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The Artist

René Rivard, by Laurentin Lévesque

Some thirty years ago, I wrote as a bio for René: "A child of the North, as far back as his childhood can remember, René built rafts on distant lakes of Ontario and Québec, hunted turtles and fished for trout always absorbing countless images of lakes and rivers... and, throughout, he was always drawing, endlessly."

I also wrote: “René is a spiritual child of the Group of Seven, and especially of Lauren Harris”.  At the time, I was yet unaware of the American magician Georgia O’Keefe, who also knew how to trans-substantiate her visual universe into a plastic world. However, in a recent film aired on TFO, Ontario’s French-language educational network, she explained what mysterious force let her to be inspired by flowers, for example, to produce her own visual forms “as my spirit sees them”, she said, insisting on the word spirit.  Similarly, since those remote years, I have been able to observe René develop the fusion between eye and spirit, the construction of a personal language that has evolved over the years in a nordic silence.

René Rivard – (Noranda, QC, 1946) – is known only by family and close friends. He has seldom exhibited.  He paints first out of necessity like the need to breathe. He is the personification of one who paints on the urge of a need, from an internal urgency; that is his way of feeling, of reasoning, of thinking about the meaning or the absurdity of human relationships.  Man of few words, he has always drawn silently.  Forever he has thus constantly rebuilt the world in his own design, according to his vision, in works always shrouded in silence.

One must also have seen him drawing with charcoal at fifty kilometres an hour on the sinuous roads of the Alps between Italy and France, when every few seconds, the landscape changes completely in its structure with the tumble of dizzying perspectives.  No time or space to stop and correct a line, retrace a curve or add a bush.  No.  Next page and here we are in a new country!  Closer to home, you will see a road near St-Tite or a picket fence on a royalist farm near Brockville.  A specialty here, sketching from a moving car.

All of his paintings therefore have a basis in a precise geographical space.  For anyone who has witnessed this genesis, whatever the transformation of the materials, it is always possible to relocate the moment in a real physical place, and, almost always, in spite of the apparent mix of colours, to identify the season.  But let’s do without the anecdote.

This is where the transmutation work begins,… would you believe,… in a silent alchemy, that which presides the passage from sketch to canvas.  Whether the page be “17 X 22” with two or three strokes for a whole valley in Pennsylvania, or on the page of a small lined notebook where some imprecise forms are juxtaposed with notes indicating: blue, lighter blue, greyish green, it is always surprising the see the play of the chemistry, the re-composition building as by a telluric force of its own.  From the initial pretext emerges a being that is totally autonomous, free – and silent – that owes its existence only to itself, one would think, in a way, a re-editing of Creation.

One must have seen, over the years, the progressive evolution of this desire to build landscapes for and by himself, always landscapes, rarely marred by human constructions, never inhabited by man or its anthropomorphic creatures – with green skies reflected in yellow waters where blue, red or mauve suns bathe, whatever.

When one is in the wings looking through the keyhole, one is stunned by the constancy of it all: reframe the world – simple, one would think – recreate the universe, bit by bit, inserting one’s personal order.  And slowly, the forms become geometric, the parts are disciplined, organized in a coherent molecule that gravitates on itself, colours combine, each containing a bit of every other, a sort of material attracting force that links together the parts of a concentrated universe.  So much music in this visual silence!  I like to imagine the monk of ancient times who one day (possibly one night) gave birth to the aerial melody of the Veni Creator, a pure line in perfect balance that emanates from silence itself, that grows with the strength of obvious simplicity, to return to silence, now nurtured by the Spirit.

René Rivard was born in Noranda in Québec.  Throughout his youth, he lived on the frontier between Québec and Ontario.  Self-taught, he began drawing flowers at an early age. His eye guided him in a process deeply – I would say ferociously – independent.  “For the degree”, he completed his Fine Arts at the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1975, and after, went back to his personal approach having nonetheless developed in the process a few solid friendships that have lasted.  Teacher by profession and multidisciplinary by nature, he has earned a living in the field of mental health and deafness.  Art leads to everything! Other worlds where silence reigns.  Always a man of few words, he has seldom exhibited, sometimes with long lapses between shows.

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