Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paul-Émile Borduas: Resplendent Anarchy

“To hell with the holy-water-sprinkler and the tuque!”
The "Refus Global" (Total Refusal) manifesto, released in 1948, was a cri de coeur against "La Grande Noirceur" ("The Great Darkness") of Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis' stifling reign. Spearheaded by artist Paul-Émile Borduas and Les Automatistes based in Montreal, Refus Global is now regarded as one of the very first salvos in what would eventually become known as the Quiet Revolution (Révolution Tranquille) over a decade later. The reaction was immediate and swift - within a month of its release in August 1948, Borduas lost his teaching position at l'École du Meuble.

Borduas in his Saint-Hilaire workshop, 1950
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia:
"Refus global not only challenged the traditional values of Québec but also fostered an opening-up of Québec society to international thought. The manifesto advocated a strong need for liberation, if not 'resplendent anarchy,' and anticipated the coming of a 'new collective hope.'"
Borduas, Composition, 1942
While only 400 copies of the manifesto were printed, they sold out quickly.

"The reign of hydra-headed fear has ended.

In the wild hope of effacing its memory, I enumerate:
- fear of facing prejudice -- fear of public opinion -- of persecutions -- of general disapproval;
- fear of being alone, without the God and the society which isolate you anyway;
- fear of oneself -- of one's brother -- of poverty;
- fear of the established order -- or ridiculous justice;
- fear of new relationships;
- fear of the superrational;
- fear of necessities;
- fear of floodgates opening on one's faith in man -- on the society of the future;
- fear of forces able to release transforming love;
- blue fear -- red fear -- white fear; links in our shackles."

Along with Borduas, the Automatistes included such artists as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Gauvreau, and Marcel Barbeau whose work resembled New York abstract expressionists Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Marcel Barbeau, Rosier-feuilles (Rosebush leaves), 1946
Below is an excellent NFB documentary from 1954, "Artists in Montreal" on the Automatistes.

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