Françoise Sullivan has been producing art in one form or another for more than six decades. She signed the Refus global manifesto in 1948, helped establish modern dance in Québec, is an accomplished sculptor and painter, and was named a member of the Order of Canada. Sullivan (2010), an entry in this year’s Festival international du film sur l’art competition, meets up with the artist in her studio to discuss art and watch her at work.
Directed by Françoise Dugré, the film opens up with Sullivan standing near a chair, preparing. A series of outdoor shots and close-ups inside show the artist mixing paint, a dripping faucet, parts of a sculpture and other things that are lying around the studio. For a while the only sounds you hear are of the paint brush at work. This unhurried and steady pace sets the tone for the rest of the movie. In a relaxed and quiet environment, the audience observes the artist as she paints and contemplates her canvases. Then the dancers arrive.
The boot stomping of Ginette Boutin and Daniel Soulières thunders through the calm atmosphere of the studio. They are piecing together one of Sullivan’s choreographies that was created in 1980, À tout prendre, for a performance in Toronto. The dancers work from a video recording of the routine and get Sullivan’s input on the movements. Artist Rober Racine joins them at one point to watch the video.
This isn’t a documentary about Sullivan’s entire life and it doesn’t cover her whole body of work. She talks mostly about painting and dancing and the only artworks that are shown are the ones in her studio. People unfamiliar with the artist will learn more about her significant contributions to art by reading the program’s write up than they will by watching the movie. This film is a candid portrait of the artist now, one that offers viewers a chance to hear her reflect on some aspects of her career and on art in general.
Sullivan speaks plainly and thoughtfully about art. Her discussion of the monochromatic style of painting that she moved to in the 1980s and the link she makes between dancing and painting offer some interesting insight into her work. There are a few too many quiet segments in the film – more than are necessary to demonstrate the artist’s contemplative approach to her art. In those intervals, the camera will often cut away to random shots around the studio that don’t seem to serve any purpose and feel a bit like filler.
Given Sullivan’s long and distinguished artistic career, it would have been nice to hear her speak more about her experiences. However, the film is but a snapshot that captures one part of her continually evolving artistic trajectory and despite some minor shortcomings the documentary offers a clear picture of the artist now, one that any fan will be interested in seeing.
Sullivan opens at FIFA today at 18h30 at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. For more information check out the FIFA site.