Print by Dado

Print by Dado

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Dado on France Culture
Translations of radio interviews Posthumous addition
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Translations of radio programmes in which Dado participated, broadcast on French public radio channel “France Culture” between 1970 and 1996.

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Dado at the CNAC

Programme title: Panorama
Title of broadcast: Panorama culturel de la France du 6 février 1970
Producers: Jacques Floran and François Le Targat
Dado at his studio in 1970
Dado at his studio in 1970. Photo: Alain Zingg.
The Gallery of Ancestors XV, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors XV, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

François Le Targat: When the conversation turns to painters, to painters, let us, of the olden days, we can never be exactly sure of how they were, in spite of their self-portraits, because it might be thought they distorted or spruced themselves up bit, that they saw themselves in another way. So with contemporary painting we are lucky to have the painter ready to hand. Dado, in this case. It will not, then, be me who’ll draw his physical portrait; I’ll borrow instead a passage from Daniel Cordier, who writes, in Huit ans d’agitation: “I met Dado through Kalinowski, in 1957. I was, I still am, disconcerted by this short guy with a beard, unkempt, softly spoken, whose language is refined, at once mocking and sad, living in unconscionable disorder, surrounded by owls, cats, sheep, and children.” And, in addition to that, Dado, I think, you’re a bit timid, since you had asked to be accompanied, I’m delighted to say, by Monsieur Billot, who organized your exhibition, and you said: “I’ll never be able to speak with a microphone in front of me.”

Dado: That’s it, yes.

FLT: The first thing I wanted to ask you: why did you adopt that pseudonym? Is it because your name is so difficult to pronounce?

Dado: No, it’s not that. It was my mother who called me Dado. It’s odd as it’s not a widespread first name or a nickname in my region. It is strange. I was, if you like, alone from the beginning, that’s it.

Untitled, 1969, collection du LaM
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 61 × 61 cm. Collection of the LaM.

FLT: And you produce a painting that’s… which we’ve seen, which people should go and see at the CNAC, that is, at 11 rue Berryer in Paris, under the auspices of the Centre National d’Art Contemporain… a rather strange painting. It is a strange world, a dreamlike world, and, without referring strictly to Taine, but the place, i.e. Montenegro, the place where you were born, where you nevertheless lived for quite a few years…

Dado: It sure did!

FLT: … had an influence…

Dado: Of course!

FLT: … on your pictorial art? In what sense?

Dado: A long-term influence, because a country one loves as one loves one’s child is really something… In fact, these are feelings that come from really deep down. It is a tribute to my homeland, to a true mother of several thousands of square kilometres, if you like. It really comes from over there, as it were.

FLT: But it’s not a descriptive tribute.

Dado: Ah, no, surely not. I realize that now it has a relationship to a country, which, if you like, might correspond today to the Vietnam of today.

Untitled, 1969, collection du LaM
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 61 × 61 cm. Collection of the LaM.

FLT: And, at the beginning of your painting, there’s an evolution, there are two pictures, two small pictures… You started out with small size, with rather dark colours and ended up with immense formats in pastel and very light tones. How did that happen…?

Dado: I can tell you a legend if you want about these two little canvases, because…

FLT: There’s already a legend? That’s wonderful!

Dado: It’s an authentic legend because it is true. My father worked in a hospital. He brought back worn-out mattresses for me and these were probably mattresses on which people had died and I wonder whether one might advance what is of course a very superficial interpretation like that, but the legend being that on top of those, painting on these cloths on which people had really physically…

Jacques floran: … suffered…

Dado: … suffered and all the rest, there was perhaps a kind of breath and these two small pictures, indeed… There’s one… They are sewn in the middle because they were not large enough, sort of. And for the mechanical paintings, obviously, I was inspired by De Chirico, by Carrà, by the first Surrealists, and…

Untitled, 1969, collection du LaM
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 61 × 61 cm. Collection of the LaM.

FLT: Yes, there is of course a Surrealist vein in your painting, but that’s a bit too simplistic, it’s something different even from Surrealism. It is not even an extension, it goes beyond that. Moreover, Monsieur Billot, who organized this exhibition, surely has a critical point of view on the subject.

Marcel Billot: That is to say, I don’t see so much Surrealist painting in Dado’s. In fact, if it’s there, I can’t feel it, it doesn’t interest me. In any case…

Dado: Goodness, that’s cruel!

MB: No, no, it’s not at all cruel, it’s because I think quite simply that there’s so much more that a Surrealist bent in your painting…

Dado: Yes, yes, of course…

FLT: Well then, what to your mind are the broad outlines?

Dado: … Kinship, it’s kinship, it’s…

MB: You know, the broad outline, there’s the work of a painter, there’s the work of a guy who is in front of his canvas, how long? Eight hours a day, at least?

Dado: Yes, a little more… A little more…

MB: … eight hours a day, and then who confronts pictorial problems, and who in addition, and has a vision of the world… very much his own… unique to him, and then he expresses himself.

Untitled, 1969, collection du LaM
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 61 × 61 cm. Collection of the LaM.

FLT: But Dado, is this vision of a strange world, and that’s the least one might say…

Dado: I do not regard it as personal! You know, I think these are concerns everyone has: the phenomenon of life, of organic matter and death, these relate perfectly to everyone.

FLT: Yes, death, death is very present in…

Dado: Of course, of course, it is…

FLT: We were talking a few moments ago about despair…

Dado: Oh, yes…

FLT: Are you desperate?

Dado: No, no.

MB: Not at all…

Dado: That’s what I was saying, no, it really isn’t…

FLT: Disillusioned?

MB: Not at all…

The Gallery of Ancestors XI, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors XI, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm. Photo: Claude Lemarié.

Dado: No, but for instance, I became desperate the day I realized that… material hardship is inflicted on people. These are things, things that should be remedied. Perhaps one cannot cure cancer, but physical wretchedness that is deliberately meted out on somebody, such as in wars and things like that, about those I’m completely outraged, and…

FLT: But isn’t spiritual misery yet more injurious than physical misery?

Dado: No, no, I think it’s the physical that comes first. You see, a baby, he first asks for a drink of milk and he’ll only learn how to read later. If he’s no good at his studies, he’ll make a good metalworker, or… You understand, that’s not the problem. Spiritual misery, that’s a chattering classes problem.

The Gallery of Ancestors, 1969
The Gallery of Ancestors, 1969, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

JF: Yes, yes, no, but I believe that Dado’s right, because refugees from the Vietnam War, for example, are people who are miserable firstly purely and simply physically. They are fleeing…

Dado: But exactly!

JF: … bombardments, that’s all, with their children, their… There are refugees in Laos…

Dado: There are?

JF: … who’ve moved six times, who have rebuilt…

Dado: That’s dreadful, dreadful.

JF: … their village six times since the start of the war. That’s ghastly. So, spiritual wretchedness, OK, but still…

Dado: That’s just chattering classes stuff. All that concerns very sensitive people, who, you understand, who telephone friends even when they are frantic, who dine out… I say to myself, my God, the other day I had dinner with my friend Erró at Billot’s, precisely, and I stumbled on a friend there, who, because he had a bit to drink, told me some… [Laughter] … incredible things, whales making love, stuff like that… Then I discovered a guy at another dinner, but then I say to myself, in Yugoslavia or in Vietnam – I’m talking about Yugoslavia during the War, in 1940, 1945 – of dinner, there was no question of having a dinner, since there was no grub at all. [Laughter] So, how can one discover anybody, do you follow?

FLT: And that, you…

Dado: That’s where the kind of rebellion that lurks in me and I’m constantly discovering comes from… Among wretched people, I see myself once again, it’s perhaps a form of narcissism, but it serves me well, because I think of them, if you please…

JF: You read the newspaper before painting? In the morning, having your breakfast, or not?

