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Jean-Paul Riopelle was born in Montreal, Canada, on October 7, 1923. He studied painting with Henri Bisson and enrolled at the École du Meuble in Montreal in 1943. In 1945 Riopelle forged a strong friendship with his teacher Paul-Emile Borduras, and other Canadian avant-garde artists who formed the Automatiste group. That year he also traveled to Paris on a Canadian government fellowship. In 1946 the artist visited New York, where his work was included in the International Surrealist Exhibition and where he met William Hayter, Jacques Lipchitz, and Joan Miró.
Riopelle settled in Paris in 1947, where he soon met André Breton and Pierre Loeb. He also made the acquaintance of many artists involved with Art Informel, including Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, and Wols. In 1948 Riopelle signed the Automatiste manifesto, Total Refusal. That year he also started participating regularly in the Salon de Mai. In 1949 he was represented in the Salon des Surindépendants and was given a solo exhibition at the Galerie Nina Dausset. Additional Riopelle shows followed in Paris. He participated in the São Paolo Bienal in 1951 and 1955, receiving an honorable mention at the latter, and took part in the Venice Biennale in 1954 and 1962. Also in 1954, the first of many Riopelle shows was held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
In 1958 Riopelle received an honorable mention at the Guggenheim Museum’s Guggenheim International Award exhibition and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. Also that year, the artist began to make bronze sculptures, which he exhibited for the first time at the Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris, in 1962. Retrospectives of Riopelle’s work held in the early 1970s include those at the Fondation Maeght, Saint Paul-de-Vence, France, in 1971, and at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris the following year. In 1977 the artist began his black and white Iceberg paintings series. Two years later he commenced work on a ceramic wall for the Fondation Maeght, which he completed in 1981. When his wife, the artist Joan Mitchell, died in 1992, Riopelle dedicated Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, a work composed of three large canvases, to her. Soon after the artist stopped painting altogether. Riopelle died in Isle-aux-Grues, Quebec, on March 12, 2002.