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Dado by Alain Jouffroy
Dado or the Generosity of Morning
 Posthumous addition
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The following text by Alain Jouffroy first appeared in no. 42 of the review XXe siècle (p. 55-63) in June 1974.

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Ancestor 59

Ancestor 59, 1974, oil on canvas, 162 × 130 cm.

One never quite knows who paints, when the picture invents itself from the tips of the fingers in that peculiar state one might call the “drive to paint,” close enough, I think, to the “drive to write.” Why do certain individuals feel this need stronger than others? No satisfactory explanation has ever been given. This is all the true case since not all painters share it, and among those who do, the differences are so glaring, so contradictory even, that they can be seen as products of divergent if not antagonistic civilizations. So there is confusion, a great deal of confusion about what can be seen versus what can be analyzed: most of the time, when pictures obeying what Kandinsky called an “inner necessity” are analyzed, they contradict whatever they betray to the “innocent” eyes of uninformed viewers. That creates such an immense stumbling-block in terms of reading that people prefer to accuse these painters, the most sincere (or, in any case, the closest to that ingenuity of feeling that renders them incapable of doing something other than what they do), of calculating, of cheating, to some extent, and subscribing to ideas, to the “cosa mentale”, and thus to “literature”, more than to painting itself. It is one of the paradoxes of profound painting –and not the least– that it passes for something other than painting.
Ancestor 104

Ancestor 104, 1974, oil on canvas, 161 × 130 cm. Frissiras Museum, Athens.

Dado belongs to that lineage of painters who cannot do anything other than paint what they paint. Since 1956 he has followed the selfsame path, indifferent to alien fashions, and if today he has met with an intellectual climate more favourable to the comprehension of his work, he has done nothing to seek this approbation. Art lovers have come to him, not the other way round. The extraordinary and characteristic coherence has its source within him and in nothing else: rejecting all external forms of adaptation, he has little by little asserted his position, and Dubuffet, whom he met by chance in 1956 in a lithography studio in Paris, could certainly have never imagined the importance the inventive genius of this young Montenegrin painter fallen that very year from Yugoslavia as if from the moon would acquire. He probably thought that Dado squared with his conception of “Art Brut” and this is why he mentioned him to his dealer, Daniel Cordier. In reality, and Dado’s evolution over the last fifteen years offers living proof, here was something quite different: the elements of culture present in this violent and “barbaric” oeuvre in fact run completely counter to the anti-cultural theory of Art Brut. Whatever people say, whatever people think in the West, those to whom we were introduced to at primary school as barbarians – all those savages tramping in from the mountains of Central Europe, all those “peasants from the Danube”, all those “darkies” from the Orient, heirs to Turkish invasion, escapees from occupation and military raids, are precisely those who might today offer the West a genuine lesson in refinement, in subtlety. Not just anyone can be a barbarian.
Dado at his studio in Hérouval, circa 1974

Dado at his studio in Hérouval, circa 1974. Photo: Michel Braticevic.

Close to the Albanians, the Montenegrins form a minority community which during the War produced the most courageous resistance fighters against the Nazi order. People envy them all the more since their heroism was so undeniable that it became uncomfortable for everyone. More independent through temperament than through ideology, they are not ones for what are called “concessions”. Dado, who has kept his Yugoslav citizenship and who has never dreamt of benefitting from the rather ambiguous status of “political refugee” in France, has to date affirmed his position as a member of an obscure community of whose traditions the majority of people remain totally unaware. His painting asserts a fundamental heterogeneity with respect to our culture: it is perceptible only from a distance, and it condemns us, us, to the status of aliens. It is a universe from which we are excluded; it is up to us to make the effort to enter it, to carve a path through to it. I have not yet managed to gain intimate knowledge of it, in spite of the fascination Dado’s pictures have exerted on me since 1958, the year of his debut Paris exhibition. Over these fifteen years I think I’ve no more than made a number of brief forays into Dado’s intellectual heartland, and I always leave his exhibitions prey to a certain consternation – as if I feel I’m being held at a distance by a man who can have no truck with my criteria and yet who manages to move me, to disturb me, to ask me questions, without ever using a language conducive to establishing with me that wordless dialogue we call understanding.

Dado at his studio in Hérouval, circa 1974

Dado at his studio in Hérouval, circa 1974. Photo: Michel Braticevic.

