The Progress of Cruelty
The Progress of Cruelty, by Françoise Sullivan, 1964
Françoise Sullivan was born in Montréal on June 10, 1925, the first and only daughter in a family that already had four boys over the age of ten. She came from a middle-class family; when she was young, her father, a lawyer, was Deputy Minister of the federal Post Office Department. Sullivan has happy memories of her childhood. As she says so well in Patricia Smart's book Les Femmes du Refus global: "J'étais appréciée, alors être une jeune fille ne me donnait pas de complexe d'infériorité. Au contraire, j'étais désirée" (I was appreciated, so that being a young girl did not give me an inferiority complex. On the contrary, I was wanted) [translation] (p. 33).
She wanted to be an artist from the age of ten. Her parents encouraged her artistic aspirations and registered her for courses in drawing, dance, piano and painting. She also studied diction and dramatic recitation.
In 1940, she entered the School of Fine Arts to take courses in the plastic arts. At that time, the philosophy of education was based on fear and passivity and not on creativity and personal development. This is what Patricia Smart writes on the subject in Les Femmes du Refus global:
Le programme d'études à l'École des beaux-arts [...] reflétait l'esprit d'imitation et la peur de la créativité qui inspiraient tout système d'éducation. Les cours semblaient expressément conçus pour entraver le talent individuel et pour faire passer tous les étudiants par le même moule. [...] La peur et la passivité [étaient] inculquées aux élèves [...] Cet « académisme », ou sacralisation de l'imitation de modèles anciens, reflétait la structure autoritaire de la société, contre laquelle l'automatisme allait constituer le premier refus philosophique cohérent. (p. 57-58)
(The program of studies at the School of Fine Arts [...] reflected the spirit of imitation and fear of creativity, which coloured the entire educational system. The courses seemed to be expressly designed to impede individual talent and to shape all the students in the same mould. [...] Fear and passivity were instilled into the students [...] This 'academism', or practice of following established rules and traditions, reflected the authoritarian structure of society against which the Automatiste movement would constitute the first coherent philosophical 'refusal' [translation] (pp. 57-58).
The fall of 1941 saw the birth of the Automatiste movement. Françoise Sullivan's first paintings were marked by Fauvism and Cubism. Her painting titled, Tête amérindienne II, painted in the summer of 1941, revealed the need to depart from the traditional and move towards the 'primitive', a theme that became the key to all her work (Smart, Les Femmes du Refus global, p. 72). In 1943, she received the Maurice-Cullen Prize at the year-end exhibit of the School of Fine Arts.
Her meeting with the painter Paul-Émile Borduas led to the formation of the Automatiste group, whose philosophy was based on each person reaching their potential. Borduas' philosophy is clearly described:
Tout en Borduas s'oppose donc à l'esprit « académique » qui règne dans la société tout entière. [...] il tente de guider l'élève vers l'écoute de sa propre vérité, dans un processus où l'art et la vie forment un tout, et où spontanéité et rigueur sont étroitement interdépendantes. Contrairement à ce qu'on pourrait penser, dit-il, le dessin d'un enfant ne se fait pas sans effort, mais plutôt dans un état d'attention totale : « Et c'est cela l'effort de l'artiste, c'est de s'oublier dans l'œuvre qu'il fait et de s'oublier complètement; et s'oublier tellement que de changer le point de départ. »
(Smart, Les Femmes du Refus global, p. 64)
(Everything in Borduas is opposed to the 'academic' spirit which reigns throughout society. [...] he tries to lead the student to listen to his own truth in a process in which art and life create a whole and in which spontaneity and rigor are narrowly interdependent. Contrary to what one might think, he says, the drawings of a child do not occur without effort but rather in a state of total concentration: "And that is the artist's struggle. It is to forget himself in the work that he is creating and to forget himself completely; and to forget himself to the extent that the starting point is changed."
(Smart, Les Femmes du Refus global, p. 64) [translation]
After completing her studies at the School of Fine Arts in 1944, Sullivan went to New York and took courses in modern dance from 1945 to 1946. In 1948, she explained her vision of dance and of its place in history in a lecture entitled, "La danse et l'espoir." This lecture was later published in the Refus global manifesto. In 1948, Sullivan and her dance partner, Jeanne Renaud, put on a performance at Ross House; today, that performance is considered to be the founding event of modern dance in Quebec.
