By Henri Goetz himself
Texte from the Catalogue RaisonnĂ© Tome 1
It was in 1847 that Jacques Goetz, my paternal grandfather from Alsace joined the French army of his own free will, and remained in it for seven years practising his trade as a carpenter. Exuberant, full of life and an inveterate drinker, his military service was undistinguished. On leaving the army, he set off for America to seek his fortune. Unaccustomed to travelling the high seas, he was seized by a crippling seasickness which confined him to his bunk in his fourth class cabin throughout the slow voyage. Drawing ingeniously on his skills as a handyman, he hit upon the idea of affixing a shiny metal plate to the outside of the porthole, thus providing adequate light to read by, which was his only pleasure in his pitiful state. In an era of technical advance, the news of his invention, primitive though it may have been, spread amongst the passengers and fell upon the ears of a first-class passenger who suggested that my grandfather should exploit his idea to the full when they docked at Philadelphia. And so, Jacques Goetz's fortune was made even before he landed on the shores of the New World.
... My father, the youngest in the family, neglected his studies. At the age of eleven he was expelled from school due to his abominable spelling. This seemed of little importance to him.
He became an apprentice mechanic and found a job in the brand-new bicycle business. He devoted his spare time to cycle racing. Numerous trophies stand as testimony to his cycling prowess. His intensive training led to health problems. When he was twenty years old, he had to have a change of climate because of his troublesome lungs and this was to affect all aspects of his life: the simple workman, the uneducated cyclist, the boy expelled from school at eleven. At Denver, Colorado where he stayed for a number of years, he led a semi-intellectual existence, earning a pittance reporting for the local newspapers, and all this from someone who could supposedly not master spelling. He felt inspired by the works of Mark Twain and O'Henry and this showed in his work. Humour was part of him, and cheerful by nature, he became known among his friends for his wit and repartee and for his constant good nature.
Some time later, fully recovered, he returned to the East Coast where he married my mother. She had been left an orphan in her teens and was brought up by her eldest brother. She had attended art classes (in watercolour) in Philadelphia, her hometown, but these classes served more as relaxation than as an answer to a pressing desire to paint. Four years after they were married, in 1909, I was born in New York where my father had taken up his trade again and where he became the head of an electrical industry plant.
I think that my earliest memory is of receiving a gift from my DIY fanatic of a father; it was a box of tools with which I vainly struggled to fashion the most rudimentary wooden frames. I must have been about four or five years old and, with my usual enthusiastic and optimistic attitude to life, I refused to accept the sheer difficulty of the task ahead of me. I was disillusioned by my own failure.
... My mother, a very neurotic intellectual, was what one might term a quasi-academic. As soon as I was born, she bought two thick tomes on bringing up children. I had the impression of being brought up more by these books than by any maternal instinct.
I remember when I was eight or nine being indoors as it was raining. It was a momentous occasion in my life; I was never allowed to go straight home after school as it was written in those books that children needed a certain number of hours of fresh air a day. This precept was applied to the letter as were all the others. I was not allowed to return before six o'clock exactly and because of this, if I had finished playing early, I would roam the streets biding my time. This rainy day was an unforeseen godsend and I made the most of it by drawing. My efforts were clumsy and I ripped my spoiled drawing to shreds in my anger and asked my mother to beat me. I had been beaten five times in my life and always for the best reasons. These were events then of the utmost importance. Punishment was administered with one of my father's slippers onto my bare behind. Faced with my pleas for punishment for my failure as an artist, my mother referred to her books. I have no idea what she learned in them but I was led to the bathroom where I received my sixth thrashing.
... My dream of fleeing the family nest finally came true when I was eighteen when I left for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston as I hoped to be an electrical engineer. I was an average student but, even then, I began to be interested in art and followed evening classes. My summer vacation, which up to then had been devoted to my work as an apprentice electrician, was from then on dedicated to painting. I was instructed in the art of portraiture by a Hungarian painter and my dearest wish was to become a fashionable portraitist like him. Unfortunately his efforts to teach me did not meet with great success.
With my parents' consent I decided upon a compromise. Having enrolled at Harvard University, I followed History of Art lectures, fuelled by the notion that I might one day become a museum administrator. I spent most of my time in the Fogg Museum where art classes were held and I finally realised that my intended career was that of an artist. The following year I left University to follow a course at the Grand Central Art School in New York where I enrolled for the morning, afternoon and evening sessions to make up for lost time.
