Françoise Sullivan

1923 | Montreal, Canada
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

Une notice réalisée dans le cadre du programme de recherche « AWARE x Canada », en partenariat avec la Galerie de l’UQAM

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