• Stephanie O'Hanley

Book captures Québécois cultural heritage through artist’s eyes


PHOTO COURTESY LOUIS E. LEPROHON

Louis E. Leprohon (left) stands with Marcel Dargis in front of Dargis's paintings at the recent visit to Greenwood Centre.

St. Lazare resident Louis Leprohon says he never expected to write a book about Quebec painter Marcel Dargis. During a July 12 talk at the Greenwood Centre for Living History, Leprohon, a lifelong art lover and collector, says about 25 years ago he and his wife Mary saw Dargis’s colourful works in a small art gallery and bought a couple of paintings.

“We always make it a point to get to know the artist who we buy paintings from so that we can relate to what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to express,” Leprohon said.

After getting to know Dargis, whom he calls, “ the most important Québécois naïve artist since Arthur Villeneuve, the doyen of naïve art in Quebec,” Leprohon realized the peintre-raconteur was telling a story about a specific period in Quebec history, the period known as la grande noirceur, the Duplessis era. “I said, ‘My God, this is really important’,” Leprohon recounted. “That’s what led eventually to trying to document what he was telling through his art. It started as a small project to leave him some form of a legacy that he could give to his children and his grandchildren and somehow it mushroomed.”

Available in French and English, Leprohon’s book, Québécois culture through the eyes of an artist, 1935 to 1960; Marcel Dargis – artist and storyteller, offers an historical perspective of Dargis’s art and paintings. The self-published book includes colour reproductions of 126 of Dargis’s 750-plus paintings, and snapshots of Dargis’s recollections of life in a rural, French-Canadian, Catholic parish. It focuses on five major themes in the paintings: family life, social life, religious life, traditional Québécois tales and legends, and logging scenes in the Mauricie.

Dargis, now 87 and still painting, grew up in Cap-de-la-Madeleine in the parish of Saint-Lazare, not to be confused with the Town of St. Lazare. During the late 1930s, 40s and 50s, Leprohon said, Quebec was “very conservative, very nationalistic and the Catholic Church played a very dominant and important role in the everyday life of the people of the parish, French-Canadians, essentially.”

Stories in Dargis’s paintings recall the first 34 years of his life, a time Dargis calls his happiest years. “If you look at what happened in his parish, you can apply it to any parish in Qu

ebec,” Leprohon said.

“It would appear that everything they did, they tried to find an excuse to have a celebration, to get together as a family and enjoy life,” Leprohon said. Few families owned cars so people walked to work and to one another’s house, extended families and communities were close-knit and people enjoyed getting together, he said.

“Many people now have no concept of what happened in those years,” Leprohon said. “It was called la grande noirceur because those who were left of centre did not like the Duplessis government and were very negative about that whole period. But there are some good things that happened.... Through (Dargis’s) art you’re left with the question, at the end, was there really a need for all that change?”

For more information, or to purchase a copy of the book, you can reach Louis Leprohon at louis@NaiveArtPromotions.com

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