THE QUEST FOR AN IMAGE OF
CONTEMPORARY MAN ACROSS THE
« L'œuvre de Françoise André fait preuve d'un élan créatif qui s'inscrit dans la lignée des grands classiques, mais transposée par la vision intérieure de l'artiste qui se distancie de toute tendance pour mieux exprimer sa propre réflexion. »
Chef de Département de l'Art Moderne au Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Bruxelles.
Te the Canadians
of the West Coast as well as te the Americans from
Through her urge te constantly deepen her knowledge of man by going to new, both civilized and almost deserted, régions, Françoise André has refrained from associating her name and paintings with one particular town or country.
What sine wanted
to be was not the witness of one région, but that of our Western civilization
which, as it embraces both
A contemporary artistic activity of this kind (which started 40 years ago) cannot possibly have merged into the global perspective of art history. What the art historian can do, however, is try to reveal its profound veins.
exhibition is an attempt at gathering paintings that were created and scattered
on either side of the
PICTURAL FOUNDATIONS AND CONSCIENCE (1926-1951) The désire te become a painter took shape at the sight of the Ghent Altarpiece of the Mystic Lamb of the Van Eyck brothers at the Cathedral St. Bavon.
Françoise André was five at the time. She remembers exactly what appealed to her in the masterpiece: the enormous impact of its clear composition, the magic of its order and extravagant poetry as well as the authority of its undeniable beauty (1). It was this initial shock which made her paint her first works. At the age of about ten, convinced of the fact that the masters of the past could help her carry the mysterious task of detecting harmony in the overwhelming chaos of reality, Françoise André decided te copy Vinci, Raphaël, Michel-Angelo, Van Dijck, Rembrandt, Delacroix ... Above all, Ingres answered to her aspiration to order by the clearness of his line.
Those first steps into the world of painting, as well as her entire ceuvre in fact, were surrounded by a musical and literary atmosphere. Bach, Brahms, Franck, Debussy, Ravel and Honegger were the adulated composers of a family the genealogy of which contained Tardieu, Hortemels, Talleyrand, Gounod and, doser, the hellenist and collecter Alphonse Willems.
The heavy explosions of the war, as it lay bare man’s fragility, would soon darken the artist’s sensitivity. The spectacle of hatred and cruelty, the climate of misery, added sinister hues to Françoise André’s palette, who had just started studying at the
Another destruction, an idealogical one this time, was to appear after the war. A group of Belgian «avant-garde» contemporaries of Françoise André v.iere proudly and openly proclaiming their disdain of tradition, of the masters and techniques of the past. Yet this very respect was, and would remain, the basis of the young painter’s creations.
As a conséquence of this différence in opinions she stepped above from the dominating artistic trend for the very first time. During the animated discussions the artists had on this subject, she discovered one ally though : Jan Cox, who, even more than sine did, had showed a profound admiration for, as well as a forever expanding knowledge of classical - both musical and poetic - culture.
After she had perfected her sense of composition for one more year at Marcel Gromaire’s workshop, Françoise André knew there was another dimension she had yet to discover. She had indeed been using the space of the Renaissance in her previous creations, a space man delimited with his own parameters. But how te explain and render what had carried her away in the space of the Van Eyck’s retable, that was divine and mystic?
In the artist’s mind these two concepts of perspective were fighting: that of the Renaissance, on the one hand, in which there was no acces for Van Eyck’s mysterious spirituality, and that of the gothic, on the other, where the power of man could net yet insert itself.
In her attempt
to solve the conflict, the artist went to
Morris Graves, who had been living on the West Coast, had experienced the Buddhist and Zen philosophies and was using the Chinese and Japanese methods and techniques. He insisted on totally mastering his subjects mentally before liberating them physically and manifested an enormous respect for the materials and tools he used in doing so.
The cathedral was examined in all its aspects. Morris Graves himself made no drawings of it. But, looking at the crows wheeling around from the flying buttresses, he said : I am going to paint these crows here, and I will paint those of the Pacific and the cathedral will be in between (2).
was a second revelation for Françoise André and made her want to deepen
Oriental mysticism in
From then on Françoise André’s artistic exigences were those of quality, and respect for art in all its spiritual and technical components.
The scale of pictural space, however, remained yet te be discovered.
A year later, in
1950, Françoise André arrived in
SITUATING MAN WITHIN THE VEGETAL AND THE MINERA.L (1952-1962).
The West Coast
meant a lush végétation which stood for wilc liberty. A constant humidity
dissolved the outlines of every shape. Having crossed
Françoise André’s work was still inspired by the melancholy of Jan Cox, who had
also moved to
Françoise André did not give up representing man, however. The challenge consisted in situating, defining him formally as well as in an inextricable végétation as, amongst the graphic jungle of abstract espressionism.
