What better than a cruise on the St. Lawrence to feel the breath of inspiration that galvanized Riopelle when he lived in the heart of this perpetually windy river. Fauna, flora and minerals embodied all his work. Whether he was in Quebec or in France, Riopelle remained viscerally Laurentian. Like a son of the flats. Lover and hunter of these white geese which mark the seasons and the rhythm of the tides. In love with this feeling of strange freedom when you live surrounded by water.
Everything spoke to us of Riopelle when we cast off, of the Berthier-sur-Mer marina, to flirt with these islands of the Île-aux-Grues archipelago. We imagined him on the lookout, huddled in the caches of the high marshes, during his waterfowl hunts, or on a walk in the island whose so many natural riches were highlighted in his Homeric works.
So we were a little moved when the cruise started. Captain Jean-François Lachance took the helm of Le Vent des Îles in the presence of Huguette Vachon, Riopelle’s last companion, and Champlain Charest, a close friend of the painter, who explained that he was the one who had led him to kiss – with passion – the Montmagny region and the Islands.
Captain Jean-François Lachance and ornithologist Jocelyn Landry, director of the Montmagny library behind this celebration of Riopelle, took turns at the microphone during the cruise to discuss the landscape, local history, the height of tides (which can reach 22 feet), area birds: geese, ducks, pheasants, wild turkeys, bald eagles, yellow rails and even penguins.
We sailed off Île Madame, owned by businessman Laurent Beaudoin, Île Ruau, which belongs to the president of Gildan, Glenn J. Chamandy, then Grosse-Île, with its imposing buildings where so many immigrants resided during their quarantine before setting foot on Canadian soil. Captain Jean-François Lachance brings tourists there every day interested in the sometimes tragic story of this transit, between 1832 and 1937, of tens of thousands of people. Parks Canada organizes guided tours there. You can also take a little train or bike ride.
Captain Jean-François Lachance said that in his grandfather’s time, people did not hesitate to cross the channel by ice canoe to get to the islands. This boat inspired Riopelle, who repainted one that will be exhibited at the Charlevoix Museum in La Malbaie from June 16.
To get to Île aux Oies and see Riopelle’s old workshop from afar, you have to sneak between Île au Canot and the village of Île-aux-Grues at the right time. Because if the tide is too low, you can’t approach it. The water there is very pure, explained Jocelyn Landry, thanks to the sea currents which constantly plow the bottom of the river. “Therefore, we have a fairly exceptional quality of flesh from the local sturgeons, even if these fish live a very long time. »
The emotion went up a notch when the boat stopped in front of the master’s workshop. Huguette Vachon discussed her life on the island with him, in particular the creation of his major work Tribute to Rosa Luxembourg during the fall of 1992, a succession of animal paintings inspired by local fauna. This 10 m long work required two months of work.
“We lived in the house next to the studio,” she said. Jean Paul worked there from morning to sunset. From the roof of the studio, water flowed one day on one of Rosa’s paintings. The color had drifted away. But Jean Paul was happy and said, “What a beautiful accident!” Nature had participated in the creation of the painting…”
“Riopelle is part of our heritage and our identity,” said Jocelyn Landry during the cruise. As residents of this region, we recognize ourselves in his work. This attachment to an artist in communion with the riches of the archipelago motivated Jocelyn Landry to organize, with Huguette Vachon, an exhibition at the Montmagny library of some twenty works by Riopelle on loan from collectors and friends of the archipelago. artist: Champlain Charest, Marc Bellemare, Alice and Roch Gauthier, Jean Côté, Pierre Letarte and Denis Desjardins. The deployment completes the cruise by embodying this nature that fascinated Riopelle.
After the opening of the exhibition, on June 15, singer Raôul Duguay will give a free evening show on Place Montel, which borders the library. With songs and poems in homage to Riopelle. A bit of air, a bit of art, wind and many thoughts for the man André Breton called “superior trapper” and whose posthumous imprint continues to sail and command admiration.