What the Critics Say
Written by Emma Richan, Principal of Richan Art, www.richanart.com
Halin de Repentigny is both painter and woodsman; a unique pairing that informs the conceptualization and creation of his artwork.
Born to laborers in Montreal, de Repentigny struggled to convince his parents that painting was a viable career path. According to de Repentigny, his absent father spent the rare occasions at home to voice his disapproval and pushed him to get a real job. de Repentigny’s mother, however, looked past her personal judgment to support her son’s passion for painting. It is in this pressurized environment that de Repentigny learned to understand the value of a dollar and did not take his artistic journey lightly. Determined to defend his career decision to his family, some of his first earnings came from painting portraits in the streets of Montreal. From the first brush put to canvas, de Repentigny vowed to be a “working artist.” A working artist, as he explained in a phone interview, is an artist who supports themselves financially through the sale of their artwork. In other words, they are liberated from family debt, academic bureaucracy, and from the time- consuming and ubiquitous side-gig.
While many modern artists quit school as a badge of honour, de Repentigny did not have the luxury of paying for an education simply to toss it away. Instead, he surrounded himself with artists he respected and who encouraged his artistic development. Marcel Favreaux, Maurice Lebun, and Roberto Iacurto stand out as three important mentors during this early period, and their teachings became his art education. As a 19-year-old, de Repentigny was invited to paint at a symposium with these established artists for ten days. At the end of the symposium, the shy young de Repentigny revealed his artwork in a group show and his work entirely sold out. This formative experience provided him with the courage he needed to move forward.
Still a young man, de Repentigny decided to shed Montreal and take destiny into his own hands. He moved first to Ville de Gaspé, a beautiful small city in Québec’s Gaspe peninsula, on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Gaspé proved itself a stunning yet tranquil backdrop that was void of the chaos the artist had learned to associate with Montreal.
When ready for the next challenge, he made the bold move from Gaspé to the Yukon to live close to the land. In the Yukon, de Repentigny lived traditionally as a trapper for several years. Long cold winters in the Peel Watershed of northeast Yukon provided an endless supply of vistas from which he honed his artistic style.
The scenes de Repentigny painted as a trapper recorded his daily life and the stunning landscape that was his home; however, one fateful day fourteen years ago de Repentigny broke his leg badly, forcing him to give up his trapping lifestyle and move to the city of Dawson. This experience could have been immensely discouraging but de Repentigny saw 2 it as an opportunity to explore a new lifestyle. The solitude and tranquility of Dawson City’s winter months coupled with its raucous summers attract artists of nearly all genres to its longstanding art scene. It is within this lively community that de Repentigny has carved himself space as a key figure and where he can continue to evolve as an artist.
Once established in Dawson, he built his own cabin and an intimate art studio only 20 feet away. The cabin’s exterior appears rustic like the surrounding buildings, but inside he maintained modern living standards. The small nearby studio was built with the extreme cold weather and limited light of the Yukon in mind. A safe distance from the cabin, a parked school bus acts as a venue for curing paintings that would otherwise fill the small cabin with toxic fumes. In the summer, the art studio transforms into a storage unit while the artist takes advantage of working outdoors in the bright summer months.
de Repentigny’s work engages with a traditional definition of beauty. His artwork retains an essential familiarity and avoids any attempt to shock the viewer. Within recent years, the artist has begun experimenting with abstract elements to enhance the atmosphere of his impressionistic style. Unwavering in his sense of authenticity, de Repentigny prefers to work outdoors so he can focus on sketching directly from the landscapes that inspire him. He then returns to his studio to work on a larger painting based on these sketches. Summer and fall are the most intense seasons for plein air painting because winter darkness forces him to rely more on sketches and from his memory.
de Repentigny sketches upon waking every day, guided by his senses and daily mood. Often starting a new sketch every single morning, he pauses after two weeks to return to sketches for further development or for scrap. Within the span of three months it is not uncommon for de Repentigny to produce 50-60 sketches, of which he settles on 20-30 for further development onto larger canvases or panels. He continues working like this for 2- 3 months at a time and then “charges his battery” before re-visiting this intense process.
The challenging climate necessitates a quick working pace that tests an artist’s dedication to their craft. This year, the artist is starting to work with acrylic to facilitate his rapid approach to painting. In the winter months, there are only 3-4 hours of daily light and temperatures often reach -30 to -40 degrees Celsius. This seasonal pendulum of light and darkness preoccupies de Repentigny’s painting practice and his artistic vision. He is deeply concerned with how natural versus artificial light effects the colour spectrum, and especially appreciates the tonal range of yellow based on the sources of available light. In the process of losing light entirely from his life for many months at a time, de Repentigny has learned to understand light and colour in a way that few other artists can truly appreciate.