It was there that I met Anne Adams, who, like me, was studying Art. She had worked in the Paris academies. That was all it took to trigger a longing in myself to do the same. My parents reluctantly gave their permission and I left on a cargo ship at the beginning of July in 1930. My ticket was bought with money I had put by. When I was young I had worked as a caddy at the local golf club on Sundays and Public Holidays and I also used the money I had earned during the summer holidays as an apprentice electrician.
Comfortably settled into a guesthouse, I set about finding somewhere to work. The day after my arrival, I started attending the Academie Colarossi. I was aiming to divide my time between this studio and those at the Grande ChaumiĂ¨re and Julian Academies. I was not interested in formal art training. I sought only to paint from life and, above all, just somewhere to set up my easel. Portraiture interested me above all but the study of the nude figure helped me in my drawing. The atmosphere in these studios differed only slightly from those in New York.
... After my two year stay in France, punctuated by a trip to New York to collect my belongings as I had decided to stay in Paris forever, I had to return to America: my father was taken ill suddenly. After staying at his side for a whole year I left once more, this time for good as I was never to set foot on American soil again. My father died a few weeks later.
... It was at the Rue Bardinet that my lifestyle took on a more Bohemian tendency. My fellow student, RenĂ© Breteau, lived there with his girlfriend Jeannine. There was also Ibis, a tall blonde girl with glasses and intellectual pretensions, Rassa and Leo Sauvage, and Assige the old artist, among others. My days were filled with the Montparnasse Academies and my seemingly endless nights spent in bistros frequented by an odd mixture of people. There was little Camille Bryen who wore his hair long which was unusual in that era. He was well known at La Jarry and a surrealist poet of the young artistic set which called itself the "RĂ©verbĂ¨res" and which was practically unknown to the Breton clique. There was also Gilioli, fresh from the Beaux Arts Academy (Fine Arts), enemy of any art form more recent than that of Michaelangelo, his idol, and he would rant out loud walking alone through the streets. My other friends were on the whole undiscovered painters or sculptors and we were all desperately poor. It was Victor Bauer who triggered the second stage of my development. This bizarre character, who was an artist, a psychoanalyst and a little-known politician amongst many other things, was certainly very learned. An authoritarian and an unstable, compulsive liar, he had the gift of making people's talent rise to the surface. He was a genius himself, yet he was limited by the scope of change and confusion of his lifestyle built upon lies. He was surrounded by the good and the bad he had created around him. One day he came to see me and looked at my work which hung on the walls of my studio and for which I had often received polite praise. Suddenly, he grabbed me by the nape of the neck and pushed my face right up to one of my paintings. He said in his Austrian dialect "These are a load of rubbish". Of course, I was deeply distressed by his reaction. As he did not live very far away, I asked if I could pay him a visit. It was through him that I learned of the existence of other artists such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Rouault and others who epitomised the animated style of the era. By seeing him I also became acquainted with Freud's ideas, with left-wing politics, primitive sculpture and avant-garde poetry and music. Thanks to Bauer, I exhibited a painting for the first time in my life in a show in London (where I replaced him), organised by Nesto Giacometti, who was yet to become a publisher of prints.
It was in September 1935 that I met the woman who was to share my life, Christine Boumeester, and to whom I owe my subsequent development. I met her at the Grande ChaumiĂ¨re Academy where I was working from life in the studio which I was destined to run a good many years later. My painting leant towards the modern, which led me to paint the model in yellow, and Christine asked me the reason for this unusual step. Despite my shyness I persuaded her to visit my studio. A few days later Christine moved in with me. She was five years older than me and knew more of life than I did. She was very reserved and uncommunicative, suffering from almost crippling shyness. And yet, she had already mounted her own exhibition in Holland, her adopted country - she had been born and brought up in Java which was still a Dutch colony. Her family could be traced back through five generations in Indonesia, but apart from an English grandmother they had their roots in Holland. Christine's parents were due to visit us in Paris. It was as a result of this that we decided to formalise our relationship. We were therefore married at the Town Hall in the 14th arrondissement. It was a very simple ceremony with Christine's mother and father as our witnesses.
