Les Automatistes

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Les Automatistes were a group of Québécois artistic dissidents from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The movement was founded in the early 1940s by painter Paul-Émile Borduas. Les Automatistes were so called because they were influenced by Surrealism and its theory of automatism. Members included Marcel Barbeau, Roger Fauteux, Claude Gauvreau, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Gauvreau, Fernand Leduc, Jean-Paul Mousseau, and Marcelle Ferron and Françoise Sullivan.

The movement may have begun with an exhibition Borduas gave in Montreal in 1942. However, les Automatistes were soon being exhibited in Paris and New York also. Though it began as a visual arts group, it also spread to other forms of expression, such as drama, poetry and dance. The title les Automatistes came from journalist Tancrède Marcil Jr., in a review of their second exhibit in Montreal (February 15 to March 1, 1947), which appeared in Le Quartier Latin (the Université de Montréal's student journal).

In 1948 Borduas published a collective manifesto called the Refus global, an important document in the cultural history of Quebec and a declaration of artistic independence and the need for expressive freedoms. Its denunciation of the Catholic Church's authority was particularly scandalous and resulted in the group's public humiliation. This ultimately led to a kind of martyrdom but was initially devastating. Although the group dispersed soon after the manifesto was published, the movement continues to have influence, and may be considered a forerunner of the Quiet Revolution.

Alongside Lyrical Abstract painters in France, the Automatistes favoured a fluid, painterly technique over the comparatively reserved, hard-edge abstraction so popular in the U.S. and Eastern Europe at the time. Much like a nonfigurative Group of Seven, they were looking to create a distinctively Canadian artistic identity. Heavily influenced by Surrealist manifestos and poetry, their work was largely stream-of-consciousness inspired, believing this to be a truer means of communicating subconscious emotions and sensory experiences; they wanted to be liberated from intention, reason, and any kind of structure, in order to communicate a universal human experience without bias. This resulted in increasingly crude or intuitive methods such as applying paint with palette knives and fingers and painting blindfolded, their efforts contradicting their claims of working without intention.[1]


In 1954, the Automatistes were the subject of the NFB/CBC documentary series On the Spot in an episode entitled Artist in Montreal.[2]

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  1. ^ Nasgaard, Roald; Ellenwood, Ray (2009). The Automatiste Revolution. Vancouver, BC: D&M Publishers Inc.
  2. ^ Ohayon, Albert (April 14, 2010). "On the Spot: The NFB in the early days of television". NFB.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 15 April 2010.

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