It seems almost surreal that a little girl of five, ber left hand held firmly in ber father's right, ber right hand in ber mother's left, could have said, "1 want to be a painter," and then immediately make it so. It was a Sunday afternoon in the winter of 1931, as they stood before Van Eyk's Mystic Lamb in the Cathedral of Ghent. Next day ber father bought ber an easel, oil colours, brushes, and she created ber first work: a small picture of a tree with one single apple.
There is already here an economy of means, already this desire for purity, for that is what, I believe, still today characterizes the work of Françoise André. A blue, whether nocturnal or diurnal, an emerald green, a magic square, a solar triangle, an oval, a curve, a body animated with some secret undulation, a solitary face, many faces, and not only faces but heads and - in fewer number, it's true - landscapes.
The face, we ail know, is not limited, can not be limited on canvas or in sculpture to a mere likeness, which is unimportant. The faces of Françoise André speak to us of a state of being, the state of buman existence. Ail the more so as they efface the features. These are caresses in paint. Caresses, because there is something about this art that is not insistent, though far from unfinished. Rather, 1 would say, finished but in the colours of the infinite.
There is also, 1 think, in some canvases a tension between the geometrical areas formed by the "aplats" of colour that unframe space and the calligraphy of the figures: a nose, an ear, a head of hair, a pose rather than a body, which seem to be fixed and at the same time free. It is handwriting with the brush, not drawing as drawing arrests the image while the other enables it to unfold.
All right. Let's say it. Françoise André is a great colorist and "écrituriste," one of the very few in the disaster area that is the world of
painting today. I take as proof the manner in which she rests an intricately woven silhouette on a red, hands clutched, the gaze fixed intently on a gray; juxtaposes another red against a black and captures the figure within the geometry.
A world of acute angles that pierces our eye and parallelograms that unhinge our spirit. Sometimes a scream, but muffled.
Above ail, colours here are tones, neither light nor chiaroscuro, but with a luminous intensity emanating from the canvas itself, where surface and depth merge. Obviously, there is no question here of central perspective, which would be too constricting for the spirit of the work.
I have spoken of the faces of Françoise André, and I must come back to them. Full-front or profile, they are a constant theme in ber work. Look at the ageless old man who stares at you with that vacant eye and who, perhaps, is not really so old; or that man in his prime with the multiple eyes and the beak of some great bird of prey. Look at Icarus, as he no doubt was, melancholy and tortured; or that figure who looks away, almost disappearing, and, one would surmise, wishes neither to see nor be seen.
Look at the painter herself, imperious and fragile in the vast expanse of a bare canvas.
What 1 love in this work - as you will have understood by now - is that it defies classification. Certainly she was shaken by Duchamp. For instance that cloud in La mariée mise à nu par les célibataires, même mysteriously present in ber self-portrait. However, she bas neither turned ber back on him, nor surrendered. Françoise André bas taken up painting where "faute de mieux" he left it. She bas kept his intellectual rigour, his elimination of the inessential, his desire for clarity.
Many faces, but also a few landscapes - nocturnal, lunar, seen as it were from the stratosphere. We take off amongst strange cosmic objects, unidentified planets in free fall. Vertigo is a face, is a landscape. We touch alpha and omega in the work of Françoise André. Oddly - or is it odd ? - the technique is not the same as that used for the faces. The texture becomes dark, insistent, a sort of "compactness" takes shape on the canvas. No more aplats. No more caresses. We are into the magma! Contemplation of the flesh gives way to the contemplation of matter. This demands a sort of obscure power. A power Françoise André does not lack.
Notwithstanding her bright colours, her squares, her ovals, her circles evoking harmony and order, this painting is far from restful. She says things which, from time immemorial, we have never wanted to hear. She says that we are warped by reality, that life is stripped of sense, that reality is a dream - or a nightmare.
The exact opposite of the message inherent in The Mystic Lamb which so inspired the little girl. She sings our weariness. Magnificently. It's not so common.
It is not true that art must descend into the gutter. In the muddle of contemporary art, who will speak out in honor of the artists who, against fashions and diktats, continue to paint? Often disregarded, these are the ones who nonetheless ensure the future of art. It is not yet well enough known, but this exhibition should help to make it clear: Of these, Françoise André is in the front line.
Docteur en philosophie. Professeur en Histoire
de l'Art aux Arts Décoratifs de Paris.Critique d'Art - Historien d'Art