Riopelle, the absolute gap


“As far as you go, how high you go, you have to start with a simple step.”
Shitao, The Paintings of the bitter pumpkin monk

“We’re just one step into life.”
Riopelle, Pierre Schneider, Riopelle, mixed signs

Riopelle’s approach has always seemed to me to be initiatory in nature. It is not for him to make “pretty” or even to produce “beautiful” (even if, convulsively, the beauty would be reached). On the contrary, it is a question of revealing, to one’s own and the observer’s gaze, anonymous and multiple, the work to come, the close affinity, when it is not the dialectical identity, of supposed realities. distinct or contradictory: the here and the elsewhere, the finite and the transcendent, the microcosm and the macrocosm. So true is it that his approach seems to be governed by the principle of the Emerald Table: “What is at the bottom is like what is above, and what is above and below, so that perform the miracle of one thing only. ” This “miracle” can be accomplished only in a state close to the trance, a total dedication at the moment, without the shadow of a reluctance. What summarizes the repeated words of Riopelle: “When I hesitate, I do not paint, when I paint, I do not hesitate.” Riopelle assumes by painting, by throwing himself into the painting, absolutely receptive to what the painting will reveal (of itself and the world, visible or invisible), the very role that is, in the so-called primitive societies, that of the shaman: explorer of transsubtantial territories, master of fire, flight and ecstasy. The painting as Riopelle conceives it, but above all, especially, the practice, may be, without forcing the line, the analogy, assimilated to a shamanic technique of ecstasy. It does not matter then its determination (figurative or abstract) since it speaks to us of the invisible, or of what is visible only in the rapture. For Riopelle, it is not a question of abstracting from the real some chosen piece (to, in a way, to consecrate it by an operation which transforms, delimiting it, the profane space into a sacred space), but on the contrary, to go towards things, to merge with them, to amalgamate them. To incorporate space, all the space which, from then on, ceases to be the elsewhere, the outside, the incommensurable. What Riopelle recapitulates by saying: & nbsp; My paintings considered as the most abstract will have been, for me, the most figurative in the true sense of the term. Conversely, geese, owls, moose … These paintings which we believe to read the meaning are they not more abstract than the rest? Abstract: “abstraction”, “pull of”, “to come from” … My approach is the opposite. I do not shoot Nature, I go to Nature.

Actually, abstraction does not exist in painting. Turner is close by, Monet too … Vuillard more. Abstraction is impossible; the figuration just as much. Paint the sky? Excluded, damned in advance! It could be risky provided, however, to have never seen the sky. In this sense, I have said before, I am less impressionistic than depressionist. I’m just getting away from reality: I do not part with it completely. I take my distance from the real. How far? The good.

This distance is double: it is the distance traveled in “turbulent infinity”, it is also the distance established between the painter (the shaman) and the world where he has his home. As Eliade notes, the shaman “seeks loneliness, becomes dreamy, likes to stroll in the woods or deserted places, has visions, sings while asleep5 …” There is this hermit, this refractor in Riopelle. Deeply melancholy despite the expressions (laughter, high, loud and upright) of the joy, the pure pleasure of being there. Despite the gift, innate at home, to fraternize in the moment.

1. Tabula smaragdina, treatise of medieval alchemy, attributed by its authors to Hermes Trismegistus.
2. See St. Teresa of Avila, My life: “(…) Rapture, privation, elevation, theft of the spirit, rapture, it is all one, and these different names express the same thing, that Also called ecstasy, is it necessary to remember that the “theft of the spirit” is traditionally regarded as one of the “specialties” of the shaman?
3. Gilbert Erouart, Interviews with Jean Paul Riopelle, Liber, De viva voce, 1993.
4. To quote a Henri Michaux title.
5. Mircea Eliade, “Shamanism”, Encyclopædia Universalis, Vol 4.