Dado: No. No. No, no, I read the papers after lunch, I reckon, and in the evening.

Untitled, 1970
Untitled, 1970, oil on canvas, 57 × 57 cm.

FLT: But, what with the passing of time, you are still so sensitive about that time? It scarred you to that extent, the War?

Dado: Let’s just say, listen, let’s just say that me, personally, I probably haven’t been spoiled in life, since I lost my mother when I was eleven. And then, during the interview, for example, Billot asks me: Why isn’t there any blood in your canvases?” But I said, what the…, blood, that’s not possible, it’s that… Blood, my mother died in childbirth, and then there was this kind of mattress steeped in blood hanging about next morning and I told Billot to get rid of it…

MB: Yes, he didn’t want it left in the interview and you say it here! [Laughter]

Dado: And everyone asks: “What’s with this thing about blood?” And I say, I’m all the same not going to talk about my mother who died in confinement twenty years ago now, in the end, that’s nobody else’s business…

Untitled, 1970
Untitled, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

FLT: Very well, but on the pictorial level, what’s actually very odd, you say: “There’s no blood there,” and, indeed, these monsters, this world in…

Dado: The one you’re looking at is green.

FLT: … recomposition… This one’s green and blue, there are some that are pink, finally often in pastel colours, there is on the contrary a kind of charm…

JF: Ah, listen now, I can see the painting you’re looking at this very moment, François Le Targat, and these monsters resemble the monsters that open the show by Bread and Puppet on current affairs. On the ground, there are a certain number of monsters resembling…

The Gallery of Ancestors IV, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors IV, 1970, oil on canvas, 59 × 59 cm.

Dado: Those are real monsters, I think I build real monsters, that is to say, these monsters…

JF: … that crawl, that come up, come up, in fact monsters that come up into our own age.

Dado: And which are there, so one can see them.

JF: They’re there, they are present, and menacing.

Dado: Exactly. They are not rubbish monsters with the… No, no, no.

JF: That’s how I see it, myself. As for me, I see them as present.

FLT: Ah, no, but I didn’t, I didn’t say that, I didn’t say that, I see them as very present, but I mean that the colours… The colours are…

JF: For me, they’re not pastels, don’t you see. These colours are distressing colours. Terribly distressing, yes. It is a green, greenish world that resembles the paddy fields of Asia, you know, it is something rather… One says to oneself, my God, I’m going to live in that water there, I’ll be sucked down into it, that’s how I see this painting myself.

MB: But it’s true that…

The Gallery of Ancestors V, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors V, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

Dado: It’s a sly-looking colour scheme. It’s underhand colouring, yes, I reckon I might call it that…

MB: And it’s probably this slyness that makes people so ill at ease. Because there are, I might call them people who like Dado, anyhow who anyhow know very well who the painter is, who can hardly bear it, not only because of the monsters, but precisely because of the colour, because of these very gentle colours that literally make them feel ill at ease.

JF: There are organic colours, they are the colours of nature. It’s nature that’s like that…

Dado: Exactly, exactly. Nature itself, it’s nature that concerns us, us.

JF: That’s why it’s even more disturbing. A virgin forest, that’s this colour, you know, creepers tumbling down, that’s this colour…

Dado: Exactly. Yes, and then… Or internal organs, that’s that colour.

JF: Yes, there you are. Hold on, that one, that other painting we’re looking at right now that’s… Well that, that’s an open belly.

The Gallery of Ancestors III, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors III, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

Dado: Here’s a painting, for example, this painting, a Letter from Madame de Sévigné, that’s what I call it, because at that time I was reading her letters and she spoke about the Bretons they were about to hang the next day and then they’d been drawn and quartered around the four gates of the city and so on? ¹. I was terrified to be reading in a book of seventeenth-century literature, in a splendid style, such horrors. She speaks about all this in such a light tone. And, the people, who saw that… This time, it’s a friend who deals with children in Vietnam scorched by napalm. [Laughter] He told me, he’s an American in Vietnam, and… A guy, a critic, said to him: no, that, that’s a painting, how can I put it… It doesn’t have anything to do with the world today. That’s what they were saying the other day.

FLT: It doesn’t have anything to do with the world today?

Dado: Yes, that’s it, yes, it’s inspired by something very old…

FLT: I get the impression that’s not your opinion. And you Monsieur Billot?

Dado: Then, I reckon it’s…

MB: Right, in any case…

JF: No, no, I find it’s very relevant and when you talk about…

Dado: Thanks.

JF: … lightness with Madame de Sévigné, I don’t think it’s really lightness, I think it’s a worldly tone, it’s the tone…

Dado: That’s it!

JF: … of the century of the Enlightenment, which is not inevitably one of lightness, it’s not lightness.

Dado: Yes but it’s drawing-room stuff, it’s the problem of the drawing-room that finally rots the artist, you know…

Untitled, 1969
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 80 × 80 cm.

JF: Yes, but it was all the same in those drawing-rooms that the Revolution was born.

FLT: Yes, it’s nonetheless there that it happened…

Dado: That’s true.

JF: Never forget that.

Dado: OK, OK. It was there that it degenerated too…

FLT: Yes, of course, and so that’s why…

Dado: And really quickly!

FLT: … always come back to… we always come back to the first…

Dado: It’s circular, let’s say. Horror is a circular form of life. Horror never ends, it comes from nowhere and ends nowhere. It’s never-ending.

JF: Yes, and then, you know, I believe that man will always have toothache and that when one has a toothache, it’s sometimes more awful than an unhappy love affair.

Dado: Ah, yes, certainly, certainly. That’s the problem of physical and material suffering, that’s true.

Untitled, 1969
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm. Courtesy Alba-Avis Gallery.

FLT: And, well, in any case, a great exhibition, and when I say great, it’s because Dado has produced many pictures, it’s a… There are many canvases, you…

Dado: No…

FLT: … must have had to go to a lot of trouble, Monsieur Billot, to organize this exhibition, as the canvases are very large, and so many…

Dado: They aren’t as numerous as that, you know, nobody…

JF: No? One has the impression there’s a whole forest…

Dado: You know, people hardly fight for my pictures, the canvases were in my studio and all that, this exhibition was easy to put on. You know, they didn’t tire themselves out, no.

[Laughter]

MB: No, no, that’s true enough!

Dado: There’s not…

The Gallery of Ancestors, 1970
The Gallery of Ancestors, 1970, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm. Photo: Domingo Djuric.

FLT: In any case, it’s an exhibition not to be missed…

MB: That’s absolutely right, because, on the one hand, the rooms in the Centre National d’Art Contemporain are an absolutely fantastic place for the exhibition…

Dado: And then the team is wonderful too, it should be said…

FLT: That’s true too.

MB: … Large canvases can be hung there, there’s enough space to step back, the lighting is appropriate, whereas… even in Dado’s studio, one sees them differently.

JF: Where is it?

FLT: At the CNAC, 11 rue Berryer, at the Fondation Rothschild, until 23rd February.

JF: In Paris?

FLT: In Paris.

1. “The day before yesterday, a violinist who had started the dance and began pillaging official papers was broken on the wheel; drawn and quartered after his death, his four quarters were set up on the four corners of the city. As he died he said that it was the agents responsible for the stamped papers who had given him twenty-five écus to stir up sedition, but nothing else could be got out of him. Sixty citizens were arrested; they start the hangings tomorrow. This province will offer a fine example to the others, and especially so they respect the governors and their wives, stop insulting them, and stop throwing stones into their gardens.” (Letter dated 30th October, 1675)

The Gallery of Ancestors, 1971
The Gallery of Ancestors XXI, 1971, oil on canvas, 60 × 60 cm.

