Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir

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I’m at Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir, about to interview the man who runs the show. Alain Piroir rolls two chairs to an inking table, sets his expresso cup on the glass surface. « Alors, qu’es-ce que tu veux savoir?» he asks. I ask about his stylish red glasses. « Dollarama,» he says, « I sat on the other ones!»

Everyone in the Quebec printmaking milieu knows Alain Piroir. The master printer, who moved to Montreal from Lyon fifteen years ago, is a gift to printmakers. When he immigrated he worked at Atelier Circulaire for eighteen months, which is where I met him for the first time.

During this period Alain landed a contract to print for Jean-Paul Riopelle. He worked for four months at L’Isle-aux-Grues, where Riopelle was living at the time. Task at hand: to set up a printmaking studio, provide technical assistance to the artist, and to print the bon à  tirer proofs which would become part of the artist’s book, Le Cirque, written by Gilles Vigneault. Once a print meets the artist’s expectations, this becomes a bon à tirer, « good to pull » proof. There were days when Riopelle wasn’t very motivated to work on his copper etchings, however, says Alain, the legendary Quebec artist was pleasant to work with. Alain printed the entire edition of the book in Montreal with his daughter, Agathe, Elmyna Bouchard, and Yann.

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Casgrain Street

After this Herculean project Alain established his own printshop on St. Denis Street. Since then he has moved his studio twice, once to Mt.Royal Street, a hop away from the effervescent buzz of the Main, and then to Casgrain, across from Atelier Circulaire.

I have had the pleasure of working with Alain in all of his studios. I remember the day I brought my son, four months old at the time, to the St.Denis location. Pablo had fallen asleep in the car. I carried my sleeping babe–bundled in his snowsuit and strapped into his car seat–and propped him on the kitchen floor, expecting the usual hour-long nap. I was itching to help Alain print, dying to get my hands dirty with something other than a diaper change. Alain warned me not to print. Having been a parent for longer than me, he knew what he was talking about. Just as I started dabbing my Pthalo blue ink on my collagraph plate, Pablo started to cry!

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Fortunately I have had many other chances to work with Alain. Through the years he has gotten to know my work. I am always amazed at how quickly he can grasp the mental image of what I want and turn it into a real, live print. I can describe a color, or a group of colors, and he mixes away until the hues appear. He is steady, indefatigable, an impeccable technician, and never imposes his own esthetic. The most exciting printing sessions were when he printed my large formats, one of which will be on exhibit at my upcoming show. Two words to express the experience of having my work printed by Alain: pure luxury.

Twelve years have gone by since I took my baby to Alain’s studio. My son is taller than me now. Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir has also grown. Its present location on Casgrain Street boasts a sweeping eighth-floor view of Mile End, set against the undulating backdrop of Mount Royal. The wall-to-wall windows invite a flood of sunlight into this magnificent loft, that includes a unique gallery space. At night, the atmosphere is nothing short of magical as the view transforms into a glittering urban galaxy. Can you tell I am trying to lure you to my March 6 vernissage at Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir?

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This printshop is practically a museum. Some people collect stamps. Alain collects presses. He owns six etching presses, one typography press, paper and metal cutters, and an impressive two-hundred year old binding press. Each press has a story. Three of them traveled to Quebec from France by boat. If you think that is a poetic image, wait until I tell you about another story that involves a boat and presses. Attendez! That’s my hook to keep you reading! Among the presses that were shipped from France there is an adorable mini Bertrand that would look very smart in my living room. Agathe, who is wiping a Martin Muller plate, points out that her father designed the press with the wooden frame. Alain explains that he created it in France out of scrap, at a time when he had lost all his presses. It is an unusual looking contraption but I would never have guessed its humble origins. Alain has come a long way since those days. His impressive collection includes two Ledeuils, one of which used to belong to Albert Dumouchel.

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Alain, originally trained in marquetry, went on to study fine arts for five years in Lyon. After earning his Diplôme nationale de gravure in 1974, he moved to Paris, where he worked as a printer for seven years at Georges Visat’s art publishing studio. He printed bon à tirer proofs for big names such as Francis Bacon, Max Earnst, and Roberto Matta.

After returning to Lyon, where he opened his own studio, Alain printed and published prints for the next fifteen years. At this point he wanted a change. His dream project was to buy a barge and set up a printshop on it. He wanted to print, publish and travel all in one shot! Instead of buying a peniche, he immigrated to Montreal, where he got to do all of those three things! I ask him if he still dreams of turning the wheel of a press as his barge advances languidly through an exotic canal. He smiles, as if saying, «Anything is possible.»

If he decided to do it, I think he could do it. It takes a real visionary to have gotten to where he is now. Printmaking is not dead but let’s just say that it takes a lot of love, passion, conviction, and perseverance to keep it alive! Alain and Agathe are forever full of projects, always striving to increase visibility, reputation, and let’s not forget income.

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Agathe, an artist, printer, and mother of two young children, has been working with her father for several years now. When she was fifteen she worked at his Lyon studio. After immigrating to Montreal with him, she printed for a while in New York. When she returned to Montreal she opened her own printshop, where she worked for five years. I ask her about the nature of her collaboration with her father. She leans into the wheel of the press as she ponders this serious question. « We have differences in the day-to-day functioning of little things, but globally we share the same vision.»

Alain agrees, giving the example of art publishing as one of their goals. He has already published prints of high-profile artists such as Louis-Pierre Bougie, Francine Simonin, and Martin Muller, and done co-editions with Galerie Éric Develin and Galerie Lacerte. Now he wants to publish prints for international artists and organize related events to attract the media and art collectors.

I look forward to exhibiting my latest show, Animal Instincts, at Atelier-gallery Alain Piroir. I am anxious to see my prints, hot off the press, hanging in this glorious space. I can’t wait to share the sparkling nocturnal view with you on Friday March 6.

Talleen Hacikyan

ANIMAL INSTINCTS
Atelier-galerie Alain-Piroir

March 3 to 28, 2009
Vernissage: Friday March 6, 5:00-7:00 pm

5333, Casgrain Street, suite 802
(Two blocks east of St. Laurent, one block north of Fairmount)
514 276-3494

Photos # 1, 2, and 4 by Claude Arsenault

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