“I’m from Montreal, I lived there until I was 20,” he said. “In Montreal, every painter painted in gray, because Montreal is gray. After leaving, it was almost like a revolution, I started using color.”
Natural elements that are characteristic of LaLiberte’s work, especially birds and flowers on long green stems, were also things he discovered by escaping from the city.
“We used to go to the country in Quebec. My parents lived on big farms, where you could see animals, birds, flowers you don’t see in Montreal,” he said. “When I started painting, that’s what I started doing.”
LaLiberte’s first group exhibition was in 1948 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where he also earned the first of several degrees.
Some banners he created to adorn walls at the Vatican, which were also displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, were his first pieces to attract commercial attention.
“The architects loved the idea, they were bidding like mad,” he said.
Since then, in addition to totems, he has also created artists books, prints and various types of collage, many of which will be seen for the first time in Marblehead.
When Montserrat held a solo show of LaLiberte’s work in the summer of 2008, Leonie Bradbury, director and curator of the galleries at Montserrat, also displayed work that was new to the public and included totems and artists books.
“He has a tremendous output, but he has a number of different series within that,” she said. “Things he does between paintings. He’s more experimental in terms of the media he uses, but the vocabulary, the imagery is the same, it’s recognizable as his.”
Bradbury said that this restless exploration of new media was instilled by LaLiberte’s training at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a master’s in art education in 1954.