PORTFOLIO: Cutting Out the Tongue at West Van Museum

Pierre Coupey, photo by Ley Doctor
Artist Pierre Coupey, photo by Ley Doctor

Canadian abstract artist Pierre Coupey’s latest show, Cutting Out the Tongue, showcases some 40 paintings spanning more than three decades.

Now 70, Coupey has created other forms of art, like prints and poems, but in the mid-1970s decided to focus his efforts on painting. The title of the show is a reference to artist Henri Matisse’s famous quotation, “Whoever wishes to devote himself to painting should begin by cutting out his own tongue,” advice which Coupey plans to follow.

“It’s partially choice and partially recognition that I was more interested in painting than in writing poetry,” says Coupey. “I just began to feel the need to shift and accept the fact that painting was the thing that I perhaps had the chance to do best and let the other people I know that are better writers keep on writing the poetry.”

Growing up in Montreal and the youngest of three children, Coupey played hockey, some winters playing for four teams as a goaltender in equipment he fashioned himself. As a McGill student, he found solace in the galleries and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “I was never taught as a kid, never had art lessons,” he says. “I was educating myself at the age of 15.”

As Coupey explored the art scene in Montreal, he found the gallery of artist Agnes Lefort. “She would accompany me in her tiny little gallery and we’d have a dialogue about the paintings,” says Coupey. “She would ask me questions and ask me what I saw and she would gently guide me to what could be seen.”

Coupey firmly believes in enriching kids with exposure to arts and culture. “The more art you can see when you’re young, the better off you are and one of the sad things about Vancouver is that we don’t get to see it as much as I think we should.”

His art has been hung in galleries and collections from Canada to Japan, but Coupey is especially fond of how this series is being presented.  “What I like so much about this show,” says Coupey, “it’s not hung chronologically. It’s hung chromatically, and for me it’s giving me an opportunity to see how something from 1976 speaks to something from 1990.”

With a background in poetry and writing, Coupey believes that his education in philosophy and literature have heavy influences in his work.

His pieces are sometimes based on war or conflict, though he says that despite his days fighting for social justice as a founding editor of the Georgia Straight, he isn’t pushing any agendas. “I’m not trying to send any overt messages,” says Coupey. “It’s a resonant thing… It’s a recognition that the world is a world filled with violence to which one responds the best one can and in a way you hope is both witness and redemption.”

Coupey often paints in sets or “clusters,” such as his collection A Book of Days, which consists of 13 paintings. “When I get bored of them or I think I’ve figured out as much as I need to… I just stop.” Many of his paintings in Cutting Out the Tongue are companions with other works of his, often with one being shown in West Vancouver and the other in Coquitlam.

Coupey’s show runs from now until April 27 at the West Vancouver Museum and from March 17 to April 27 at the Art Gallery of Evergreen in Coquitlam.


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