... As for Hartung, I met him whilst Christine was away on a short trip to Holland to pick up her belongings. He called round, saying that he was exhibiting at the same salon as we were and that he was our neighbour.
... Hartung was an abstract painter. I had never come across one before. His paintings intrigued me and I sought to understand them. I spoke of them in my letters to Christine. She had already seen a Kandinsky Exhibition in Amsterdam and so was more informed on the subject than I was, but on her return to Paris she was equally intrigued. There was certainly a direct link between our association with Hartung and the launch of her career towards a more abstract style of paintings less than two years later. As for me. I perceived above all an entirely fantasised world and, following my penchant for fantasy, towards the end of 1935 I started to paint in a way which I felt was abstract, where I strove to create a world far-removed from that around me, but which our neighbour chose to call, with a hint of cynicism, surrealist. It was far from being a compliment on his part since followers of these two movements were strongly hostile to each other. I had never seen any surrealist painting, but I had read a book by AndrĂ© Breton, borrowed from the library at the FranĂ§ois Villon Society where we often went to eat. Situated just behind the Montparnasse Station, the society's aim was to help artists by providing them with lunches and evening meals. The meals were served by Society ladies and cost three francs which meant that struggling artists in the direst of straits were fed in an era when no one could sell his work. I can remember that the fact that Hartung had succeeded in selling a painting in England constituted the main topic of conversation for years to come. Nearly all French painters survived, whether commendable or not, on Social Security. Others did odd jobs such as retouching photographs or painting buildings. I knew few artists; those I had met came from the academies, the Villon Society, and above all from the Salon of the SurindĂ©pendants, the only Salon which welcomed a variety of styles along with the IndĂ©pendants where you were lost in the crowd. Those who were my artist friends of the time were Bedikian, who became a high society painter, BrĂ©teau, who was later to run his own gallery, Bauer, who tried his hand at most things Manuchian, who became a hero of the French Resistance, and Zalma, a colour-blind painter who turned to sculpture. I did not make any friends at the Ozenfant Academy where I worked for two months. And yet I will never forget one Sunday outing to the chĂ˘teau at Chantilly where Ozenfant took his students. I was mesmerised by his boundless knowledge - he was so cultivated a painter. He created a Socratic atmosphere around him.
Despite frequenting various academies, I nurtured the opinion that the teaching of art was a hoax founded on the pretensions of the few to be followed by many. As soon as a teacher appeared intent on putting things right, I made a habit of hiding my work. One day, at the Grande ChaumiĂ¨re, I did not see Fernand LĂ©ger come into the studio where I was working. He corrected my work and I was stunned at the beneficial effects of his comments. All the same, I went to Ozenfant's with a specific goal in mind, on the advice of my friend Hannes Boehmer, a young art historian, who, not unfoundedly, deemed my expression lacked discipline. I think that what Ozenfant primarily brought home to me, as well as that very discipline, was a respect for artistic instruction.
... It was Hartung who introduced us into the circle of avant-garde painters of the era. I admired Kandinsky greatly. A very composed man, he reminded me of Christine's family friends who were mostly doctors or civil servants from Indonesia who had retired to La Haye. His welcoming manner and open mind paid no heed to my youth or my anonymity as a painter. He died at the end of the War and at the time his widow, knowing of my high esteem for her husband and also of my artistic gifts, called upon me to retouch the tiny flaws which his works had developed as a result of their enforced evacuation under the occupation. I set myself up in his studio, and using his paints, his brushes and his pots, I lived out my dream of being him for a few days.
... Apart from GĂ©rard Schneider, Vantongerloo, Szenes and Vieira da Silva, all well known at the SurindĂ©pendants, we saw little of our contemporaries. HĂ©lion, our neighbour, was the only abstract painter of his generation to sell any of his works. He was praised by Jacovsky, the art critic, who had not yet moved on to naĂŻve painting.
