The owl motif first appeared in Jean Paul Riopelle’s work in 1963, in a large polyptych oil painting titled Point de rencontre, commissioned by the Canadian government for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. The painting features a majestic owl perched on a vast, colourful platform, as though ready to take flight into its pristine surroundings. Riopelle began reintroducing figurative elements into his work beginning in 1966, and in 1968, he completed his bestiary, a series of twenty-three etchings that includes Oiseau de nuit. In 1969 and 1970, the owl became the artist’s preferred subject, and appears in his paintings, lithographs, and sculptures of that period. As Robert Bernier writes in his book, Jean Paul Riopelle, des visions d’Amérique, “The choice of owl as principle theme is certainly not accidental. The owl symbolizes the superior spirit of the forest, the master, the one who holds power.” (Translation ours)
Created in 1973, Hibou-Carnaval shows an owl with wings spread, the top feathers forming a pair of ailerons. Its wheel-shaped tail mimics the peacock’s pavane, giving the bird an air of both celebration and conquest.