Gauvreau, Claude

Claude Gauvreau, poet and playwright (b at Montréal 19 Aug 1925; d at Montréal 7 July 1971). An unusual character, visionary, iconoclast, polemist and militant AUTOMATISTES, this writer, whose vast body of work was neglected during his lifetime, was a pioneer of modernity in Québec theatre. His tormented existence, marked by madness, incomprehension and suicide would only hinder the broad public's discovery of the power of the language of this "poète maudit".

Claude Gauvreau and his artist/filmmaker brother Pierre GAUVREAU were born into a broad-minded family and grew up in a very liberal environment benefitting from a well-stocked library. He enrolled in a bachelor of arts at Collège Sainte-Marie but the Jesuits expelled him for "incompatible ideology" and the obscene sketches he drew in his notebooks. In 1947, he earned a philosophy degree from the Université de Montréal, and that same year produced the play, Bien-être, written for his muse, actor Muriel Guilbault. Gavreau and Guilbault appeared together on stage for a one and only performance that nevertheless marked an important milestone in modern Québec theatre.

Claude Gauvreau's brother Pierre introduced him to artist Paul-Émile -Émile BORDUAS, a friend and associate since 1942. Claude Gavreau became a leader of the Automatist movement and co-signed the REFUS GLOBAL manifesto in 1948. In the '40s, after having completed a series of twenty-six "dramatic objects" under the title Les Entrailles, the poet concentrated on his collection of poems, Étal mixte (1950, 1951), and then on his only novel, Beauté baroque, completed the year of Muriel Guilbault's suicide in January 1952. Overwhelmed by the loss of his love, Gauvreau suffered difficult years of psychiatric internment, and cut off from his writing, became a theatre critic and polemicist for several publications. In 1956, he organized the Automatists' last exhibition.

His great plays were the subject of notable productions, most after his death. La Charge de l'orignal épormyable, written in 1956 and first read in public in 1968, was a resounding flop at its 1970 premiere. The work, a virulent denunciation of the world of concentration camps, had to wait for Jean-Pierre RONFARD's production at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde (1973) and André BRASSARD's at the Théâtre de Quat'Sous (1989) to achieve the success it merited. Les oranges sont vertes (1970), premiered by Ronfard at the TNM in 1972, remains memorable. Lorraine PINTAL was incensed by this play in which the author depicted himself as a damned poet facing a repressive society. She mounted another production in 1998, and in 2004 produced L'Asile de la pureté (1953) with equal success, again at the TNM.

At the time of his death by falling from the roof of his home (whether by accident or suicide) Claude Gauvreau was working on the publication of his complete works Œuvres créatrices complètes, a total of 1500 pages that would appear in 1977. His dazzling writing from symbolism to surrealism, through the "explorean" that made language explode, reached the heights of lyrical abstraction, but the fluidity of language makes us remember the misunderstood artist's piercing cry of love. These past years, several publications and events such as the show Rémy Girard enchansonne Claude Gauvreau presented at l'Usine C in April 2008, have kept the poet in the news.