about 500 short “screen test” portraits of his studio visitors. His most popular and successful film was Chelsea Girls, made in 1966.

On June 3, 1968, Warhol and art critic/curator Mario Amaya, were shot by Valerie Solanas after she was turned away from the Factory studio. Warhol’s wound was almost fatal and would affect him physically and mentally for the rest of his life.

The 1970’s was a quieter decade for Warhol who concentrated more on portrait commissions for celebrities such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and others.  He founded Interview Magazine and in 1975 published “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” which expressed the idea that “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” During the 1970’s Warhol was also involved in a number collaborations with young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring.

In general, Andy Warhol was consistently ambiguous on the meaning of his work and appeared indifferent and ambivalent. He denied that his artwork carried any social or political commentary.

Warhol died in New York City on February 22, 1987 of a cardiac arrhythmia while recovering from routine gallbladder surgery. In his will, almost his entire estate was dedicated to the “advancement of the visual arts”. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded in that same year and it remains one of the largest grant-giving organizations for the visual arts in the United States today.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim, National Gallery of Canada, Andy Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia