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Pierre Alechinsky (born October 19, 1927) is a
artist. Lives and works in France from 1951
He was born in Brussels. In 1944 he attended the l'Ecole nationale
supérieure d'Architecture et des Arts décoratifs de La Cambre, Brussels where
he studied illustration techniques, printing and photography. In 1945 he
discovered the work of Henri Michaux, Jean Dubuffet and developed a friendship
with the art critic Jacques Putman. In 1949 he joined Christian Dotremont,
Karel Appel,Constant, Jan Nieuwenhuys and Asger Jorn to form the art group
Cobra. He participated both with the Cobra exhibitions and went to Paris to
study engraving at Atelier 17 under the guidance of a master, Stanley William
Hayter in 1951. In 1954 he had his first exhibition in Paris and started to
become interested in oriental calligraphy. During the early 1950s he became
the Paris correspondent for the Japanese journal Bokubi (the joy of ink), then
in 1955, encouraged by Henri Storck and Luc de Heusch, he left for Japan with
Micky, his wife. He exhibited Night, 1952 (Ohara Museum, Kurashiki) and made a
film: Japanese Calligraphy – Christian Dotremont would write the commentary
with music by André Souris. His paintings are related to Tachisme, Abstract
expressionism, and Lyrical Abstraction.
In the Porte Saint-Martin district, in a room so tiny he was unable to
stand back from his work, he started his first large painting: TAlice Grows
Up, 1961, oil on canvas, 205 x 245 cm, private collection © ADAGPhe Anthill,
1955 (Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York). Then, from 1958 under the protective
wing of the Galerie de France, the large format pictures came easily; such as
The Great Transparencies, 1959 (reference to André Breton) and Alice Grows Up,
1961 (reference to Lewis Carroll). Passing from abstraction, a moment
explored, to a more freely descriptive image that moves from the face to the
monster. The connection to James Ensor becomes apparent (Homage to James Ensor
1956), The Parable of the Blind Men 1958, Cloud in Trousers 1957 (SMAK,
Ghent): the themes of propagation, swarming and finally that of opening.
By 1960 he had exhibited in London, Berne and at the Venice Biennial, and
then in Pittsburgh, New York, Amsterdam and Silkeborg as his international
From 1961, he took frequent trips to New York where the Chinese painter
Wallace Ting, whom he had met in Paris in the fifties, would introduce him to
the possibilities of acrylic paint. Alechinsky was 37 in 1965 and it was
crucial year: Central Park, the first acrylic painting with a central subject
surrounded by “remarks in the margins”. Multiple consequences. The boundaries
and borders theme. Indeed, Margin and Center, was the theme of a large one man
show at the Guggenheim, New York in 1987. Progressively abandoning oil paint –
which he explains in Lettre suit, Gallimard 1992 – for the versatility of his
new medium, with which he no longer worked vertically but “in the Chinese
style”, upon the floor.
He worked with Walasse Ting and continued to be close to Christian Dotremont.
He also developed links with André Breton.From 65 paper laid down on canvas
became the tried and tested support for all the artist’s acrylic paintings.
However, whilst looking for beautiful blank sheets of 17th, 18th and 19th
century paper he would discover a large quantity of books covered in writings:
which led to the inks and watercolours on these pages strewn with “pen
strokes, numbers and letters”: school exercise books, letters, out of date
invoices, worthless share certificates and geographical maps, military or
aerial. A perfect background for the imagination of a “paintbrush explorer”.
The brush, for example, that discovered by chance the signature of a Gille de
Binche whose helmet of white feathers becomes a volcanic eruption, an
ejaculation or cloud in the form of an exclamation mark. Imagery that results
as much from deciphering as from the “black pupil” of the inkpot.
During the eighties, the disc, circle and concentric circles – reminiscent
of Guillaume Apollinaire’s words astres and désastres [stars and disasters] –
would become an obsession during strolls through the streets of New York,
Arles, Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Brussels or Salzburg… With Indian ink
Alechinsky appropriates prints from “pieces of urban furniture”: these metal
grates covered with the anonymous imagery of the plate casters, “apertures and
grids”, constitute a popular art that we pass by without really taking the
time to appreciate its beauty.
His international career continued throughout the seventies and by 1983 he
became Professor of painting at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts,
Paris. In 1994 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Free University of
Brussels, and in 1995 one of his designs was used on a Belgian stamp.
Volcanoes and Terrils: the hill or mound theme for which Alechinsky found a
variety of expressions. Through this shape and its mutations, Alechinsky
delivers a conception of form that is bound to gesture. During a trip to
Tenerife, he united the volcano or rather the flow of molten lava with the
emblematic symbol of the serpent. The relationship between form and gesture
fused and made each shape the result of a sudden eruption. Through this theme
– omnipresent in his work since the sixties – Alechinsky’s oeuvre describes a
reality whose central preoccupation is man’s relationship with the world!
His works are held in the collections of the Tate, the Museum of Modern
Art and the Walker Art Center.