In 1949, she married the painter Paterson Ewen. Four boys were born of this union: Vincent, Geoffrey, Jean-Christophe and Francis. Limited by her family responsibilities but not wanting to abandon dancing, she looked for new means of expression. While continuing to choreograph, she turned to sculpture, which allowed her to express herself completely without eclipsing her husband.
In 1959, she learned the fundamentals of metal welding from the sculptor Armand Vaillancourt. She received the Prix du Québec in sculpture, in 1963, for her work titled Chute concentrique. In 1960, she returned to the School of Fine Arts in Montréal for a three-month apprenticeship to learn sculpture in wood, iron and plaster with Louis Archambault. She also took courses in welding at the École des arts et métiers in Lachine, Quebec. At the end of the 1960's, she began to work in plexiglass. In 1976, she began collaborating with the sculptor, David Moore.
At the beginning of the '80s, Sullivan returned to painting and created the series Tondos Cycle crétois, Prométhée, Agora and Vestiges au Mont Nemrut painted between 1984 and 1992. With this series, Sullivan reached the height of her art.
In 1987, she received the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas for the entire body of her work. In 1997, at the sciences pavilion of the l'Université du Québec à Montreal, she created a masterly work titled Montagnes, which is composed of eleven types of granite. This work is permanently exhibited at the entrance to the pavilion.
In 2000, the Université du Québec à Montréal awarded her an honorary doctorate to recognize her exceptional range, the wealth and diversity of her creative work, her contribution in opening Quebec to artistic values, her qualities as a humanist and her personal commitment.
In October 2001, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, named Françoise Sullivan a member of the Order of Canada.
In 1997 Sullivan started to teach in the Studio Art Department at Concordia University in Montréal, and continues to teach there in 2002.
The next exhibit of her work is planned for June 18 to September 5, 2003 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. You are invited to attend and discover an artist with innumerable and marvellous talents. Thank you Françoise Sullivan.
Daigneault, Gilles. "Lauréates et lauréats : Françoise Sullivan". Les prix du Québec [online]. Gouvernement du Québec, c2001. [Cited June 6, 2002]. Access: www.prixduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/recherche/desclaureat.asp?noLaureat=183
(available in French only)
____. Sullivan/Moore, 1984-1989. Rimouski, Québec : Musée régional de Rimouski, c1989. 37 p.
Déry, Louise. -- Françoise Sullivan. Textes de Louise Déry et Jean Dumont ; entrevue avec l'artiste par Michel-V. Cheff. [Québec] : Musée du Québec, c1993. 86 p.
"Françoise Sullivan". Women artists in Canada = Les Femmes artistes du Canada [online]. Pham Van Khanh, c2000. [Cited June 6, 2002]. Also available in French. Access: http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/205/301/ic/cdc/waic/index.html
Gagnon, François-Marc, coordonnateur. "Dossier : 1948-1998 : les 50 ans du Refus global". Vie des arts. No. 170 (printemps 1998). P. 25-46
Gravel, Claire. "Françoise Sullivan : la parole retrouvée". Vie des arts. No. 130 (mars 1988). P. 44-47
Navarro, Pascale. "Expositions : Françoise Sullivan : ne jamais s'arrêter". Châtelaine. Vol. 34, no. 3 (mars 1993). P. 28
Smart, Patricia. Les femmes du Refus global. Montréal : Boréal, 1998. 334 p.
Sullivan, Françoise. Françoise Sullivan : la peinture des années quatre-vingt. Montréal : Galerie Dominion, [1991?].  p.
Sullivan, Françoise. Françoise Sullivan : rétrospective : Musée d'art contemporain, Montréal, 19 novembre 1981-3 janvier 1982 : une exposition. Organisée par le Musée d'art contemporain, avec la participation financière du Conseil des arts du Canada. Québec : Ministère des Affaires culturelles, 1981. 101 p.
"L'UQAM souligne le parcours exceptionnel de l'artiste Françoise Sullivan et lui décerne un doctorat honoris causa". L'UQAM en bref [online]. Université du Québec à Montréal. [Cited June 7, 2002]. Access: www.uqam.ca/bref/doctorat/sullivan_com.htm
Villeneuve, Martine. "Françoise Sullivan". Bilan du siècle [online]. Université de Sherbrooke. [Cited June 7, 2002]. Access: http://bilan.usherb.ca/pageweb.jsp?reference=543