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June 7, 2001 The artists are the show in Baie Saint-Paul this summer



by Marie Valla

Nestled in the bottom of a valley along the St. Lawrence, Baie St-Paul became a popular destination among landscape painters in the first half of the century. The village has maintained its artistic vocation and this summer welcomes six former Concordia Fine Arts graduates along with six other Canadian and international painters as part of the 19th Symposium International de la Nouvelle Peinture.

“It’s not a petting zoo but a painting zoo,” said Barry Allikas, a Montreal painter and former Concordia faculty member. “The public can see how artists behave in their habitat.”

Françoise Labaie, the symposium’s creator and mentor, died last year, but the symposium is well and alive. On August 3, the 12 artists will take over the municipal arena and turn it into a collective studio. They have a month to execute a painting inspired by the theme of “being to the world.”

What makes the event unique is the presence of the public. From 20,000 to 25,000 people are expected to visit the arena while the artists are at work.

“It’s not a vernissage,” the symposium’s artistic director and former participant Paul Lussier explained. “The stakes are different. Here, what the public witnesses aren’t completed works but painters in the process of creating art.” For the artists, Lussier adds, it is an exercise in humility.

“The kind of painting I’m doing is not very popular, even with art people,” said Allikas. His paintings feel like machinery. They are abstract, structured on coloured grids.”But if the public sees the effort I put in my work, it might change their perceptions.”

Allikas is already thinking about a 12-by-7-foot work, one that couldn’t even fit through the door of his Montreal studio. But obviously, space isn’t an issue in an arena.

At the end of the symposium, each artist will hand his work over to the Centre d’Art de Baie Saint-Paul. Eric Simon, an interdisciplinary artist who graduated from Concordia in 1984, was attracted by both the room left for creation and the prospect of a $2,500 stipend, though the idea of being under contract makes him a bit nervous.

“It’s the freedom that you can take from what’s being proposed that is important,” he said. “You can play with the rules. What I don’t know yet is how far you can go.”

Simon is still undecided. He has been exploring the relationship between art and science, experimenting with fake scientific illustrations, but he can’t say for sure that that’s what he’ll do. Symposium painters are like marathon runners, Lussier warned. Their key to success is to start early and conserve their energy.

The symposium also offers a program of conferences and round tables to discuss the state of “la nouvelle peinture.”

Painting has had its detractors. “Since the 1970s and the rise of the video, performance and installation arts, some people think that painting isn’t really relevant any more,” Allikas explained. The symposium is there to prove them wrong.

The symposium runs from August 3 to September 3 in the municipal arena of Baie Saint-Paul. The arena is open to the public every day from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call 418-435-3681.