Henri Robideau, 12 Little Giants, 1980 (portfolio of twelve gelatin silver prints 3.5 x 5.5 inches, ed. 12/50) and From the Pacific to the Atlantic, Canada's Gigantic! (Toronto: Summerhill Press. 1988). Museum purchase, 2015
Henri Robideau is a senior Canadian artist whose work explores “the ironic tragedy of human existence.” He is best known for his Pancanadienne Gianthropological Survey, a project documenting the “giants” of the Canadian landscape—in this case, the large apples, birds, boots and nickels that stand as monuments to small-town civic pride in this country. Far from sentimental, this work is complemented by projects like 500 Fun Years, a satirical look at European settlement presented in the style of a 1950s newsreel or illustrated lecture.
12 Little Giants (1980) is a self-published portfolio of twelve gelatin silver photographic postcards, all hand-captioned and initialed by the artist. They are archivally processed on fogged Dupont Varigam paper, which expired February, 1956. The photographs were made between the years 1973 and 1978, and contain images taken all over western North America. While their presentation attempts to convey a scatterbrained and pseudoscientific “gianthropological” approach to the project, the formal composition of many of the photographs reveals the eye of a rigorous photographer.
The presentation of these photographs is consistent with conceptual photography of the 1970s and 1980s. Like the iconic American photographer Stephen Shore, who processed prints from his American Surfaces at drugstores and pharmacies, Robideau printed his photographs on expired photographic paper, ceding some of his control over the finished products. Like Shore and others working in this period, Robideau’s casual photographs were a deliberate affront to the high-modernist prints of previous generations. Presented serially and in a portfolio, these postcards recall other conceptual projects including Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations and Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots.
From the Pacific to the Atlantic, Canada’s Gigantic! is a photobook illustrated in halftone reproductions. Like 12 Little Giants, this book is best contextualized with artist’s bookworks of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with its emphasis on inexpensive production values, tongue-in-cheek tone and its serial imagery. The book is introduced by the late Peter Day, a prominent Toronto art collector, independent curator and writer.
Robideau’s work is collected at a number of different institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada. Work from the Pancanadienne Gianthropological Survey is in the Robert Frank collection at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and in the Permanent Collection of the Surrey Art Gallery in Surrey, BC. Robideau continues to show his work, with recent exhibitions at the grunt gallery (2015) and the Presentation House Gallery (2012), both in Vancouver.