Françoise Sullivan

1923 | Montreal, Canada
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Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Éric Lajeunesse, Portrait de Françoise Sullivan dans son atelier, 2018, Courtesy Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN

Canadian dancer, choreographer and visual artist.

Françoise Sullivan was born in Montreal in 1923. She was introduced to dance and drawing at an early age and attended the École des Beaux-Arts de Montréal (1940-1945). The first paintings she exhibited had a Fauvist and Cubist flavour. In 1945 and 1946 she was in New York studying dance with Franziska Boas (1902-1988), Martha Graham (1894-1991) and Louis Horst (1884-1964). These initial experiences paved the way for a multidisciplinary career that evolved to encompass sculpture, photography, installation and performance.
Danse dans la neige, a choreography created in the snow on Mount Saint-Hilaire in February 1948, established her as a pioneer of contemporary dance. She was among the founding members of the Automatistes, along with the painters Paul-Émile Borduas (1905-1960) and Jean Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), and signed the manifesto Refus global with them in 1948. In a Quebec dominated by conservatism, the aesthetic and political commitment of this manifesto’s 16 signatories from various artistic disciplines, among them seven women, laid the groundwork for an important movement of openness to the values of modernity and freedom.

In the 1950s Sullivan worked as a choreographer and dancer for Radio-Canada. Sculpture was her main focus during the following decade, when she learned to weld. She created the sets for various dance companies and gained increasing recognition exhibiting sculptures in acrylic and metal that counterbalanced form and movement.
She began the 1970s with a desire for renewal under the impulse of conceptual art. She travelled to Italy, Greece and Ireland, where she met many artists and was introduced to new trends that whetted her curiosity. Anchored in photography, film, text and performative actions, her work was open to the realities of the decade: student, feminist, labour and political protest movements infused her activity, in an approach that invariably combined art, family, time and memory.
Nevertheless, painting still occupied her thoughts, and she returned to the medium for good in the early 1980s with mythology-inspired research that she developed in the series Tondos, Cycles crétois and Prométhée, following which her painting style grew much more sparing. Her abstract, often monochromatic large-format paintings were now characterised by the vibrant, luminous expressionism of colour (for example, the series Éclat de rouge, 1997, Hommage, 2002-2003, Océan, 2005-2006, Proportio, 2015-2019) and bear the imprint of breath and body as linked to the act of painting.

Many institutions have collected her works and organised retrospectives illustrating her rich career: the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (1981 and 2018), the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2003), the Art Gallery of Ontario (2010) and the Galerie de l’UQAM (2017 and 2021). The celebrated series of photographs that grew out of Danse dans la neigewas exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (On Line, 2010), the Metropolitan Museum and the Tate Modern (Surrealism Beyond Borders, 2020-2022).

Louise Déry


© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Danse dans la neige, 1948-1977, performance, offset photograph by Maurice Perron taken from the album produced by the artist in 1977 (2/50), 39 x 39 cm, private collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Portrait d’une enfant autochtone au lac Ouimet, n. 1, 1941, oil on canvas, 30 x 28.5 cm, artist’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Rideau sonore, 1965, steel, iron, textile, 213.5 x 534.5 x 4 cm, Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Chute en rouge, 1966, painted steel, 210.5 x 127 x 52 cm, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Portraits de personnes qui se ressemblent, 1971-1972 (print 2003), two digital prints mounted on wood fiber panel, 152 x 101.4 cm each, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, L’Arrêt, 1973-2016, 12 black and white silver prints and 9 texts by the artist, 35.6 cm x 25.4 cm, édition 1/2, artist’s collection, Courtesy Galerie Simon Blais, Montréal, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Promenade à Greve in Chianti avec mes quatre garçons, 1975, digital transfer from 8 mm film, color, mute, 5min 20s, artist’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Danse à Cybèle, 1976, digital transfer from 8 mm film, color, mute, 2min 5s, Quebec University’s art collection in Montreal, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan, Et la couleur revient, 1978, videography digital transfer, color, mute, 14min 46s, artist’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

"> Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Et la couleur revient, 1978, videography digital transfer, color, mute, 14min 46s, artist’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Galerie de l’UQAM

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Je parle (no 7) la terreur du jour, 1982, acrylic on canvas, wood, 230 x 182 x 18.5 cm, artist’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Tondo VIII, 1980, acrylic on canvas and rope, 287 x 298 cm, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Pierre Charrier, MNBAQ

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Rouge nos 3, 5, 6, 2, 1997, acrylic on canvas, 4 elements, 152 x 152 cm each, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s collection, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Richard-Max Tremblay

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Hommage à Paterson, 2003, diptych, acrylic on canvas, 348 x 287 cm each, artist’s collection, Courtesy Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Guy L’Heureux

Françoise Sullivan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Françoise Sullivan, Sans titre, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 183 x 244 cm, artist’s collection artist’s collection, Courtesy Galerie Simon Blais, Montreal, © Françoise Sullivan/SOCAN, © Photo: Guy L’Heureux

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