In the time that de Repentigny is not painting he explores his creativity through sculpture and site-specific materials such as birch bark, which he uses to build exquisite canoes and baskets. De Repentigny is also a musician; he plays drums, guitar, Spanish percussion, and sings using an intuitive method similar to that of his painting practice. As in music, de Repentigny feels a rhythm in painting; a single note, or brush stroke, is significant as a piece of a larger creation.
Canal sans fin is one of Halin de Repentigny’s largest and most sensational paintings to date. The scene is based on the artist’s memory of a life-threatening motor boat experience where he faced severely turbulent and icy water. The recollection led him to a more abstracted style in an attempt to reveal the essence of this harrowing experience. Raw and unfiltered, the viewer is consumed by swirling, reflective blues, silty amber- browns and deep ochres. Sunlit golden taupes of jagged rocks cruelly taunt the viewer. Only a small peek of dark sky reminds us of life beyond the canal.
The painting style is reminiscent of work by Fritz Brandtner (1896-1969) (Falls, 12 x 15.75 ins, oil on canvas on board; Georgian Bay, 16 x 20.5 ins, mixed media on paper; Etude d’arbres, Winnipeg (1930), 5 x 7 ins, watercolour & ink on paper), and Joachim George Gauthier (1897 - 1988) (Buckslide Falls, 10.5 x 13.75 ins, watercolour). Brandtner and Gauthier were Canadian artists similarly drawn to rocky waters’ edges and experimented with visual representation of drama in nature. Brandtner typically used thick black outlines to define his subjects, a technique de Repentigny employs in Canal sans fin to heighten the suspense.
In contrast to Canal sans fin, Blue Snow is a gentle and contemplative painting of comfortable dimensions. A scene familiar to most Canadians and unspecific to any place, Blue Snow humbly explores the playful shadows that enliven the snowy forest floor. This painting is a perfect example of de Repentigny’s interest in exploring light, darkness, the changing seasons and the circle of life. The focus on the tree trunks and the ground stabilizes a human scale and gives us the experience of physically walking through this wooded area. Blue Snow successfully revives childhood memories of trudging through the snow and allows us to enjoy the present moment. Walter Joseph Phillips (1884-1963) (The Red River in Winter, 5.25 x 8.75 ins, colour woodcut, 1927) and Franz Johnston (1888-1949) were too fascinated by the contemplative nature of late afternoon in Canada’s cooler months.
Butch Cassidy Barn is a mysterious painting with a title that alludes to the infamous American train and bank robber of the same name. Using a broad tonal range from burnt orange to citrus yellow and deep indigo, de Repentigny wrestles with man’s place within nature. It is unclear whether the barn is very old or recently constructed; a demonstration that human time is insignificant in the context of the natural world. Like the dark looming tree that reaches over the barn, wilderness forever represents a dual source of protection and peril; it provides us with nourishment and shelter yet constantly threatens to relieve us of them. Wilderness is a ripe theme for de Repentigny and he expertly handles oil paint with rapid brush strokes to remind us of nature’s volatile behavior and our own fragility.
Tombstone Park, Yukon is an endless source of inspiration for artists working in Canada. While many artists must travel a great distance to capture its beauty, it is merely a natural extension of de Repentigny’s backyard. In the aptly titled Tombstone, sun-kissed mountains and golden fields welcome the viewer into the scene. de Repentigny’s mastery of colour and light shine in this painting. In the artist’s own words: “the right light is like a jewel, I know a painting works when it creates its own light.” The whimsical snow glows against the shadowed recesses of the mountains and dare us to challenge its jagged peaks.
de Repentigny’s art work comes from a place of deep authenticity and admirable work ethic. He has overcome significant obstacles since childhood including minimal financial resources, a lack of family support, multiple reinventions in new cities, and a serious physical injury. None of this, however, caused him to waver in his commitment to painting as a career. In fact, these challenges shaped his identity as an artist and provided him with inspirational fodder for the essential themes and subjects of his artwork.
Emma Richan is the Principal of Richan Art, a Toronto and Montreal-based art consultancy built on a foundation of honesty, transparency and outstanding service. Emma is a PhD candidate in Art History at the University of Victoria and is a member of the International Society of Appraisers.
Please visit richanart.com to learn more about their advisory, acquisition, appraisal, writing and research services, as well as for other collaborative opportunities.