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Dado engraver

Programme title: Documentaire du vendredi
Title of broadcast: L’artiste, l’outil et l’expression
Date recorded: 1st January 1982
Date broadcast: 21st January 1983
Director: Bernard Saxel
Producer: Annick Duvillaret
Print by Dado: Plate A, first state Print by Dado: Plate A, second state
Print by Dado: Plate A, third state Print by Dado: Plate A, fourth state
Plate A, first and second states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 70 × 48,6 cm. Plate A, third state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 70 × 48,6 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Plate A, fourth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 70 × 48,6 cm. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Annick Duvillaret: Dado, first and foremost, you are a painter, and yet you have just spent a year completely immersed in engraving.

The fact of engraving these plates outside my studio gave me such absolutely extraordinary, unsuspected freedom, because the fact of not having them, these prints, in the evening, before my eyes, left me with a space in which I could breathe. There at Lacourière’s I got rid of my phantasms and, there, I can see them, it’s a pleasure for me to look at them now, it’s dumb to say it, but it’s true.

This experience unfolded in a very special manner. At the outset, there are eight subjects or eight plates on which you proceeded by stages, as it were.

Yes, because, here, when one starts to engrave a plate, one only has one idea in one’s head, that’s to make a beautiful print, highly worked, “to finish it off,” that’s the terrible expression. And, in point of fact, when I came to the workshop, I got hold of some plates already used on one side, engraving on the back of the plates, in other words, perhaps I must have had fifty plates at my disposal and, that, that immediately, if you like, went to my head a little, and I smelt a perfume, something like, something … new. And gradually, this freshness vanished. Like, I woke up, or, to put it another way, I found myself face to face with a thing I might one hundred percent have done with my own hands. And that’s really where the difficulty reappeared, the same as back in the studio. But by doing these plates here, I felt none of that heavy and ponderous side. That mixture of loneliness, you know… In the studio, it’s a terrible place, a painter’s studio, it’s…

All in all, that represented forty-two stages, which you pulled in an edition of twelve, amounting to more than five hundred plates, not counting artist’s proofs. That’s a considerable number.

Yes, it’s quite something, yes. I don’t think it’s quite saturation point, because, since twelve were printed, I always had the feeling I hadn’t turned out tons of prints.

Print by Dado: Plate I, first state Print by Dado: Plate I, second state
Print by Dado: Plate I, third state Print by Dado embellished with gouache: Plate I, fifth state
Plate I, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,3 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Plate I, second and third states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,3 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate I, fifth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint embellished with gouache, 64,8 × 49,3 cm. Photo: Alberto Ricci. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Such a way of proceeding is of an exceptional interest because it makes it possible to give life simultaneously to all the potential of printmaking, preserving every trace, whereas usually there’s selection and obliteration.

The trace, the progress is visible. In these stages, one can see the sorry development of an enterprise that in any event I regard as doomed. Perhaps then, if you like, this “living” side when they are seen all together that touches you. It’s energy bottled up like that, yes. And at the beginning, there’s a kind of burst like this, that explodes like that, in the manner of a firework, then, later, it tightens up again, and that’s when, as I said a few moments ago, all of a sudden, at the end of several states, I realized that I’d fallen back into the most utter loneliness. It’s the expressiveness of a form already on a plate, which provides a space, that radiates or that doesn’t radiate, that’s the… In the end it is always weighed down, unfortunately… Unfortunately… I don’t think one can ever recover the freshness of the first [state]. It’s really buggered forever.

There are also figurative allusions that appear and then disappear and then which reappears again from one state to another…

You know… Oh it’s… I can tell you, all that is the completely trivial side and I assure you that it’s not that it doesn’t lie at the origin of this entire series of prints… The figures, they’re for the most part birds. Since, I’ve done something like a ritual, a bit. I killed some cockerels. I brought them to Monsieur Touré and I engraved them afterwards. Yep, it’s almost comic, but it’s the truth, and there’s a presence I believe, in these figures of slaughtered birds that is… I think that it reached a rather high intensity thanks to this anecdote that may sound comical. I engraved these plates for as long as a form did not acquire a presence… a, how can I put it… organic presence…

Print by Dado: Plate M, first state Print by Dado: Plate M, second state
Left: Plate M, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,5 cm. Right: Plate M, second state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,5 cm. Photos: Pascal Szidon. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

In each series, generally, one starts from the light, you start from the light, and then gradually one sees the dark invading…

The dark that invades, that means putting in, I think… in relief, that’s what I’m looking for, as I said a few minutes ago, that physical presence of the form, the heaviness of the form.

These states, which I think it’s better to call “stages”, can also be seen as a succession of narrative sequences, like a sort of horror story, I might say. And each story ends by waking up in the darkness…

They never end, that’s the worst of it. But, it’s right that the subjects of these various states and the forms that try hopelessly to stay on a plate, of… The effort is identical to the subject, if you like. The difficulties I experience in doing these plates … I can tell you straight up, I do it without any pleasure. I never found pleasure in either painting or drawing, and especially not in engraving, which is perhaps most ungrateful and most hostile. The two elements are indeed complementary and curiously almost identical, because the subject is dreadful and the effort too is dreadful. If you like, there’s no… There’s no way out. That’s it. This explains this presence of black, thick, like that… Sometimes I prefer the others that are white, that don’t have a black background, and then later I prefer the black ones. And I above all I really want… What’s more, I look at them, it’s straightaway a bit of torture for me because I want to work them over again.

Print by Dado: Plate G, first state Print by Dado: Plate G, third state
Print by Dado: Plate G, fourth state Print by Dado: Plate E
Plate G, first and third states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,5 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate G, fourth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,5 × 49,5 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Plate E, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,6 cm.
Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

It let you take it up again and again, but without ever ending with anything too finished, which is often the danger with printmaking.

That’s it, yes…

It all remains open, it all remains alive.

It’s done without anaesthetic a little, you know, so…

Talking about your painting, you said: “A picture that has life in it has at least ten pictures in it.” And there, well, there’s…

In the end, I think that’s it, you know, because…

… “there’s the ten, there’s the ten, and the ten are visible.”

Ah, yes. Ah, it’s nice to get back to that, to be sure, that’s, it’s… Compared to my work as a painter, these prints allow one to see the progress. In a painting, one can’t see the previous versions. Because when I paint, I don’t do sketches, I don’t do studies, but on the other hand I have done versions that I sacrifice – I call it “sacrificing,” because two days after there’s no more picture, it’s been repainted, OK… – but personally I think they lead me to a version that perhaps will be the right one and which hold up, which will be expressive, and which will perhaps bring a second of joy to me. And every time, the risks… I run countless risks, if you like, with that. And in painting – and that’s what’s marvellous about painting – it’s that one can work on a painting for such a very long time…

What comes out from this, is that you worked the engraving for a very long time without killing off the print.

Yes, because one had… I had decided to pull an edition of twelve prints of each state, yes.

Plate J, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate J, second state, 1981-1982, drypoint embellished with gouache, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Plate J, third state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate J, fourth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Now Dado goes down into the studio.

Good, now we’re in the workshop and you’re in front of a metal plate, and… What’s your relationship with metal like?

Ah… Hard, tee-hee, above all, very hard. It’s not… I’m not somebody who likes metal in general. That’s one of the paradoxes, one more. As I was saying to myself a few moments ago, it’s a little like sculpture, all that, isn’t it?

How do you work on the metal?

With a point, like this, more or less well sharpened. And then there are blanks, which are… which appear a little empty to me. I’m going to try… to draw, once more, a figure lying down…

[Noises of the point on the metal]

And you enjoy scratching about like that?