... Schneider became one of our best friends, along with Hartung. but we were reluctant to introduce them to each other as GĂ©rard at the time was a sworn enemy of all abstract art, claiming that it did not even exist. It was around 1938 that we took in Hartung. Hans could no longer pay his rent as Hitler had forbidden any withdrawal of money; he slept on the couch in our studio. He worked in Arcueil for the sculptor Gonzalez and ended up by marrying Gonzalez' daughter. I had met Anna Eva his first wife whom he was to remarry many years later. She drew extremely beautiful expressionist pictures rife with a slightly Germanic irony. They had separated on good terms for health reasons. I was witness for his second marriage in Arcueil. We saw a lot of the Gonzalez. Almost every Sunday we would set out for the countryside around Paris, them in their old CitroĂ«n and us in our "VĂ©locar". This was a pedal car to which we later added an engine which took us as far as the Italian border. We had bought it on our way back from a bicycle tour of Holland. Christine pedalled at a much slower pace than I did. I was planning to fasten our two bikes together when I heard that little cars were sold which applied the same basic principle. We bought the demonstration model as it worked out cheaper.
... We continued to see Hartung and his wife Roberta often. His paintings were influenced by Picasso. His drawings were of a very powerful nature and well composed.
Their friend Louis Fernandez became our friend too. We saw him often as, like me, he was interested in pictorial technique yet in a different way from me - almost obsessionally. He wanted us to produce hundreds of studies, each composed of a mixture containing an additional drop of oil to the previous study, with a view to exploring their solidity. His obsessions bordered on the ridiculous: like that of his sketched studies of a cob loaf, embarked upon at the beginning of the War. We saw him again in 1945 and his studies had grown into a roll of paper ten metres long, for as the drawing lengthened, instead of erasing it he affixed another sheet of paper; the bread had gone completely mouldy. On the back of his works he wrote the number of hours he had spent painting each picture. As for the portrait commissioned by Marie-Laure de Noailles, it was carried out in miniature. In a vast landscape was a little cow, very realistically painted, whose head was replaced by that of Marie-Laure.
Castilian and proud of it, he was a deliberately haughty person who fraternised with various personalities of the art world. He often spoke of the "little Miro", obviously referring to the latte r's diminutive frame. Picasso favoured him and bought from him an exquisite drawing of the most outrageous pornography. He had the courage to hang it on the dining room wall in his chĂ˘teau at Boisgeloup.
We held Fernandez in great affection despite his pretensions and obsessions which were so obviously cultivated, as he was convinced they rendered him more interesting. His first wife Esternika, from Smyrne, who spoke a curious 16th century mix of Yiddish and Spanish, supplemented their income by making women's hats. His paintings sold with difficulty to dealers who seemed never to keep their promises which was an eternal source of money worries.
To outward appearances a levelheaded, calm and conventional man, he believed in living to excess. His works were austere, sensitive, intensely personal, silent and deeply moving, owing their mystery to some intangible measured classicism. Or else, in total contrast, they were anarchically violent, directly inspired by Picasso, defying any sense of pictorial logic. We appreciated the former as we felt they were the real expression of our friend Fernandez.
Gonzalez too was prone to his obsessions and his fears. He meticulously declared all the wrought iron he bought from scrap metal merchants in Paris to the City Tax Office at the Porte d'OrlĂ©ans, which was absolutely unnecessary. One day when his taxi driver had overlooked this formality, he made him come back all the way from Arcueil to put it right. He led a frugal life with his daughter and his two sisters. The whole family made little metal objects to make ends meet, but this work, which he considered beneath him, had to remain a secret. One day when he called round to see us at the rue Daguerre, a German friend of ours strongly criticised the bracelet which Christine wore on her wrist - it had been a present from the sculptor and thus we could not tell her where it had come from. The situation was excruciatingly embarrassing.
... Now empty, Hartung's old studio, which had been occupied by HĂ©lion, was rented out to the BrĂ©as. This was to play a crucial part in my life. Juan BrĂ©a and his wife Mary Lowe were both surrealist poets who were members of the AndrĂ© Breton group. The former, tall, swarthy-complexioned and witty, was a spectacular character. A Cuban, he spoke an unrecognisable French and wrote poems in a West Indian tinged Spanish. His wife, who was Australian, blonde, intelligent and equally as witty, spoke a French she had been taught in a Swiss boarding school. She translated her husband's poems into an approximation of French which I tried to correct, and Breton himself added the finishing touches. The pre-war period in which xenophobia was rife must have inspired his poem "France for the French, Paris belongs to us". BrĂ©a had commendable ideas for surrealist structures, but as he was clumsy with his hands, and rarely sober, he asked me to carry them out. I recall a huge matchstick which I built from wood and plaster, with a little door in it. Inside was an empty box of matches. But my favourite of these, which sadly I did not have the time to execute, was an electric doorbell, shaped like an ear, inside which was the bell push. We arranged a dinner party, to be held in the two studios, to which Breton and his artist wife Jacqueline Lamba were invited. BrĂ©a had set the table with toothbrushes and combs among the usual cutlery. I had fallen out with Breton over my paintings which I considered abstract whilst he insisted on interpreting them in the most banal realistic forms.
