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Painting our stories

By Nick Zacharias


Artist Marcel Dargis (right), considered by many as one of the most important in the field of naïve art in Canada, is the subject of the latest book titled ‘This World that was Mine’ by Saint-Lazare author Louis Leprohon (left).

Saint-Lazare author Louis E. Leprohon has written his second book on the work of artist Marcel Dargis titled This World that was Mine. Dargis is a renowned practitioner of naïve art – a painting style first recognized in the early 20th century, where artists who have no formal training or art degrees produce works that embrace bold colours and deliberately skewed perspectives. Said Leprohon, “Dargis is one of the most important naïve artists in Canada today.”

A remarkable man

Dargis, who was born in Cap-de-la-Madeleine in 1928, has created over 850 paintings focused on telling the stories of life in Quebec – from early colonial days through the age of the 1930s to 1950s – and in so doing offered perspective on the dramatically changed pace of society today. “He started painting seriously at age 40,” said Leprohon. “Now he’s 92 years old and still painting every single day. He’s truly a remarkable man.” Dargis’s paintings have been exhibited at galleries across the province.

As for Leprohon, this book represents another step in a journey he too has been on for a long time. “It started many years ago when I saw one of his works in a gallery,” he said, recognizing the beauty and importance of his art. “It grew from there. My mission now is just to continue building on his renown, to introduce more people to his amazing work.”


Another of Dagis' creations titled La petite ligue de hockey du quartier

Latest series

Said Leprohon, “This book is about a series of 15 large paintings he’s done that were three years in the making. He finished the last one in January, 2021 and had three museum bookings for the collection within a week.” The works, as always, focused on Quebec history and contributing greatly to the patrimoine culturel of the province, will be exhibited at art museums in Magog, Trois-Rivières and La Malbaie starting in early April and touring through November of this year. Negotiations for a fourth exhibition in our own region are underway.

“He sees himself as a storyteller using a brush,” said Leprohon. This latest series includes canvases that tell stories about early hockey leagues in small parishes, about logging camps and door-to-door horse-drawn vending carts, and Quebec legends that have been passed down orally for generations.

One canvas, titled ‘Grosse-Île 1847,’ tells a story that resonates as another St. Patrick’s Day passes under the pall of COVID-19 and quarantines. Said Leprohon, “It commemorates the plight of Irish people, fleeing the Great Famine, who landed at Grosse-Île in 1847 and died while waiting to pass quarantine. At one point there were 35 ships from different ports in Ireland lined up at Grosse-Île all at once; over 5,400 people died and are buried there. It explains how there were so many Irish orphans adopted into French Canadian families, changing the fabric of Quebec culture.”

A companion for the show

This World That Was Mine will be available the first week of April, and provides a detailed analysis of Dargis’s work of the last three years. “The book will serve as a catalogue for the exhibits,” said Leprohon. “It dissects every painting and breaks them down into sections to explain the background of the stories Dargis is telling.” Those interested in reserving a copy of the book for $20 (plus shipping and handling) may reach out to louis.leprohon@gmail.com.

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