"One could say that I do not take life seriously. I always had a fondness for birds, little flags and the texture of fabrics. Perhaps it is a bit decorative, but so what."
Jean-Philippe Dallaire is best known for his festive paintings populated by strange and macabre people. In his work, the real and the imaginary intermingle in a world of form and colour. Critics have described Dallaire as a man who lived in an air of mystery “ in a private world with his own landscape and climate, its architecture and its people.” Dallaire was a representational painter despite an interest for abstraction. He played a leading role as a precursor in the return of figure painting in Canada at the end of the 60’s.
He started drawing at the age of eleven. Although he attended art classes in various cities, including Toronto, Boston, and Montreal, he was mostly self-taught. In October 1938, with a stipend from the Québec government, Dallaire traveled to Paris to attend the Atelier d'art sacré, and the Lhote studio. He also worked in his own studio in Montmartre. In France, he became familiar with the work of Picasso, the surrealists and the Canadian artist, Alfred Pellan. The works from this period are characterized by their strong architectural motifs and flattened planes.
In 1940, Dallaire was arrested by the Gestapo and spent the next four years in prison. While in prison he continued to draw and study Italian. After his liberation he took a course in the art of tapestry. He completed his apprenticeship in Aubusson under the painter Jean Lurçat who was responsible for renewing the art of tapestry in France.
In 1945, Dallaire returned to Canada. He taught painting at the École des beaux-arts in Québec City from1946-52, and worked for the National film Board in Ottawa from 1952-57, where he illustrated short educational films. Many works from this period were also commissioned murals. The works show varied stylistic influences and are recognized for their draftmanship and spontaneity in subject and use of colour. Dallaire was inspired by Italian theatre, mythological figures, surrealism, synthetic cubism and art brut.
In 1959, Dallaire returned to France where he spent the last years of his life in Vence. The works from this period show a very personal approach to modernism. They are characterized by their festive air, and highly schematized forms and rich colours. Dallaire discovered the liberating qualities of abstraction.
In 1968 the first retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Musée d’art contemporain, Montreal and the Musée du Quebec, Quebec.