The Sunday Magazine·THE SUNDAY EDITON

At 93, pioneering avant-garde artist Françoise Sullivan paints every day and lives in the present

Françoise Sullivan — dancer, teacher, painter — is one the pioneers of the avant-garde movement in Quebec, and one of the last surviving signatories of the Refus Global, a manifesto that lit the spark of the Quiet Revolution. Her place in history is secure. But at 93, she is determined to live in the present and to continue her creative work. Her paintings are on display in two new exhibitions. Alisa Siegel brings us a portrait of the brilliant, passionate Françoise Sullivan. It's called, "The Yet To Come."
Françoise Sullivan (Alisa Siegel)

UPDATE: This weekend, Francoise Sullivan's art and life will be feted at the opening of a major retrospective of her work, at Montreal's Musee d'Art Contemporain. It is part of an exhibition called Manifesto and Scores.


In the late afternoon of February 28th, 1948, artist Françoise Sullivan stood on a snow-covered Quebec landscape, and began to dance.

Her friends Jean-Paul Riopelle and Maurice Perron were with her, filming and photographing her "Danse Dans La Neige" (Dance in the Snow). 

Sullivan was a member of the Quebec avant-garde art movement, The Automatistes, founded by Paul-Émile Borduas. The group's manifesto, Refus Global (Total Refusal), was a clarion call for a spontaneous, unpredictable art — and much more. 

Make way for magic! Make way for objective mysteries! Make way for love! Make way for necessities!- Refus Global/Total Refusal

The sixteen young artists decried the stranglehold of the Catholic Church and the Conservative Duplessis government, and called for "resplendent anarchy." Their manifesto, which included Sullivan's essay "La danse et l'espoir" (Dance and Hope), is considered one of the sparks that led to Quebec's Quiet Revolution. 

She is one of the last surviving signatories. 

In the decades since, she has been many things. A painter. Dancer. Choreographer. Sculptor. Conceptualist. Teacher. And a painter again. She raised four sons, largely as a single mother, after the dissolution of her marriage to one of Canada's most famous abstract painters, Paterson Ewen.

Françoise Sullivan (Alisa Siegel)

But Françoise Sullivan — now 93 — is a woman who lives in the present. Or better still, in what her curator Louise Déry calls "the yet to come."

Each morning, she drives to her cavernous studio. There, surrounded by canvases, brushes and tubes of colour, she paints, often until sundown.

Her recent colour-rich abstracts are now on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Baie-St-Paul, Quebec. At the Art Gallery of the University of Quebec at Montreal, Sullivan's art, across all disciplines, from the past to present, is drawing crowds. Six hundred people, many of them young artists, came to the opening of her exhibition "Resplendent Trajectories." The exhibit will be on display at Galerie de l'UQAM until February 18. 

Alisa Siegel's documentary is called "The Yet To Come."

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