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Automatisme was founded by Paul-Émile Borduas in 1942. Many young artists soon joined him, including Jean-Paul Riopelle, Fernand Leduc, Marcelle Ferron and Claude Gauvreau. Borduas would welcome the members of the group to his studio, where they would discuss psychoanalysis, politics and religion.

The movement drew its inspiration from Surrealism and psychoanalysis, and gave way to spontaneity, without the constraint of reason or intention. He expressed himself in the visual arts, writing, dance, and theater. Journalist Tancrède Marcil baptized the group the "Automatistes", following a Montreal exhibit in 1947.

The Automatistes signed and launched the controversial "Total Refusal" Manifesto in 1948. The dissolution of the group occurred several years later, and some of its members, including its founder, left Quebec to settle down in France and the United States, where they could devote themselves to artistic experiments in perfect freedom.

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