This text by Gaétan Picon initially appeared in the catalog to the Dado exhibition held at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher (Paris) from March 30 to May 8, 1971.
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Here and there
Untitled, 1970, oil on canvas, 255 × 207 cm. † Posthumous addition
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Photo: Domingo Djuric.
, so many things are taking place, so many details, edges, and recesses hail us from amongst the vast spectacle deployed before us that our sole desire becomes simply to describe each canvas, to draw up a meticulous survey – just like art critics used to do in former times. Unable to take it all in at once, we fall back on words in order to fix what we have already seen before we continue to look. And words are all the more justified since an ostensibly realist perception makes it possible to use them in accordance with their initial denotative function: here, a frog-child, a beak, a head from a skeleton, a thigh-bone, an egg – hybrids and chimera of a combinatory imagination that can be decomposed into their elements: cat’s whiskers on a man’s face, human eyes inserted into a dog’s head. Such is the mirage, the trap lying behind a very singular body of work. In fact, never have words been of so little use: and a painting that so resembles the things we know how to name quickly proves hard to name. If one has to speak, it should be to question, not to answer; to systematically be ready to contradict whatever it is we’re on the point of saying. To go close up to the painting is to witness the demolition of whatever it was we had just glimpsed. The outlines are enveloped in mist, by the scum of lymph-filled blood, by iridescent yet dried-up water. All these objects –
spread out, layered, piled up, or dispersed over dangerously tilting slopes (canted plinths, rafts, dykes, beaches with fissured surfaces, mosaics riddled with holes, eroded)
– merge in an ineffable seething, blend into a chemical reaction that makes the air shimmer over decomposing corpses. The kingdoms are not fixed; forms slip from one to the other: the still blood-soaked skull of a trepanned patient is also a rock; an ancient bust struggles up on maimed limbs; the flayed turn to mineral; a rib cage is covered with parasitic creepers – and all in a place which might be a mass-grave, a mortuary, a meat-rendering hall, a cellar crammed with lunar sculptures, or waste-ground for the detritus from some immense crate.
Flanders, oil on canvas, 258 × 208 cm.
Does the light come from this blue sky that narrowly borders the wall or the raft at the very instant it piles into in the heart of the earth, which –
as here, in Flanders
, in a splendid piece of painterly bravado
– takes up more than half the canvas? In the absence of the sky, it remains the same: the light from an aquarium, perhaps, where water, long-vanished, has left the traces of clarity. As for the time of day: bluish dawn or pinkish twilight? We scarcely know, and it’s better to say that there is no hour, at least in the sense that our days have them; but it is not certain either that there exists a point in time, since we hesitate between the term “apocalypse” (the year two thousand is not far off), to which testify these mangled, churned up bodies, worn out to their sinews, and limbs that suggest in particular –
thrown together into this prehistoric teratology
– chubby-cheeked children condemned, by elephantiasis, never to live. It is unbecoming of us to enter –
– into someone else’s dream; and if, on closing one’s eyes, the image persists, it has perhaps disappeared from the canvas so impalpable it appears to us, a phantasmagoria projected on an empty screen by an invisible magic lantern, a tide covering its space in a unique and irresistible movement; its inextricable imperative defies us to identify from what assembly, from what calculated act on the part of the artist each image derives its distinctiveness. (Consequently, how can one risk having a preference or describing an advance?).
Untitled, 1971, oil on canvas, 114 × 146 cm. † Posthumous addition
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Nevertheless, the image is still there, deployed far-off and with ostentation – the decorative unity of a great fresco, a baroque ceiling – and attesting, if we move a bit closer, to the fact it is a painted image, every detail keeping to its place, or to the margin, in perfect complicity with the whole: this dream is clearly that of the painter’s hand, constantly more evident and assured. As for this world whose objects and successive appearances we now hesitate to name, the least we can say, at first glance is that its foundations are rooted in violence and death, in the sound and the fury, in which we feel permitted to decode at once the contents of a personal destiny marked very early on by encounters of this type, and the signs of a period. But we perceive it through a filter, hazy: tapestry, toile de Jouy, vignettes lifted from some old book, folding-screens for children’s rooms or dreams, tales in pink and blue, wonderlands of a patient, sly gentleness, by a tender heart that cannot endure violence, and repudiates it, not by consigning it to oblivion, but by transforming it into imagery. The wound, however, does not close up: and a further glance reopens the scar. – Decidedly, words serve for naught. One should never stop looking.
Translated from French by D. Radzinowicz
Left: Untitled, 1970, oil on canvas, 200 × 185 cm. † Posthumous addition
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Right: Casque obligatoire, 1970, oil on canvas, 210 × 188 cm. † Posthumous addition
→ read more Collection abbaye d’Auberive.