Jean-Paul Riopelle was born in Montreal on October 7, 1923. He studied painting with Henri Bisson and in 1943 he enrolled at the Ecole du Meuble in Montreal. In 1945 Riopelle began a close association with his instructor Paul-Emile Borduras, and other Canadian avant-garde artists who formed the Automatiste group. That year he also traveled to Paris on a Canadian Government Fellowship. In 1946 the artist visited New York, Where his work was included in the International Surrealist Exhibition and where he met Hayter, Miró and Lipchitz.
Riopelle settled in Paris in 1947, where he soon met Pierre Loeb and André Breton. He also made the acquaintance of many of the artists involves with art informel, including Georges Mathieu, Wols and Hans Hartung. In 1948 the Automatiste manifesto Refus global, which Riopelle signed, was published. Beginning in that year he participated regularly in the Salon de Mai. In 1949 he was represented in the Salon des Surindépendants and was given his first one-man exhibition, at the Galerie Nina Dausset. Additional Riopelle shows followed in Paris. He participated in the São Paolo Bienal in 1951 and 1955, receiving an Honorable Mention at the latter. In 1954 and again in 1962 Riopelle was included in the Venice Biennale. Also in 1954 the first of many Riopelle shows was held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.
In 1958 Riopelle received an Honorable Mention at the Guggenheim Museum’s Guggenheim International Award exhibition and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. Also that year the artist began to make bronze sculpture, which he exhibited for the first time at the Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris, in 1962. Retrospectives of Riopelle’s work held in the early 1970s include those at the Fondation Maeght, Saint Paul-de-Vence, France, in 1971, and at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris the following year. In 1977 the artist began his black and white Iceberg series of paintings. Two years later he commenced work on a ceramic wall for the Fondation Maeght, which he completed in 1981. When his wife, the artist Joan Mitchell, died in 1992, Riopelle dedicated to her his Hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, a work composed of three big canvases. Soon after the artist would stop painting completely. Riopelle died in Île aux Grues, Quebec, on March 12, 2002.