Françoise Sullivan

Song Series


Françoise Sullivan considers her talents to be best described in painting and dance.  These mediums allow her process a flexible structure, which in turn holds on to the spontaneous gesture central to creativity. The moment of creation for Sullivan remains active as the marks or steps involved are being expressed. The border between artist, object and audience is not completely formed, and therefore leaves room for exploration and emotions to seep out between known boundaries. 


For Sullivan, each series of paintings envelops their own palette. Each work is a study of the interactions of loose strokes of colour, the events of the moment and the artist’s imagination. She describes her choice of colours as coming to her and "feeling right" at the time she begins to paint. 


In her series of paintings, Song, we see her boldly partnering blacks, browns, yellows and pinks that become part of a trail that leads us deeper into her painting process. Her monochromes and other reductive abstractions manage to create nuances and variations that reinvigorate the genre. In Song, she has created a variety of shapes and a combination of marks that challenge our perception of form and process. One field of colour emerges from another, generating personal associations that are then drawn back to the unifying dominant feature of the works - a warm, supple yellow hue.


Sullivan’s repertoire of shapes, which move across the middle of the picture plane or creep toward the edge, are given a distinct presence by small, almost hidden forms that emerge on the canvas. These restrained, but energized brush strokes create the most assertive, formal element of Sullivan’s paintings and this series continues with this understated yet poised, painterly quality. Subtle differences of hue, value and tone allow her marks to be boldly declarative and yet, simultaneously paradoxically, softly enigmatic.


The lines of Françoise Sullivan’s paintings vibrate with the warmth of movement; the deep hues are laden with an unconscious world of myth and gesture. She captures within paint the physical energies of the body, an unsurprising fact when one discovers that she was involved in the study, performance, and choreography of modern dance throughout much of her life.


Sullivan's oeuvre of dance, performance, sculpture, painting and writing is distinguished by its philosophical impetus and liberal progressivity.  She pursued studies in modern dance in New York with Franziska Boas in the 1940s, and by the 1950s she was an innovative dancer and choreographer. Sullivan was a founding member of a group of artists out of Montréal known as "Les Automatistes", and was a signatory of their manifesto, Refus Global, published in 1948. Her seminal essay, La Danse et l’espoir (Dance and Hope), is the first philosophical text in French Canada on dance and choreography.

The practice of Françoise Sullivan has always been trans-disciplinary, yet she considers painting to be her "essential preoccupation". She created large-scale steel sculptural works in the 1960s and continued her conceptual based practice in painting and sculpture in the 1970s; by the late 1970s, she was fully engaged in her painting practice. 


She is in several museum collections including MoMA, NY; National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Ontario; Musée des Beaux Arts, among others. Her work was included in major exhibitions at the Albright Knox Museum, NY in 2010 where she was also a speaker that same year; she was the subject of a one-person exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2010; And she was included in MoMA’s major 20th century summary exhibition, “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century”, 2011.


Sullivan has received numerous awards, honours with honorary degrees too numerous to mention including: Officer of the Order of Canada (2001); Governor General's Award in the Visual and Media Arts (2005) and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize (2008).