The Art Gallery of Windsor is hosting a wide-ranging exhibit by Francoise Sullivan, culled from 70 years of fearless artistic expression by a Quebec pioneer in modern and contemporary art.
The exhibit features more than 40 works of art representing a diverse mix of painting, sculpture, choreography and video. It is ably complemented by the AGW’s own collection of works by Quebec artists from the Automatist movement that introduced the rest of Canada to modern, abstract art.
“This is an important ground breaking movement that pushed forward abstract expression in Canada,” said Catharine Mastin, the AGW’s executive director. “The Automatists were pivotal in moving the entire country forward in pursuing abstraction.”
And at the centre was Sullivan who at 96 continues to paint and create and who will be on hand for a book signing Friday evening as part of the Fridays Live official launch of the winter/spring exhibitions.
Sullivan said her own love of art was nurtured by a father who enjoyed poetry and public speaking and a mother who appreciated art and signed her up for ballet and dance classes.
“I used to play teach dance to my friends on the sidewalk,” Sullivan said Thursday of her childhood in Montreal. “We created little theatres in the basement.”
In 1945, Sullivan went to New York to study dance.
She returned to Montreal bursting with new ideas and became “one of the inventors of contemporary dance,” according to Mark Lanctot, curator at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal. “To dance barefoot was unheard of then and to do an entirely improvised dance for a camera was a very innovative thing.”
Lanctot, who curated this touring exhibit, describes Sullivan as “a monument, but not a monument in the traditional sense. She is a dynamic monument, always questioning what she does, pushing it in directions that are unexpected.”
The exhibit features one of Sullivan’s best-known works, a 1948 performance piece titled Danse dans la neige (Dance in the Snow).
The series of black and white photographs capture Sullivan’s improvised dance movements on a barren snow-covered landscape.
“She was reacting to the landscape for no one, just a camera,” Lanctot said.
In the 60s, Sullivan learned to weld and created popular sculptures out of steel and Plexiglas.
In the 70s, she focused on conceptual art before returning to painting in the 80s.
“I just had an exhibition (of new works) last November,” Sullivan said. “Now, I’ll have to do some more.”
The AGW’s own Automatiste collection features Paul-Emile Borduas, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jean-Paul Mousseau, Pierre Gauvreau, Marcelle Ferron and Marcel Barbeau.
“Some of these pieces are of great importance to the Automatist movement,” Mastin said. “We truly do have a gem of a Canadian art collection.”
The winter/spring exhibit runs from now to May 10. In addition to Friday’s launch, there is a guided tour by AGW curator Chris Finn Saturday at 12 noon followed by a panel discussion featuring Lanctot and visiting Automatist scholar Ray Ellenwood.
The AGW has extended hours (12 to 4 p.m.) on Family Day Monday with a number of family-friendly activities.