To meet this challenge, Françoise André played the game of analogies. She linked the three universes by what forms they had in common and thus came to the conclusion they were all three subject to the same order: that of life and the increasing rate at which its models for a microcosm and a macrocosm were being repeated. In drawing fern shooths and tiny rock, fragments she unveiled an underlying structure in which, much to her joy, she discovered the configuration and rythm of the Canadian and American landscapes seen from the air, but also, what a surprise, those of the pleats of Van Eyck’s drapings.
Having always had to find appropriate proportions for the visible, she now also had to apply certain proportions in her paintings to be able to transcribe her vision and to control the ardent movement of her hand. The use of square patterns before applying gold leaf, a technique she had learnt from M. Graves, imposed itself and would be used until the seventies. This chequering of the surface also referred to the layout of the cities of this new continent, which she gradually understood better and the intense urban life in which she wanted to penetrate more and more.
Around the late fifties art started paying timid attention to the human figure, after which man began to occupy an increasingly distinct place in the arts. In 1960 the New York Museum of Modern Art organized an exhibition about this trend, called NEW IMAGES OF MAN. Françoise André took part in a preparatory exhibition for it.
She had indeed
come to a new representation of man : by no means a lifelike one, but one that
looked more like a fragile, crumbly, transparent rock, the quadrangular
profiles of the head and chest of which were clearly visible and with tissues
that could well have been those of a mineral or végétal structure. When he was
show as part of a couple, the différence between man and woman was clearly
visible though : he, more rigid and squat, looked more
like a rock, whereas she, in oblique and slightly curved lines, resembled a
plant more. During her stay in
adventurers), wearing armours to protect their too délicate sensitivity). Aside of this original and imaginative work, a bit like its nourishing, came the inspiration for the portraits. In those the artist was indeed able to question her contemporaries and to grasp every détail of the more universal features of man. However these portraits would never allow the evolution of her pictural language.
importance of the human figure in her compositions made Françoise André leave
the West Coast as well as the superb studio J. Massey and A. Erikson had
designed for her, to go and live in the heart of a city of intense activity. The city being
A NECESSITY: TO REPRESENT MAN (1963-1969)
were screaming their survival amidst concrete and dust, greynesses which have
been rendered so well by R. Guinan.
In a first phase
The painters no longer hesitated to represent man. Which they did in the same caustic, ironic and alluring way as they represented the produics of the consumer society; a technique that was inspired on the formalism and visual clearness of the poster.
could have stopped at that toc. She did, of course, based her work on
photographs and magazine illustrations, like all the others. But to her these
were but images she enriched with the various studies and sketches of attitudes
and movements realised from life the summer at
To her, man was
no form that could be manipulated at will like a product. No, man, then, was
the inhabitant of
interest. Each man, each subject was
linked to history thus, and, through his own intensity, or that the artist
endowed him with, he could create the space he neéded to impose his presence in
the composition. The squares of the checker-board in the Chicaco paintings - in
which gold leaf had been used since
said again. These répétitions and multiple perspectives presupposed a space that was much more mental than visual, a mental space which - these being the late sixties - would find its first metaphor in the theme of the folds, which were the condensation of the large, fragmented retables of that time.
The turning-point this portrait had announced was indeed a décisive one. From that moment onwards Françoise André would search in each human figure its uniquity’s depth.
For a while, in
« EACH ONE IS ONE » (8) INDIVIDUALITY AS THE ONLY SOURCE AN IMAGE CAN SPRING FROM (1970-1975)
The final test
is always the portrait (9) could also be the leitmotiv of the
With this latent
But if a painting could indeed be transformed into a blownup version of a predella - seen through the lens of a magnifying glass - how was one te render the notion of time? Net narratively in any case! The only possible solution found its way. Contrary to the American hyperrealists, who worked out each and every element of their paintings in détail, Françoise André had always kept large silent areas in hers. From now on she would concentrate on one particular element of a face, a hand, whereas the general outline itself would remain hardly defined. The eye, in travelling over the shapes, would move from a close-up to a general view and these différences of perception would give a notion of time. A temporality which was probably the closest to Van Eyck’s atemporality.
Dr. H. Scheie’s portrait indeed confirmed the validity of this approach. On the reverse side of the panels of the triptych Françoise André painted a gigantic eyeball for which she studied at length the iris by means of macrophotos. Confronted with its inextricable structure of transparent, constantly moving veils, she felt as if she had gone back to the Olympic Peninsula again. But if, which sine knew already, the living systems were indeed based on the same structures, only the ti,ny, formai variations within these structures could make a human being unique.
This approach was expressed in the series The Leaders, portraits of literary and musical personalities: J. Absil, S. Beckett, F. Couperin, Ch. Ives ... and was to result in her own self-portrait in 1978.
Insisting on the face and hands mainly, Françoise André unveiled the order that was hidden behind the mask of the skin and muscles and laid bare the line of the bony skeleton interlocked with the features and wrinkles brought by the changes of expression. Their lines raised an almost transparent architecture, some sort of crystal one facet of which vibrated with colour. The use of drawing in these works revealed a will for conceptualization as well as the highly intellectual trend her art was taking.