Mmm… I don’t know if I like scratching. I think that it gives me a sense of struggle. For me, drawing on a sheet of paper is child’s play compared to a plate… One has to give it life, like that, and…

Print by Dado: Plate L, first state Print by Dado: Plate L, second state
Left: Plate L, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Right: Plate L, second state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Because you’re extremely sensitive to the medium. For example, when drawing you grant a great deal of importance to the paper, to the grain of the paper…

Everything is a medium, everything is material, you know… I think the copper material can be seen in my engravings more than even my own engraving. It’s a complicity hard to put up with, but which lies at the origin, if you like, of…

And the gesture of using drypoint compared to that of pencil?

It’s pretty limited. It’s very limited, because of the metal’s resistance. It’s very stripped down, in fact, one…

That’s it, it’s virtually like peeling, skinning. And the appearance…

You’ll see, you’ll see, the appearance of the forms, and the forms in general that are engraved, they’re very close to… They stem, so to speak, from the effort that is… that the metal and the contact with the steel of the point. They offer themselves…

Directly [resulting]…

That’s it, yes, they offer themselves … They are not forms thought through; instead they emerge like that from the fusion of those two chilly elements, steel and metal.

Print by Dado: Plate F, first state Print by Dado: Plate F, second state
Print by Dado: Plate F, third state Print by Dado: Plate F, fourth state
Plate F, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,4 × 49,1 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photo: Yves Chenot. Plate F, second state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,4 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon.Plate F, third state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,9 × 49,7 cm. Plate F, fourth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

And that rather… tentative aspect… Prior to inking, one can’t see very well what one’s been doing.

That’s it, that’s right, because in the earlier states, it’s exploded, there’s no construction, and it starts to be built after a third or fourth state, thereabouts…

But there’s the surprise, as it were, when it’s inked, no? It’s a discovery?

That is another trap when one’s engraving, there’s that playful side that’s also really dangerous I think, to tell the truth. Because… You know, for instance, once the proof’s pulled, it’s printed the other way round, which is not the case with a drawing. I’m right-handed and these prints once pulled, they’d have been in the end the work of a left-handed person, if they’d been drawings.

You think of this while you’re drawing?

No, not at all. Not at all and it doesn’t get in my way at all. There are people who refuse to do engraving because of this. They say: “I can’t bear the idea of seeing my work the wrong way round.” But I don’t even notice it’s back to front. It seems as though…

But, when you see it again the other way around, it’s…?

It seems as though it gains in expressivity. Probably, yes… There is, if you want… That, that’s the rather… disturbing side, I reckon, frankly, of doing more and more engraving. I do it from time to time, but… Because there’s the margin also in the print that makes it easier to read, it’s chicer, even, if you like…

But which gives you back that layout you’re not looking for in your painting…

It’s almost always infallible, that’s what’s so alarming.

Print by Dado: Plate B, second state Print by Dado: Plate B, third state
Left: Plate B, second state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Right: Plate B, third state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

You score it very deep.

I have to, because if I scratch on it lightly, at the end of two or three passes through the press, my engraving disappears completely. It’s all flattened out, you see, by a pressure that can be significant in a press.

And the inking?

Inking is very important. Very important, it’s not me who does it, it’s the printer. But I like to be there, because I think that that’s when it all happens… You can just see the inking. Inking, it’s kind of the ultimate expression of the plate, isn’t it? If the plate is hollowed out by hand, if it is pulled uninked, I don’t like it at all at that moment. At each “fit to print”, I go and watch it being inked, so as…

You don’t much like the intervention of the acid, mmm?

No, no… No, because I don’t know how to use it, I’ve never really tried. And at the end of a number of sessions one obtains that warmth that’s produced in it, and… That way, I’ve eschewed those technical pyrotechnics that are pretty complicated and which take ten times longer because you have to plunge the plate in acid, you have to wait, and I don’t have the patience, and it has to…

You like this dialogue with matter?

Yes, certainly. It’s the only possible dialogue, it’s a… It is the dialogue with matter, I think, in painting, it’s the same thing. It’s much more a dialogue with matter than with… one’s ideas, or… It is reality in all its simplicity.

Hey, Luc, can you pull a print from my plate there? Try to find my zinc plate, it’s got my name on top.

Luc goes off to look for a zinc plate that will be used to feed through the engraving.

Print by Dado: Plate C, first state Untitled, 1983
Left: Plate C, first state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,9 × 49,6 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Right: Untitled, 1983, collage of drypoint and aquatint engravings embellished with colored ink (elements cuts from Plate F, fourth state, and H, fourth state, on the background of Plate C, second state), 64,9 × 49,6 cm. Photo: Domingo Djuric. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Luc: Is the size a “Jesus” or a “Raisin”? The paper size?

Dado: I think it’s a “Jesus,” I believe.

Luc: Rives [paper]?

Dado: Jesus, I think. Rives, yes, yes. You should have some dampened paper, over there? You’ve got some damp paper?

I like to touch up the plate just before it goes through the press. There. And here, I’m in a better light than before.

[Noise of the point on the metal]

You know, it’s not showing-off, because every time I’ve engraved here, I’ve always engraved next to the printer with whom I’m talking, like this…

I’ll ink it like this to see what I’ve just done.

[Noise of the point on the metal]

Has your plate warmed up?

Luc: Yes. It’s just with muslin, huh?

Luc inks the copper plate very liberally.

Dado: So, Luc, what’s the percentage of ink that stays in the engraving I’ve just made in the end? You’ll wipe off, there?

Luc: I remove all that’s on the surface, if you like.

Dado: In about what proportion? You remove practically all of it, a tenth or so stays on?

Luc: A tenth, yes.

Dado: Scarcely, that.

Luc: Scarcely, huh, it’s a drypoint.

Dado: Ah, no, with the one with the black ground, quite a lot stays on all the same.

Luc: Because that time, you did an aquatint.

Dado: Yes, yes, there’s the black ground, so you have the…

Luc: Ah, there’s quite a lot left on… Hold up…

Now Luc spends a long time wiping the plate with a piece of muslin to clean it up, leaving only the ink that has penetrated deep into the furrows.

Print by Dado: Plate D, first state Print by Dado: Plate D, second state
Left: Plate D, first state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,9 × 49,6 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Right: Plate D, second state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint embellished with gouache, 64,9 × 49,6 cm. Photo: Alberto Ricci. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Luc: You can have a look, there’s nothing to deburr, is there?

Dado: No, no, that’s fine, all is… It’s looking good…

The engraving I made is breaking down, it’s starting to look like something…

Luc: A bit washed out, like, a little gray?…

Dado: Washed out, yes, that’s the most suitable word, yes! It loses all its force and it’s also a new starting point. What interests me, if you like, it’s the vulnerability brought by the printing. It allows me to give it a new… But it’s very close to painting really, you know. It’s very close to painting, this business.

Are you sure you’ve got rid of the ink like you… You don’t want to pull a blank or two, do you?

Luc: We can do it, yes, in the part…

Dado: Oh, leave it as it is, leave it as it is, we’ll see how it goes.

The zinc and then the copper plate are laid on the press.

[Noise from the press]

Dado: Ah, it’s very beautiful. I love it like that.

Luc: There’s still some sharpness in the line.

Dado: It’s very virile, isn’t it? It’s very… It’s completely different from what…

That’s what you added.

That’s great, yes, I’m pleased with that.

It is this force, it brings mystery to the rest…

No, it’s beautiful, I’m having it, why not. But I say, you’ve laid in the margins in a funny way there?! [Laughter] No, I’m having you on.

So you see, this gray side like that, they are vestiges of the first version, of the first versions, but which don’t worry me at all, they’re a support, not sturdy, but really very fragile. I’m interested in working on a support that will break like that. It gives me a… The fear is increasing.