Among the surrealists we had befriended Oscar Dominguez, who had a slight deformity and was constantly intoxicated. He was a very talented painter and a true poet of the plastic arts. He was the first to discover the surrealist use of transfers and fragmented sculptures which could be reassembled according to the nature of one's own fantasy, and numerous other ideas which were later adopted by others. He was also responsible for teaching us how to forge identity papers which determined our future role in the Resistance. His selflessness, his exuberance, his ill health and misfortune, all combined to make his career a difficult one. His suicide after the War put an end to his troubles.
He had arrived in Paris from his native Canary Islands as a representative for his father's trade as a banana farmer but soon discovered he preferred to earn his living as a commercial artist. Of an exuberant nature, he enjoyed drinking and was living it up in Montparnasse where he was the epitome of the scandalous bohemian artist. He was afraid of nothing. I remember one day on the beach at Golfe-Juan when having dragged all his friends into the sea by their feet, he did not hesitate to do the same to a woman who did not belong to his party. In Czechoslovakia his cheek earned him a broken arm as one woman reacted strongly by sending him flying down a flight of steps. Jeannette Tanguy, Robert Rius, Ubac and his wife Agny, Manuel Viola, Benjamin PĂ©ret, his wife RĂ©mĂ©dios and HĂ©rold, were my good friends among the surrealists. Jeannette Tanguy, who, like her husband, enjoyed indulging in drink a little too often, was in Paris under the Occupation. Yves Tanguy had gone to America with the Princess de San Faustino and left her with nothing but the studio in the Rue des Plantes. She now shared her life with a young carpenter who professed a deep admiration for Tanguy's works, to the point that he would paint pictures from sketches prepared by the artist, Jeannette sometimes succeeded in passing off these works as her husband's and selling them, but it was not easy. Once, we helped her do it.
Dominguez could convincingly forge the works of the better-known surrealists which helped him in the troubled times of the Occupation. I think Rius helped him to sell them.
Robert Rius, a young poet, had played an integral part in the group before the War broke out and worked alongside Breton to the extent that he was practically considered as his personal assistant. His poetical works were interesting. Executed as a member of the maquis towards the end of the War, he is unjustly forgotten by those who owe him so much. Raoul Ubac and his wife Agny were equally active in all the group's activities of the time. Ubac contributed his expansive poetical culture, his integrity and his measured style of behaviour, both on the practical and theoretical levels, whatever the situation.
... Benjamin PĂ©ret, who lived a little too much in Breton's shadow, was among the best surrealist poets. As violent as his poems, he was also consciously courteous and withdrawn yet at the same time he had the air of an undisciplined student about him. I can remember the chairs which we stole from the terrace of a bistro late at night in order to make a fire back at our studios. Spurred on by him to commit this crime, so alien to my nature, I was full of regret the following day. I admire PĂ©ret's poetry for its purity and inner aggression. RĂ©mĂ©dios, his wife, a Catalonian from Barcelona, was an excellent surrealist artist whose little revered work remained eclipsed by that of her husband, who did not himself receive the praise he merited either.
... Our first exhibition was held at the Van Leer gallery in January 1937. Taking our courage in both hands, we tucked my paintings under our arms and approached several galleries. Firstly the Nouvel Essor, where we received a cold reception, then on to the Zak gallery, where the artist's widow remembered one of my paintings from the Salon des SurindĂ©pendants. I thought the matter was all sewn up but we were advised to see Monsieur Van Leer in the Rue de Seine.
