Françoise André


A painter can have many countries. But to have half a dozen of them risks impoverishment as well as enrichment. Françoise André was born in Vendée and later studied in Paris. Her family was Franco-Belgian and she was educated in Brussels. She became Dutch by marriage, and, after emigrating te, the West Coast in 1951, she adopted the Canadian nationality. She lived in Vancouver for twelve years and taught at the Banff School of Fine Arts for nineteen summers. She has lived in the United States since 1963, that is, until she returned to Brussels in 1975, but keeping a foot in both worlds by retaining a studio in Philadelphia, where she returns each year to work.

I do not mean that her art has not been enriched by these displace­ments. Rather they have given an edge to her work, which is high­strung and far from calm. She finds herself, as in Graham Greene's phrase, "on the dangerous edge of things."


A full retrospective which took place last October 1984 at the International Cultural Centrum in Antwerp, and which will be shown in Bruges in early 1985, shows the odyssey of a displaced person. It reveals her as a major artist. There is a constant search - but for what? The exhibition is labeled "A Quest for an Image of Contemporary Man Across the Atlantic." She may really be sear­ching for what she has lost, for what we have all lost, for a promise of certainty and stability in a dynamically deranged world. There lies behind the adventure of her art a sense of tragedy and despera­tion. She is not treating humanity lightly. There is at times almost a sense of hysteria, so strong is the obsession or the feeling of posses­sion when she undertakes a work.


There are in her career three significant stages. The first began after she arrived in Vancouver. It was through a chance encounter with the Seattle painter Morris Graves that she came to the West Coast. Her early work revealed already the makings of a painter. If we feel an aura in her new work of the mythic, the mystic and the surreal, it came as much from the exoticism of the newly discovered natural world as from influences from Graves and Mark Tobey. It was born out of a fusion of regional content with Abstract Expressionist man­ner. Her contribution was truly personal. Unlike most of the others, she never abandoned the figure. These figures have a hiera­tic and monolithic quality and a subterranean look, seeming to par­take of the density of rock or to be emerging from primordial matter. An undercurrent of subdued passion sets her work off from the man­darin refinement of Graves or the virtuosity of Tobey.


When Françoise André moved to Chicago in 1963 there were new messages in the air. Pop Art had exploded current orthodoxies. This artistic movement and the evolution of her art drove her to search out essentials. Her odyssey now took sharp and contradic­tory turns. It is impossible not to feel uncomfortable with some of these pieces. A formal fragmentation was taking place. The pain­tings seemed to be assembled by a process of montage. There is a mixture of languages and a defiance of limitations.


Françoise André had always had an ambition to create monumen­tally, and this becomes clearer as her third period takes shape in the seventies. Her major pieces, like Portrait of an Eye Surgeon are marvels of complexity and research. We see now that she is a pro­duct of European sensitivity and North American experience.


Drawing was always the basis of her art, but what distinguishes her third period is a heightened intensity and sumptuousness of colour. Françoise André revives a conception of art that has been a long time in eclipse, the ideal of creating a masterpiece. Twentieth Century artists tend to work as if to exorcise a demon within them - witness Picasso, Bacon or deKooning. The idea of a painting being a controlled projection of all that the artist has mastered, the culmination of a lifetime of learning and experience, has become strange to us, but it is a view that André demonstrates, and she has taken risks to do so. In that sense alone her work is heroic. It goes against the grain of contemporary mental attitudes. Her links with the ideals of the Symbolists at the end of the 19th Century may explain a certain unease with which we, blasé in front of ideals or even strong emotions, view work which seems to be attempting too much, to be too profound. We like to keep cool and not to hum. Françoise André's work, despite the high polish of a technique that recalls early Flemish masters, is, like theirs, anything but cool. If the loftiness of her quest upsets us, so much the better. The anti-heroic stance of our age makes us frightened to gamble with great themes. The stakes are high and André's work with maturity comes closer to finding the object of her quest.


Joseph Plaskett, Paris. 1 February 1985