To breaking point…

Print by Dado: Plate H, first state Print by Dado: Plate H, second state
Print by Dado: Plate H, third state Print by Dado: Plate H, fourth state
Print by Dado: Plate H, fifth state Print by Dado: Plate K, first state
Print by Dado: Plate K, second state Print by Dado: Plate K, third state
Print by Dado: Plate K, third state Print by Dado: Plate K, fourth state
Print by Dado: Plate K, fifth state Print by Dado: Plate K, sixth state
Plate H, first and second states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 96621, FNAC 96622, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate H, third state, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. Photo: Pascal Szidon. Plate H, fourth and fifth states, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,8 × 49,5 cm. FNAC 96624, FNAC 96625, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate K, first, second and third states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,3 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate K, third state, 1981-1982, drypoint embellished with gouache, 64,7 × 49,3 cm. Photo: Sandrine Mulas. Plate K, fourth and fifth states, 1981-1982, drypoint, 64,7 × 49,3 cm. FNAC 34270, Centre national des arts plastiques, © CNAP / Photos: Yves Chenot. Plate K, sixth state, 1981-1982, aquatint and drypoint, 64,7 × 49,3 cm. Photo: Sandrine Mulas. Printed on BFK Rives paper. Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut.

Plates A to M engraved by Dado at the Atelier Lacourière-Frélaut from 1981 to 1982 have been catalogued and published in 1984 by Éditions Lacourière-Frélaut. The preface by Michel Faucher follows below:

Paintings, drawings, gouaches, collages, prints: Dado had adopted many different techniques. Each is autonomous; all converge. The obsession is one and the same, the themes are identical. The time for development, for slow and progressive gestation, appears a necessary ingredient for the alchemy of the work. It is this that Dado manipulates. Striving to control their effects, observing their consequences. Time is erosion, the act of creation extends further. Hardly have the forms been liberated and they are being contested, shaken up, assaulted, called into question. Engraving provides an echo of this ceaseless strife. Some of the thirteen prints herein presented are the result of seven consecutive states. Dado intervened on them constantly, clarifying, incising, scoring, exacerbating the degradation of his work. Their distortion is accentuated. Engraving underlines the disorder. The blacks possess such intensity that the strange figures appear entangled in their own deliverance. The dross holds still them in check. Extraction becomes more and more onerous. The placenta ends up expelling hybrid beings that obstinately go off to seek a final form. The details, the wide-open mouths, the grimaces, the looks of exaltation, the beaks, teeth, genitalia, bone, and carcasses accumulate, intermingle, so that the work can live, vibrate. The tension reaches breaking point. The energy is dammed up to its paroxysm.

We no longer see what we are being shown; we feel its turbulence, tumbling, irremediably dragged down, drawn in despite our best efforts, pulled down to join the harrowing masquerade of strangeness. Dado leads us to the fringes, where mystery and ignorance surface, where disintegration makes its way, but where we cannot seize its potential. He pokes about in the margins, creating a visual chaos that puts the senses in turmoil, a magma in which sexuality, life, and death overflow from their assigned borders.

The ordeal is a tough one. Less insidious than canvas, this is an impression engraving exacerbates. Despite the relentless cruelty nothing can assuage, despite the unbridled horror, we remain fascinated by the tender extravagance of Dado’s images from the unconsciousness!

The universe he unveils might well be a reality right next to our reality. The putative negative of a known positive. The essential counterweight to our banality. The first hints of a hypothetical process of becoming. A portent of hope as much as of terror. The irrefutable, fleetingly glimpsed proof that the void is utopian, that life beyond life is filled with lives.

Dado’s oeuvre is “shamanic”. To turn one’s back on this dimension is to relegate his work to the status of a extremely competent, technically adroit exercise. The artist runs roughshod over every logic, presenting an angst-ridden amalgam of imaginary, tormented forms, deprived of all known reference. The nightmare is lucid, the delirium premonitory. Hallucinations, here, become conscious.

Dado treads wherever danger, horror, and peril join forces, so that hope can appear. His folly is to face up to death: his daring consists in accepting it.

Michel Faucher
October 1984

∗   ∗

Dado the painter

Programme title: Mises au point
Title of broadcast: Le peintre Dado
Schedule heading: Les Arts et les Gens
Date recorded: 31st March 1986
Date broadcast: 31st March 1986
Producers: Pierre Descargues, Bertrand Valère, Alain Avila
Dado dans son atelier en 1986
Dado at his studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

Is it absurd and pretentious to say so? But I have only one problem and it’s that my painting is becoming more and more… terrifying, increasingly rich in pictorial material, that’s what fascinates me, you see, the ceaseless rutting of painting, that’s what I’d like to… And then I feel that my painting is becoming increasingly hard to pin down; it escapes me more and more. So the effort I have to make to hold back all these collapsing – trickling – things is ever greater. In other words, the older I get, the more painting I do, the effort needed increases and my breath gets shorter and shorter. So then, I’m, I’m a little… I’m going to become my own painting. That is, it’s my painting that’s doing me… though it’s also my undoing. It destroys me, but if it’s there, that’s good, I’m just an ID, that’s nothing, all that will pass, but a painting, that survives, it’s frightening. You talk about a trial. I reckon that my painting can say a lot about that, it’s somebody who’s in difficulty apparently, right, it’s not… Somewhere, it doesn’t laugh. It can… Perhaps it can touch people, I’ve no idea…

Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986 Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photos: Philibert.

The characters in my paintings are real, I think. I believe they exist somewhere, they live in the emptiness of my studio, I feel forced to pull them out of this emptiness, from the light, I used to say, temperature. No-one ever talks about temperature when they talk about painting, but in fact that’s it, it’s… There’s dampness… There’s the… There’s all that aspect … A painting, it emerges, it starts to breathe, it starts quite simply to live. It can show a sheep’s head, for instance, like the large canvas, but it’s… It’s a living thing, I think.

Valère Bertrand: And you have techniques, you have a way of getting yourself ready, so that…

Oh, yes, of course! First up, I just can’t be ill, to start with. And after that, in the morning, I can confront my painting. Because I have to confront my painting. I’m… Painting, it’s a… You have to reanimate it every day. It’s a little like as if you had someone serious ill to look after, you have to give him, inject him with drugs every day… It has to… I survive, I try to be sure my painting survives… So it doesn’t collapse. Because if I stop painting, if I stop… In any event, I cannot stop painting, my painting acts as my gills. I can breathe. My studio has become… Er… There’s a liquid in my studio. There I’m underwater. It’s the nature of things… If my house were on a hill, with a view to the distance… something I dream of, in fact, that’s my dream, to have a view, for as far as the eye can see. That’s what appears to me to be the greatest privilege for the eye, and for the brain too. Because at the end, our brain, it’s… It’s what we see, that’s what gives us those sudden bouts of brain fever, or… There, I’ve light, there I’m happy, I’ve…

Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

That quality of… groaning animals… That… They’re terrifying, animals, you know. A kind of life like that, blind, that’s… Domestic animals, of course, they are… Human beings are probably the most… the worst off on the globe, in the universe. It’s the symbol of humiliation, of depreciation, it’s dreadful. A submissive side… A stifled side. Is that it? The fixed grin, there, yes. Yes, well and truly, they’re… Perhaps they’re trying to keep me company with an extraordinary Messiah that has not been written yet. Perhaps the voice of living beings that suffer does not carry very far and one just can’t hear them, and so it’s that sort of scream that becomes permanent and that lasts forever.

Painting, for me, I feel rather it’s like a pack of cells, organic rather than mineral, and that it cannot be grasped in the time one takes, that one concedes, to grasp an image. An image is noise and the painting I dream of doing – because I haven’t yet managed to do the painting I dream of doing – it’s a painting that is silence. I think that I paint so as to try to understand temperature, light, the materials which surround us.

