2023 14-2 April Arts & Culture

Our local artists: Pierre Huot, Lowertown Artist

By Nadia Stuewer
Pierre Huot: His art has been described as “intuitive and spontaneous.

The walls in Pierre Huot’s modest Lowertown home are full of drawings and paintings, mostly his own, but also some of his contemporaries’ and friends’ work.  His early style was figurative, and there are several portraits on the walls, including one of his wife Sylvie.  Later, he decided that abstraction was a better form of expression, and his walls show many beautiful abstract paintings.  Several of his sculptures adorn his living room.  His art has been described as “intuitive and spontaneous.”  He applies colour to the canvas and then scrapes it with a spatula to achieve a distinct style.

Pierre, who describes his age as “somewhere between fifty and eternity,” grew up in Sandy Hill in a house that no longer exists.  After studying art in Ottawa, he moved to Montreal when it had a much more happening arts scene than Ottawa. However, Sylvie was living in Ottawa, and when she became pregnant with their daughter, Pierre moved back.  While it was a big change, his extended family was here and it was the right choice.  Pierre and Sylvie have lived in their home in Lowertown for almost 34 years.  They are joined by Stella – or is it Elvis? – the green budgie, who lives in the living room.  Stella/Elvis enjoys sitting on a perch on the window while wild birds munch on seeds at the outside feeder. 

At his first gallery exhibition, “they didn’t think much of me,”
but he sold out at his second gallery and went on to do well.

Pierre has witnessed many changes in Lowertown over the years, particularly the many tall buildings that have grown up.  The arrival of the Rideau Centre in 1983 invigorated the Market area which boomed with restaurants and businesses. The arts scene in Ottawa blossomed with the opening of the National Arts Centre, which “changed everything.”  Suddenly Ottawa was able to receive performances “by the best of the best” from all over the world.  Ottawa has come a long way from being a “government town” to becoming an “artistic town.”

Pierre is a member of the National Gallery of Canada and attends many exhibition openings. When Sylvie worked there, Pierre sometimes attended suppers with visiting dignitaries, although he was not invited to dinner with the Emperor of Japan in 2009. He once attended a sake-tasting which featured a hundred different sakes.

He gave me some advice for beginning artists.
“Find a good artist and paint with them.” 

Pierre is one of those remarkable artists who has been able to support himself by his art.  At his first gallery exhibition, “they didn’t think much of me,” but he sold out at his second gallery and went on to do well. He used to sell everything he produced but “since the web” it has become harder. There are so many new artists, which is good for art but makes selling art more competitive. These days, the “economy is tough” which adds another barrier. However, he sold more during the pandemic because people had more disposable income since they couldn’t travel or go to restaurants.

He gave me some advice for beginning artists. “Find a good artist and paint with them.”  In his earlier days, he worked with Dodie Lewis, one of Canada’s best portrait artists, sharing a studio with her for a time.  “I learned an awful lot from her,” he told me. “Go outside to paint landscapes and cityscapes: it is more fun than painting from photographs and your perspective is much wider.  You can respond to the changes in light.  Some things that are ugly in the summer may look beautiful in the winter, but you have to paint quickly as the light changes quickly – and your fingers get cold!”

Tourmente, acrylic on canvas. This painting represents the turmoil that our earth is in. Photo: Pierre Huot

Pierre once met the famous Quebecois artist Jean Paul Riopelle in Montreal.  Riopelle offered to let Pierre sketch his portrait, but it was the one time that Pierre didn’t have his drawing tools with him.  What a missed opportunity!

His sister still has some of his first paintings, from when he was in his teens.  His family did not encourage him to become an artist.  Rather, his father wanted him to go into printing, which he did for seven years.  One day in his early twenties, he was offered a promotion, but he realized he couldn’t accept it.  \His father “fell off his chair” when Pierre told him, but accepted his decision.  Pierre became a graphic artist. and, coincidentally, worked at a company whose office was in the same building as an affiliate of Batten and Bomac, where five members of the Group of Seven worked in Toronto in the early 1900s.

I asked him how he knows when a painting is finished.  He said that ideally he does not control the painting, the painting controls him. He knows he is finished when another brush stroke would spoil it.  He admits to having spoiled “too many” pictures over his career this way. Some paintings he destroyed, but regretted it later.

Pierre’s next show will be in Montreal at the Richelieu Gallery later this year.  You can see some of his art on his website, pierrehuot.com.

This is the beginning of a series where we hope to profile various artists living in Lowertown. While we have reported on artists in our community in previous issues, we expect there are many more photographers, sculptors, actors, playwrights and so on living in our community. If you know someone that we should profile in future issues, send your suggestion to editor@lowertownech.ca