JEAN BENOÎT - The Last Surrealist

Born in Quebec City in 1922, Jean Benoît moved to Montreal to study fine art and eventually started teaching at l’École des beaux-arts de Montréal (along side Alfred Pellan). After encouraging his students to openly rebel against the university's pedestrian take on art, a riot ensued, leading to a number of students being expelled from the school and Benoît finding himself out of employment. It should be noted that this riot was the impetus for the Prisme d'Yeux Manisfeste, of which Jean was a signator, this eventually developed into the rival Refus Global movement.

Shortly thereafter one of Jean’s students, Mimi Parent, was granted a scholarship to study in Paris, and in 1948 with his new wife in tow, Jean and Mimi moved to Paris in search of a new life immersed in art, art that was free of the Catholic oppression that so heavily governed art in Quebec.

Jean spent the next decade in Paris creating his art and working various jobs such as a bookbinder and a vintner, but it was his fortunate meeting of Aube Breton, the daughter of surrealist founder André Breton in 1958 that would set Jean’s life on a new course. Describing Jean to her father as a “wild Canadian lumberjack with an irrepressible passion for life, and the strength of an entire circus” it didn’t take long for Benoît and Breton to meet. Upon their first meeting, Jean decreed to Breton that he could form an erection on command and “keep it up as long as any man!”
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From 1959 to Breton’s death in 1969 Benoît and Breton were very close friends and compatriots. It was during this time Jean created some of his most memorable work, primitive-like sculptures, sexually infused drawings and paintings and costumes inspired by the Marquis de Sade.

Above this however, it is the life that Jean lead that truly defined who he was. Jean Benoît was loud and brash, full of laughter and was unbelievably sexually driven. His life and art were equally fuelled by his libido. His passion for women started at a very young age and did not let up even into his 80’s. His artwork is filled with images of both the phallus and the vagina, as well as skulls and serpents. Of all the surrealists, Jean Benoît could be credited as the one artist most closely tied to the primal nature of man. A life unmotivated by social norms and art keenly focused on the primal expressions of man.

In 2005 Mimi Parent died suddenly of asthmatic complications. Jean took her death very hard and never fully returned to his once boisterous self. A number of falls followed by a couple of mini strokes essentially brought Jean to his knees. After losing his voice and a prolonged period in the hospital, Jean Benoît died in August of 2010 in Paris.