And what is one trying to get a grip on in this resear–…

You grab it, quite simply, I start to understand that I myself am a lump of mucous membranes, of hair, bones, fever, and, at root, you’re just projecting, I reckon, this terrible thing that is, quite simply, life. You realize you’re alive when you’re painting.

And so, as one progresses, one understands less and less?

As you progress, you choke, that’s for sure. That’s what’s so awful. And you get blind, not to say stupid. It’s a rather dreadful tiredness that I’d like to forget. Because that tiredness reaches the point that you vomit, just like that. I can sort of feel the acid, things, rising. And I’d like to forget it, my painting. After a rest you regenerate quickly, luckily.

Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

But then you’ve referred to tiredness, to actually vomiting, too. What makes you go on in spite of all that?

But as soon as I step outside my studio, I dream of my studio. I dream of that torture, which is the exercise of painting, as far as I’m concerned.

But isn’t that masochism?

No, I don’t think it’s that.

So, what is it then?

I’ve no idea. As I said a few moments ago, I try to understand the phenomenon of life through painting. To feel it.

How does a picture begin?

There’s one just next to us that’s beginning. It always starts off rather badly. Then, finally, when it’s hanging on the gallery wall, it’s worse still. I’d have liked to do a painting I’d never show. And I’d dream of nothing else, save showing it. It’s absurd. And every time I’m really disappointed.

A few moments ago, you mentioned acids. Often, reading books about painting, the people talking about it say it’s a way of getting out what’s inside one and of being able perhaps of bearing it, of getting rid of it. And I’m not sure that…

You could say the opposite, too, that it’s something one manufactures so as to enrich a terrible void one has in oneself. I’m not somebody who feels full like an egg, at all. On the contrary, I feel I’m terribly empty and alone, so I try to surround myself like that with bits of… of the plates, like those of anatomy, with orbits, with… I like that in some way, surely. I like its flayed side.

Human Anatomy and Physiology, 1989 Human Anatomy, 1989
Left: Human Anatomy and Physiology, 1989, graphite on nine printed leaves, 80 × 53 cm.
Right: Human Anatomy, 1989, graphite on nine printed leaves, 96 × 69 cm.
Photo: © Studio Sébert – photographes.

That’s bits of you in the pictures?

Yes, you could say that, yes. Yes, yes, because it’s a… These images, which can be seen in my paintings, that can’t be seen anywhere else. I don’t think it’s a reference like that, from image to image. So you say, bits, it’s good you say that, because, at bottom, they are hunks of my flesh, of my meat, of my hair, that I throw like that onto the painting. They are residues, in fact. For me, a palette is not a source of life, it’s a source of death. It’s mud, they are… let’s say, excrements, quite simply.

And when you look at them, these canvases or drawings or prints, what they represent, is that important or not?

I avoid looking at them. Sincerely. And for a quite simple reason, it’s because I carry on working, so I’ve only the things I’m doing at the time that gnaw at me, that obsess me. And everything I did before, I consider it very bad, flat, poor, and without any interest. That’s my feeling. I can moreover give you an example: I’ve held on to none of my paintings, my drawings, my engravings, whatsoever – the engravings, most of the time, I give to friends, – and I feel all the better for it. For me, to punish me, if you like, wouldn’t be to chuck me in the slammer, it would be to bring back all my pictures I’ve done over the last thirty years back to my studio.

Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

Painting is really done all alone. It’s done all alone, it’s the light that helps you, it carries you. Let’s just say, you float thanks to the light. It bears you up and detaches you from material things, and you return back into the picture. You can function at that moment, you breathe painting, you’d eat it, that’s it. At that moment, that’s the act of painting. And one can’t do it in front of the cameras, or in front of your buddies, or in front of your girlfriends, no way. Painting really is a special moment, but of loneliness. A loneliness that does you no harm. Because there’s nothing worse than loneliness, but this is a special loneliness. To do a beautiful painting, you need life. It’s completely idiotic: I do a beautiful picture about once a year. All the others, they’re for the dustbin.

If one could be always be away with the fairies, it would be perfect. But it’s the waking up that’s the thing, surely the most painful ordeal a painter can undergo. He has to undergo it all his life long, be just on his daily round, which is to practise painting, to make pictures, to be able to finish them, to go further, to be even more nasty in painting, more persuasive, more… more sensual, to get closer to a kind of higher vitality, like that, and rich. The awakening, that’s… Any painting in the end has to be a terrible awakening. I think I’m awake in front of a beautiful picture, I’m not admiring it, but I’m awake, all of a sudden everything else vanishes, there’s just one bit of painting that fascinates me. And when the painting flags, when it no longer has that richness, that sensuality I dream of, the awakening is something terrible, at that instant. It’s like… Nothing, it’s better, at that time, it’d be better to… Then, at that moment, I dream of darkness…

Dado at his studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado at his studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

You spoke of sensuality. Painting, how…

Ah, I think that painting is solely sensuality, yes. Bad painting, that’s masturbation, and very great painting, it is a session… extraordinary lovemaking, that’s it, it’s very simple. OK, painting and art were surely invented as a substitute for that sort of libidinal thirst that is in each of us. In any event, in the end, you dream of nothing else, just of that. As they say: “He’s got a one track mind”. And people began to write, to paint, and even enter politics, because they couldn’t … It’s always that phenomenon of loneliness, you know…

∗   ∗

Buffon

Programme title: Les Arts et les Gens
Title of broadcast: Les Arts et les Gens du 2 mai 1988
Date recorded: 2nd May 1988
Date broadcast: 2nd May 1988
Director: Jacques Béraud
Producteur: Pierre Descargues
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, the Comte de Buffon, was a French naturalist of the eighteenth century. He died exactly two hundred years ago, on April 16 at one o’clock in the morning. I made my poster for the exhibition with Buffon’s death throes, which were I believe written by Mme Necker.

The Comte de Buffon, to my mind, is a tragic character, unlike… Alive, he was the synonym of success, of social success, of power – of a rather brutal power, besides, – and the Comte de Buffon was hated during his lifetime and was praised to the skies by people with names like Catherine II of Russia, and two kings, I think, Louis XV and Louis XVI.

Let’s just say that he was the most prominent celebrity, the best-known, the most listened to public figure. When a disagreement concerning natural history cropped up, people harkened to Buffon and everyone else shut their mouth. The story of the Beast of Gévaudan, with which eighteenth-century Parisian newspapers made hay, evaporated the day Buffon said: “It’s nonsense, it’s just a hyena escaped from a menagerie in Montpellier.” And this was correct, since the surviving footprints, I don’t recall where, correspond to those of a hyena’s paws.

Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986
Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1986. Photo: Philibert.

Buffon himself wrote what I think are some splendid pages, very philosophical. They are pages of very great beauty, I believe, I really like them, they’re at once very clear and they carry us off like that, without warning tripping us up with a sentence that’s completely insane and, if you like, insanely modern. And I think to his detriment in some ways, because, at bottom, I feel he’s a kind of initiator, an extraordinary advisor, an example to be followed for young people interested in nature, for example. When he talks about nature, he writes real love letters. He had a true affection for nature… He’d talk about it all, he’d write about the bestiality of nature, he wrote about violence, the “flayed” side of nature that fascinates me, the nasty side of nature – nature is spiteful, everything is spiteful, everything’s on the lookout, everything’s on the prowl, it’s never straightforward, it works very gradually, you see, it’s a bit like being impaled. So, all of a sudden, for me Buffon is an incredible outpouring of tragedy. For instance, Buffon talks about different animals in chapters of varying length, but the longest concern animals he knew and that oddly he hated. There were few animals Buffon liked. The heron is a feeble orphan born in wretchedness. Buffon always proceeds by comparison. It’s an eighteenth-century forerunner of comparative anatomy. So the heron is a real loser. Buffon is surprised, he starts off: “The heron has lived for centuries, for millennia on the globe…” – he finds this hard to understand. And he also very often lends animals concepts such as heroism and cowardice. For example, he loved dogs, Buffon. He was mad about dogs. So the chapter on the dog is luminous and very flattering for dogs. And, as for the stag devoured by the dogs, the stag is a kind of… He’s a monument of cowardice. Because a stag, according to Buffon, in this race that is lost before it begins, as he zigzags through the forest, he flushes out a young stag as a substitute for the dogs pursuing him. But – and it’s Buffon who says so – but the dogs, they are not to be misled, and they kill him. It’s brilliantly written.