... Among the people Hartung introduced us to was Howard Putzel, a portly man, a lover of the arts who had been the first to introduce to the West Coast of America artists such as Picasso, Miro and Klee, whose works he exhibited in his California gallery. He had great faith in Hartung who was little known at the time. In Paris, he served as Peggy Guggenheim's right-hand man. Mrs. Guggenheim had come to Paris to found a Museum of Modern Art, following her uncle's example in New York. Discouraged by the excessive administrative formalities in France she founded it in Venice once the War was over. At an informal dinner which Putzel held in the hope of drawing Mrs. Guggenheim's attention to several young artists, we awaited this lady for an hour. Our works were displayed on the wall, the table was set. When she finally arrived, without any apology for her lateness, she glanced disappointedly at my pictures which by chance hung directly facing her, and declared that the sight of my paintings would probably keep her awake all night as they were so awful. This threw a cloud over the proceedings which even the meal could not hope to lift.
... Madame Jeanne Bucher started out in the Rue d'Assas library. It was her colleague and friend, Jean LurĂ§at, who gave her the idea to handle paintings as he had left his own with her. Surprised at having sold them, she gradually became an art dealer. I felt that she responded more to the artists' personalities than their work, but her intelligence coupled with her flair made her the best promoter of progressive art on the Left Bank. She was absolutely selfless: as soon as one of her protĂ©gĂ©s seemed to reach a certain level she would refer him to a gallery more suited to selling his work. This was how Vieira da Silva was accepted by the Pierre Gallery. We had gone along with her to the opening of the France Gallery. Monsieur Martin, one of her past clients, refused to have anything to do with Kandinsky's work, for various reasons which he must have deeply regretted later. I had endeavoured to introduce Mme Bucher to Domela's work which we greatly admired; his severe style seemed cold to her as the poetry it conveyed escaped her. Her gallery was a real treasure-trove of modern art. As for the previews she held, nothing could be further removed from the fashionable events of the time: the privileged few were discreetly asked into the kitchen where they were seated on a long bench and served tea and biscuits.
Among the notorious artists in Paris - and there were many - was Oelze, a very talented German. He could not speak a word of French although he had lived in France for ten years, and so Breton found him of little interest as he rated the art of conversation above all else. I can remember the contempt in Oelze's eyes as he spoke to me of Dali in 1936 as I had never heard of him before. I had met Oelze through Henri Nouveau who at the time was still known as Neugeborn. A musical composer, Nouveau saw himself as an amateur artist, but his paintings which resembled those of Klee a little too closely, impressed me greatly. I think he was the first of the new wave of artists that I had met. Shortly after the War was over, I wanted to introduce him to Jeanne Bucher but he did not feel that he was ready.
... The movement within our lifestyle and circle of friends went hand in hand with the changes our work underwent. When she arrived in Paris in 1935, Christine already expressed in her work a world which seemed deeply personal. In all its refinement and daintiness, this incredibly realist vision seemed borrowed from the lines of a discerning poem. Far more than she painted, she drew many landscapes, portraits, still lifes and ivory miniatures which she was commissioned for. All was seen as through a filter of refined sensitivity. She deemed that she had yet to fully master the use of colour although its use seemed highly refined in her work. She liked to experiment with a variety of techniques, partly through curiosity but also because of her adventurous attitude to art. She had qualified as an art teacher at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in La Haye. She had been accepted the first time she went in for the examination which was a rare occurrence indeed. And yet teaching did not attract her and she had only given a few private lessons throughout her career. As for me, after concentrating on portraiture, which started out as conventional but gave way to an expressionist streak, I had started to branch out into landscapes and still life around 1935 but always in an expressionist vein.
Hartung influenced us both to tackle abstract subjects, Christine in her enchanted world, and I, leaning towards the obsessional and in a surrealistic frame of mind. We were drawn towards experimental techniques, such as sgraffito. As for me, it must surely have been my visit to Holland in 1936 which prompted me to use the techniques of the Renaissance, such as mixing egg to my paints and using imprimatura preparations. Christine had produced many lithographs and etchings in Holland, and, a little later, she taught me the basics of these fascinating techniques.
I became more and more interested in surreal experimentation. A short while before the War broke out I hit upon the idea of working in my egg-based paints on colour reproductions of paintings by the masters, which brought me into the collective art so dear to the Breton Group, but through a posthumous collaboration. My "corrected masterpieces" as Breton derisively called them, were due to be exhibited in the Autumn of 1939. Unfortunately, the War put paid to my plans.
... I can remember a conversation I had with Uhde who had come round to see us and was waiting for Hartung. He told us of his dislike of Hartung's work and indeed of all abstract art. Breton equally abhorred abstract art and in particular that of Mondrian. The trend for this type of art was to modify his opinions as soon as the War ended.