It is all very well to say that we sat beauty on our knees and spat in its face, beauty continues to slip through our fingers. We don’t know what it is. Occasionally it even wears the mask of ugliness and we suddenly notice the beauty that surrounds us, as if we had been blinded by everything that contradicts it. In the same way, with respect to pictures, most of the time we prefer to skirt over the question of their “beauty”, as if we were ashamed of acknowledging that most often we confuse this with elegance, with taste, though these terms are only expedient derivations. Dado’s paintings, however, keep us under a spell so individual that they flood the ugliness of the world with all its beauty. The two powers that govern us instinct for life and yearning for death – engage in fabulous combat, though we will never know which one will emerge as the victor. There, destruction, war, and catastrophe couple with love, with celebration, with the pleasure of getting drunk on life. It is the dark night of the tomb, with worms swarming over corpses, casualties writhing on the battlefield, amputees, monsters, idiots, and it is also the day of birth, dawn at the edge of the forest, it is the morning of knowledge, the time to enter the fabulous paradise of animals and legends.

Anusse dermatologie supplice, 1974

Anusse dermatologie supplice, 1974, collage, watercolor, India ink, acrylic, colored pencil on paper stuck on canvas, 180 × 125 cm. Photo: André Morin. Collection of the Institut d’art contemporain, Rhône-Alpes.

At no moment can such painting be reduced to pessimism or to a masochistic connivance with the spectacle of horror. The simplistic accusation that consists in seeing this art as little more than the desire to shock the beholder corresponds even less to reality in that the figures, born from the imagination of a great painter, conceal so many links with Bosch and with Grandville, for example – that is to say, with an exceptionally erudite, esoteric tradition, in which knowledge plays a greater role than delectation. Dado feels his way through his painting, never fashioning an image of what he is going to paint beforehand; he unearths it as he paints, eliminating one figure or another, replacing it with an animal, demolishing a window and revealing the landscape it gives out onto, etc. This calls for exceptional technical mastery on the artist’s part, since the pictures he spends months working on conserve all the freshness of a thumbnail sketch. It is not a question solely of prowess and virtuosity, but of mental receptivity, of his unflagging watchfulness over the materials, of imaginative power. Such pictures can only be painted in the joy of a space that is there to be conquered, in the inexplicable euphoria of creativity.
St Hubert’s Triptych St Hubert’s Triptych St Hubert’s Triptych

St Hubert’s Triptych, 1973, oil on canvas, 195 × 291 cm. Courtesy Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger.
Photo: Jean-Louis Losi.

His most recent pictures have done away with women racing out of doors and shouting “fire!” and with men thrown onto the street with their shoes, their sheets, and all their clobber, with those monsters strewn about the beach, in swimming-pools, or on the waste ground that in suburbs separates the council housing from social aloofness and avarice, and he has now taken up with emblematic birds, with fabulous beasts around the Christ of St Hubert. Thus, Dado’s “religious” thematic, which emerged at the most recent show at Jeanne-Bucher’s and which will be even more noticeable in the exhibition at the Boymans Museum in Rotterdam, is totally at odds with any kind of orthodoxy: Dado’s “Christs” are gangland bosses, barbarians, usurping princes thrown in the stocks, men who beg the people to dance around the scaffold of their torment. There is no hint of the superiority of the divine, nor even of a transcendental “intercessor” between two worlds – instead the ever stupefying, fascinating, terrifying, aberrant spectacle of human folly: carnage, outrage, bestiality, pomp, magic, flight, frenzy, orgies, prophecy, transgression, outlandishness – the general conspiracy between every power hostile to the individual. A kind of apocalypse, where, at each and every moment, the challenge is to reinvent as fast as possible all living beings – things, plants, stones, the sky, animals, even matter itself. Outside time perhaps, or rather in that eternity that binds prehistory to the modern world and the most primitive needs –hunger, thirst, the instinct for self-preservation– with the most complex findings of the intelligence: the ritual of thinking, the ceaseless decoding of signs, the transformation of forms, the unstoppable metamorphosis of thought.

Blood Sweepers II Blood Sweepers III

Left: Blood Sweepers II, 1973, oil on canvas, 146 × 114 cm. Frissiras Museum, Athens.
Right: Blood Sweepers III, 1973, oil on canvas, 146 × 114 cm.

For a few years now, Dado has been capturing light, the light that flits over things, as perhaps no-one has ever seen it before: a four-in-the-morning summertime light, velvety would be an understatement, yet ash-grey, like the wings of certain butterflies, those that live for a single day, for a few hours, amongst the flowers that have just blossomed and the fog that has just risen. It is then the most distant of philosophies that illuminates these magmas, this debris, this gigantic jumble – the philosophy of reserve, of isolation, of extreme reticence. The world is unacceptable, that we know, but when thought casts its light, it transforms into signs, into portents, into premonitions of the marvellous. And finally there is this immense gentleness that descends on the empire of disorder, recreating a space for peace between the dislocated limbs of the combatants, among the corpses and the survivors from conflagration, flood, and distress. Yet, though gentle, nothing is left out, nothing censured: atrociousness is there, but it is countered by the infinitesimal glory of a man who knew to turn his painting into the boundless province of generosity.

Alain Jouffroy
Translated from French by D. Radzinowicz

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