Armchairs at Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1987
Armchairs at Dado’s studio in Hérouval in 1987. Photo: Philibert.

And then there are pages of Buffon on the various human races that are frightening. They stink, they are full of spite, of ignorance, but they’re also terrifyingly florid. Then, out of nowhere, the Buffon I like reappears, saying: but children should no longer be tethered, no longer be tied up, that’s completely idiotic, people should do as they do in Amazonia. He takes the poor Indians people shoot at today for 100 dollars, I don’t know… He says: do as they do. That’s what Buffon’s like. You might say, he was open-minded, nonetheless he was a victim of prejudice. But he can readily be forgiven. Prejudices… there were no documents… The word did not even exist, I think. It was terrible. Buffon wrote dreadful things about humans… full of spite, and then, at the same time, of luminosity, because… Before the Revolutionary triptych “Equality and Co.”, Buffon says that all men are always one and the same man. The one painted in black, is black, the one painted in red, red… But it is the same one, it is a bit like three or four actors wearing make-up, you see, in the wings, and they came before Buffon and he says: man, that’s them. Ah, it’s wonderful, it’s kind of humorous too. There are images, there’s a lot of overkill in Buffon, it’s got absolutely incredible kitsch, making him great fun to read.

Dado Dado in 1986 embellishing engravings from the “Buffon” series
Left: Dado in 1986 at his studio in Hérouval. Right: Dado in 1986 embellishing engravings from the Buffon series with gouache. Photos: Philibert.

Unlike the majority of people who have forgotten Buffon, who don’t know him – the majority of people don’t know him and others have forgotten him, who’d have believed it, – let’s just say I’m one of the very few people who feel a tenderness for Buffon because quite simply I know him. I wonder whether ignorance of the other doesn’t lie at the origin of hatred, and all that, there’s something… Betrayed like that the portrait of Buffon is of someone horrid. But when you get to know him, he’s somebody of a prodigiously rich sensitivity and his tragedy finally topped off that kind of explosion of intelligence, because he was a man of an extremely acute intelligence. Because Buffon signals to us from beyond the grave. As far as I’m concerned, he made some really remarkable signs to me. Ten years ago I read the chapter on rabbits and I found it adorable. It was very, very pretty, very interesting. He spoke… He coupled rabbits from a farmyard with rabbits from a warren, and all that… And, in the week I read the chapter on the rabbits, there was this doe rabbit wandering about the courtyard, she dropped seven baby rabbits, four of which were wild. I mean Buffon showed me his real rabbits. I could see them there. The she-rabbit had hidden under the studio and produced her little ones. I didn’t see her for some time, then, one fine day, through the window pane I saw the doe with seven bunnies around her, nibbling grass. As I said: that was Buffon sending me a letter. There’s an nth dimension, so why not? And… Because I’m labouring to answer you, why Buffon? Well, then, this year for the first time, I was able to look at – it was a stroke of incredible luck, a one in a million chance, – four roe deer crossed the road in front of my car three months ago now. Four, I said four, eh. A little lane through the undergrowth. There were three of them crossing the road and the fourth goes off to the right: three on the left and the fourth to the right. I slow down and I say: they won’t let the one that went off to the right down. And, sure enough, no mistake about it. I turned off the engine and I looked at the three roe deer: one male and two females – it was a third female that had stayed on the other side of the road. And I looked at them as I’m looking at you, like in a zoo. I said: it’s that Buffon again. And this lasted a very, very long time. Then they crossed. They joined the fourth, on the other side. Then it was all over, the Buffon show had come to an end. But that, that was pure Buffon. Yesterday morning, pure Buffon once again: a peregrine falcon – it’s very rare to see one in this region – was zigzagging very low over the tops of the sprouting wheat in his search for little birds in the nest, you see? – or shrews. The guy was really hunting. You could see he was… He was patrolling. A mortal danger coming out of the sky. It was magnificent. That, that was Buffon. Don’t you find it Buffonesque? It’s not bad at all…?

Dado, November 1986
Dado, November 1986. Photo: Philibert.

∗   ∗

Handel

Programme title: Les Arts et les Gens
Title of broadcast: Les Arts et les Gens du 24 juin 1991
Date recorded: 24th June 1991
Director: Jacques Béraud
Producer: Pierre Descargues
Portrait of Handel
Portrait of Handel, 1990, oil on wooden panel, 230 × 153 cm.
I discovered Handel a very long time ago. Perhaps forty years ago now. A little less, thirty-five. At a concert when I was student, I heard his Concerti grossi, I found them splendid. I lost sight of him, then, ten years ago, Gisèle Boulois, a friend who’s Malcolm’s godmother, brought us a disc of Handel. The children started to listen to Handel and then, well, I joined in. It’s the children who taught me what baroque music is. So then I surrounded myself with tiptop musicologists. So, I got stuck in, I had to… I even read the libretti, I know the dates, I know that L’Allegro [Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato] was written in a fortnight during a particularly hard winter in London, the Thames had frozen over… Handel cannot step out of his study, so he writes this, the most flowery, the most luminous, the most… “impressionistic” work, if I may say so, the more angelical work in existence. And so I became inter… Little by little, I fell for him. I’m in love with Handel, so there, it is a confession, I, I… And so the paintings I… I did the portrait of Handel, then, I also liked the titles of his oratorios, I’m greatly touched by the history of his opera libretti. And then I even played a very modest part in the Giulio Cesare by… at the Opéra Garnier, with my friend Jean-Claude Malgoire. I did a tiny illustration for the Giulio Cesare program booklet.

Pierre Descargues: But then, that Handel, it’s a Handel you’ve known for a long time, but one you’ve been digging around a lot more this past winter, or for the last few years, and who has given you [inaudible] to think about? Is he a friend? Is he someone you know well?

Senesino
Senesino, 1991, oil on panel, 180 × 80 cm.
Ah, he’s… Quite, yes, he’s a… He’s my best friend. He’s… That’s it, really. Really, he’s a… The relationship’s friendly, almost amorous, obviously, as it is often the case in life, anyhow. Ah, well, there’s one thing I’ve noticed, that I’ve remarked, that I like, which has comforted me, it’s that, in the end, Handel, in his… in his musical literature, in the innumerable manuscripts he has left us, the majority of which are not known to the public because they have never been played since his death, it’s that Handel placed the most poignant, the most powerful, the most Michelangelosque, the most Rembrantesque arias, if you like, in the mouths of the most monstrous characters: in that of Polifemo, a kind Cyclops monster who wants to kill a young shepherd; Lucifer in The Resurrection has some magnificent arias, – The Resurrection that he wrote when he was twenty-two. And I said to myself that all this terribly tragic and stormy side, violet-black, practically black side I feel in this music, it’s the… It’s Handel himself. A kind of self-portrait. He reveals his true face in Polifemo, in Lucifer, in the arias he wrote for Montagnana, the bass who… of whom David Thomas has given us some splendid interpretations today.
Alcina Admeto
Left: Alcina, circa 1990, oil on panel, 202 × 90 cm.
Right: Admeto, circa 1990, oil on canvas, 248 × 121 cm.