Parallel to this quest for man’s uniquity, Françoise André also developed an interest in the way the individual would define
itself in the collectivity. The works commissioned by the universities and scientiflc institutes allowed her to paint deans and researchers. She distilled the essence of their function and visualized it in works such as Unknown Dean and Chercheur, where the characters hid their faces and typical features behind the signs of their social status: the dean’s gown, the white coat the hand and the equipment of the researcher were tinged with ail their passion.
creative years at
Was it through her leaders, or was it in the theme of the folds sine had begun to develop more amply then or was it again in the sensitivity of the time, Françoise did have the feeling at the end of her stay in Philadelphia, that her art, like that of her contemporaries, lacked substance and roots in the essence of things. The American hyperrealism, minimal and conceptual art, as well as her own originated in an approach which was highly distant and unemotional towards reality. It was necessary then to find her aesthetic balance again te immerse her gaze into the richness of textures.
She came back te
Ever since then,
like Gertrude Stein, Françoise André has pursued her synthesis of an image both
American and European working in
In the course of her long journey across the North American continent, she had developed a new concept of space, as well as the relations man entertains with the universe. Now, sine feit compelled to root this new man in the past.
RETURN BACK (1975-1984)
This confrontation aise allowed to find an issue te various quests and crystallized their expression into a perfectly achieved image.
This was the
case with the theme of the folds, developed on its own or enriching the
compositions of the reclining women. The folds became the privileged metaphor
of a self-searching, sensitivity, in this case that of
the artist. In some places complex and mysterious, the folds rumple and
withdraw on themselves. In other places they unfold silently to merge into an
empty space. These subtly structured materials exist as formulations of a
moving, indiscernable limit between an interior and an exterior world. It is no
longer the limit of the appearance and the essence of a man as in the
Philadelphia Leaders, nor that of man braving an unknown world as in the
Chicago Bathers, nor even that of the masculine-feminine encounter of the Vancouver
couples but the image of the limit in its essence, of this intermediary space
ta create for ever where two éléments come to merge. Another theme had reached
its achievement too. That of man in space, developed since
Car la situation de l’art actual, c’est bien qu’il lui faille redonner corps à des choses (10), Jean Clair wrote in 1979.
Since 1975 Françoise André has had the same feeling. She wanted te root her vision into the substance of things, to feed it with the richness of the feelings and emotions any matter can carry when it catches the light.
First Françoise André started painting objects: a chair, pieces of material on a chest. These objects, because they were an intégral part of man’s life and had been made by him, made it possible for the painter to understand an up till now unexplored level of human sensitivity. Because of this inanimate and artificial world, man was reminded of his own past in his most everyday space. Through them the past insidiously imposed the weight of its obsessive presence on him.
In works such as
Civil Servant and Petit Nu Classique, Françoise André no longer hesitated to
put man inside this universe of Things. She tells us why herself: In Civil
Servant for example, man is represented, sitting in an old armchair to which he
is almost carnally linked. In
Each phase in the evolution of Françoise André’s ceuvre has provided man with a set of références to space and time. Each system revealed the way in which he perceives the World as well as his own, inner life. First, there was the temporal and spatial confusion between man and the primitive universes of plants and stones. Slowly, man began te impose his image through his vital and formal intensity. He was then linked to time and space by his personal history. After which, strong from his relation with the macrocosm, he was looking for a spatio-temporal définition of his uniquity in the depth of his inner life. Finally always trying to find himself beyond the appearance of reality, he rooted himself in History forgetting te which space he belonged.
Françoise André’s visual acuteness, all through this evolution, has always been the fulfilment of a unique désire : to come te an osmosis of two mentalities, to merge science and history, expérimentation and memory, immédiate sensuality and consciousness, in order te blur the limits and to have a human figure emerging in an intermediary space which is yet and forever te be defined and where the sensitive currents finally merge in one image, the meetingplace of two cultures.
Today the artist
seems te have abandon this process for an other
concept of space. In her last painting, Hommage à un
ami, Jan Cox is caught in an extremely baroque play of skilfully mixed perspectives.
The painter appears between two canvases, but is it really him,,or is it only his portrait? In this painting, the first of
her future works maybe, Françoise André through a mise en abîme, refers te History, as is the case in most of the works she made in
1. Outlines of a F. André Biography (Esquisse d’une biographie de F. André) by Marc Stegeman, s.d. (1975).
2 to 4. Interviews with F. André on Aprll 7th and 21 st 1983.
5 to 9. Gertrude Stein quotations, taken by F. André in A Visual Biography of Gertrude Stein, album 1975.
10. Jean Clair: Nouvelle Subjectivité, s.l., Lebeer Hossman, 1979. 11. Interview with F. André on May 41h 1983.