What I like about this composer, it’s the… It’s his great expertise, his great knowledge of… of anatomy. Anatomy, it’s a… For me, that’s… That’s the ultimate proof of higher intelligence, because each time there’s an aria or then the… the instruments one hears, they were always tailor-made for the individual who had to… who had to play. I’m talking about the singers, for example. They are never misused. It seems exactly as if he asked for an effort to swim across a little river or to run, I don’t know, fifty meters. It’s never marathon stuff. I’m talking… I’m thinking of the nineteenth century or… which interests me much less, which doesn’t interest me at all, myself, that’s a question of taste. What I like about Handel, it’s the sort of supreme elegance with respect to others. It’s a form of generosity to which I’m really… dazzled by this kind of simplicity of intelligence that the fellow possesses.

Polifemo, 1991 Partenope
Left: Polifemo, 1991, oil on wooden panel, 204 × 90 cm.
Right: Partenope, 1990-1991, oil on panel, 250 × 122 cm.

And obviously… Talking of the architecture of his writing, that’s another kettle of fish, it’s just superb. For me it’s superb. It’s… If you like, for me, Handel, it’s a bit the front of Amiens Cathedral, which is built out of beads of sweat, which is made of hair, which is made of hands. The other day I was looking at Patrizia Kwella’s hand as she was getting ready to tackle her score of L’Allegro, her hand was stretched out as if she were about to grab an axe to cut something down. It was… It was almost self-destruction, a play-acting self-destruction, she was, if you get me, putting herself in danger physically, and Handel himself who’s been in his tomb for ages. That’s to say, it’s this… extremely… really ephemeral side. It was a moment, I don’t like the word, but a moment of grace that took place the other day, for instance. And, for me, I was… I was set up for a fortnight, I felt good. I was vouchsafed a good overdose of innocence, there. It was sublime.

Tamerlano Admeto
Left: Tamerlano, 1991, oil on panel, 250 × 122 cm.
Right: Admeto, 1990, oil on canvas, 195 × 96,5 cm.

And, so, it’s a way of writing, it’s a musical literature that’s… that’s an extraordinary heritage for people who want… who want to make that architecture live… that’s made of… not even water, not even air, it’s made of all that, it’s made quite simply of blood, and muscles. That’s why I say: Handel-anatomy, why not make a parallel between Vesalius and Handel, and Aldrovandi, and why not Buffon as well. It’s an aspect so close to… to nature at its most elementary. I think of the vegetable, I think of the animal. And one feels it in this music, unfortunately not the case with our accursed modernity that’s wedged in concrete, stuck in electronics. And I can compare this music with a nice warm meal.

Whoever speaks of music means food, whoever speaks of painting means good wine, whoever speaks of… These are things… Quality. It’s a bit pretentious to say so, but I think that this… It’s this original, primal quality, which is not slapped down, seems to me to be the driving force behind our history.

Elements from the scenery of Tamerlano
Elements from the scenery of Tamerlano by Handel realised by Dado, an opera staged by Jean-Louis Martinoty at the Karlsruhe Opera in 1993. Photo: DR.

∗   ∗

Bernard Réquichot

Programme title: Une vie, une œuvre
Title of broadcast: Bernard Réquichot
Schedule heading: Les matinées de France Culture
Date recorded: 1994
Date broadcast: 2 June 1994
Director: Claude Giovannetti
Producer: Blandine Masson
Two works from the series Letters to Réquichot
Two works from the series Letters to Réquichot at the Hérouval studio in January 2002. Photo: Philibert.

Réquichot… It was Cordier who first spoke to me of Réquichot. He said to me: “There’s one of my artists whose name is Bernard Réquichot, who wants, who wanted to buy a painting of yours from me.” Ah, that, that really surprised me. There’s this little small picture that Réquichot wanted to buy. After that, obviously we met up in the gallery. Then his work intrigued me enormously. I was very, very jealous of it. Because he was producing work completely at odds with the painting I was trying to express with brushes, and then the figures, all that… And Bernard, he was doing Réquichot, that was it.

Blandine Masson: What do you mean? What was he doing at the time?

He did collages, with… In particular the great triptych, which is magnificent. All this stuff intimidated me a lot. I had the impression he’d travelled a long, long way. And I was not mistaken. Indeed, he did go a long, long way. His paintings, his first, rather Cubist paintings, you know the pair of shoes, the large, elephantine women…

Do you want us to look at them?

No, I know them by heart! And then, there was a series of paintings with… like little shards of a greenish black that explodes, like that, over a canvas that had been hardly prepared. He hadn’t laid in any white, there were just… And that, these paintings, they disturbed a great deal, because it was really the polar opposite of I was up to in my hole. And, gradually, I have… if I daresay “thanks to his death,” I’ve… Finally, I’ve understood what he was on to a little. So, I tried to steal things from him at that time. Then I did some… I now remember when I see his drawings, it’s… As they say, “Dado, he was influenced by Réquichot, at that time.” I did spirals, I did… I cut out stuff and then I redrew it, and all this was an echo, like I was trying to set up a kind of posthumous conversation, like, with Réquichot.

∗   ∗

Return to Montenegro

Programme title: Culture matin
Title of broadcast: La mondialisation de l’économie
Date recorded: 18th September 1996
Dado in Cetinje in 1996
Dado in Cetinje in 1996. Photo: Maja Djuric.

Frédéric Lavignette: It’s been five years since you last went back to Montenegro, I believe, is that right?

Yes. I’d have liked to return, had it not been for these repugnant bouts of nationalist fever which aren’t… It is the prerogative of… neither of the champions who are the Serbs, nor of the Croats, and there are other countries… I’m certainly not going to quote my adopted country. You know, it’s very easy to go off the rails, to bring down a sick, old man. To make him stumble over… A granddad, he’ll walk into some small post in an electric fence and he’ll die. And then a youngster, he’ll run into a post, a plane-tree, and he’ll end up with just a broken leg, you get my drift? And, well, Yugoslavia, it was that, it was a sick country, and they did it, like this [noise of a glass being struck], and it fell.

It’s a ghastly godsend for me, but I can acknowledge the fact. You’re asking me questions. I’m pregnant with what? I’m pregnant with violence, too. I don’t paint bunches of flowers, no way. Not sunsets either – though I find sunsets a bit frightening, I find them very beautiful. [Laughter] I don’t do portraits of young women with skin like porcelain… I do what I do, but it’s well and truly… It’s painting that can be done only by a barbarian from the Balkans, right, who’s called Miodrag Djuric Dado, it’s… I don’t hide the fact. I’m an authentic painter of the Balkans.

Dado’s exhibition at the Blue Palace
Dado’s exhibition at the Blue Palace in Cetinje in 1996 during the third Biennale of contemporary art.
Photo: Marija Bajagić.

Here, everyone goes in for politics, so I defined myself as a bastard Marxist, as a bastard of Marxism. Since I was born and grew up in a Marxist country, I’ve had a Marxist education, but I didn’t bite, I wasn’t a militant. So I’m the illegitimate child of the regime that fed me too. For instance, this morning Pierre Nahon stopped in front of a small picture in this exhibition, the most beautiful it would appear, very small, called The End of the World. It’s a colourful little thing I did when I was twenty… twenty-two, twenty-one. And so it was the apparatchiks of the Cetinje period who gave me the dosh to leave for Paris, since they bought this painting from me for the museum. So, I’m a Marxist bastard, there you are.

Translated from French by D. Radzinowicz

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