We were in the South of France at the outbreak of War. We stayed in the Dordogne for a few months, painting and steeping ourselves in prehistory.
... Paris became a land of air raid warnings and gas masks, where fear was the ruler. Many of our friends were under colours. AndrĂ© Breton in army officer's uniform seemed to turn my world upside down. Dominguez and PĂ©ret brought along their surrealist friend, Manuel Viola, to see us; a young Spanish poet who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Having joined the French Army of his own free will, he refused to be part of the Foreign Legion. He was considered a deserter. This was to be our first encounter with lawlessness. Throughout the months that he stayed with us we trembled each day as we heard on the radio that the punishment for harbouring a deserter was the death penalty without trial. As he got bored with having nothing to do all day, I made him copy line for line some of Rembrand's etchings. These turned out to be the first steps in his future career as an artist.
... Eventually we left with RĂ©mĂ©dios, Benjamin PĂ©ret's wife. I can still see her now sitting on the folded down hood of our old CitroĂ«n cloverleaf convertible in her white coat blackened by the smoke released by the Germans to camouflage their crossing of the Seine. Her deep-set eyelids had remained white, whilst the rest of her face was black, making her look like a ghost. We drove her to Perpignan, entrusting her to a surrealist group who were staying with the poet Robert Rius, then we returned to Carcassonne to rejoin the Belgian group, among them Magritte and Ubac. The latter became then, as he is now, our great friend.
Like all the photographers of the period, he became a painter. His first drawings were clearly influenced by Christine's work. Magritte's cynicism endeared him far less to us.
...Of the Carcassonne group, I liked Ubac the best. He seemed to me to be a genuine person, of great intellectual integrity. There is a moving purity in his works which was also reflected in his extraordinary eyes. Although he had studied painting in his youth, he devoted himself exclusively to the art of photography before the War. He was well-known among the surrealists for his photographs of objects which took on an unusual relief from his use of a single spotlight. Shadows deep in a thick layer of gelatine were then photographed in stark bright light thus giving them the appearance of a bas-relief, a little like a fossil. Several photos of his wife and of the Eiffel Tower and Paris Opera House rank among classic surrealist works. A complete change occurred in Ubac's character when he became a painter and especially when he became a sculptor. From an intellectual embracing the ideas of the Breton group, both literary and political, he became solitary and churlish, antagonistic to anything outside the plastic arts. All that remained from his photography was a great respect for technology and great integrity. Ubac's work reflects this mystical purity, this almost fanatical integrity, which springs from his Germanic origins. He was a Belgian from MalmĂ©dy, a town which was ceded to Wallonia at the end of the 1914-88 War. In Ubac were united a Latin love of simplicity with the mystical leanings of the German people. His works have the fascination of idols and the purity of primitive monuments.
... Shortly after we returned to Paris, Christian Dotremont came to stay with us in our new studio in the rue Notre Dame-des-Champs.
... Christian Dotremont was a very young Belgian poet and a great admirer of Rimbaud - he had slept on his tomb during his long walk from Brussels. He had first of all gone to Eluard's studio. Eluard was always welcoming and generous and he had given him money for clothes and even a very rare record on which he recited his poems of the Spanish Civil War. Dotremont stayed with us for several months. He joined in our Resistance work, composing leaflets on our rudimentary printing press. These were printed on post office forms, sheets of lavatory paper and even sometimes on ordinary paper. We distributed the forms in the post office boxes and between the pages of the telephone directories; the lavatory paper in the dispensers in cafĂ© lavatories and the ordinary sheets on church pews. The posters we made together were pasted on walls by Christine and myself using an ingenious method we devised ourselves. I had a pot of glue in my jacket pocket, and Christine and I would pretend to embrace the way lovers do whilst I pasted the poster onto the wall. However, our main work in the Resistance was forging identity papers. The network was well organised. Each week I would take a parcel containing the work we had done to a certain Monsieur FranĂ§ois - I never knew his real name - who would ask me for a light in the little park at Denfert-Rochereau. At the same time he would give me a new package containing our new instructions. There was no risk.
... With Dotremont and Ubac we founded "La Main Ă la Plume" in our studio on the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, the first surrealist publication to appear under the Occupation. Breton had left for America, strongly criticised by the young who stayed in Paris. I defended him up until the day he became a broadcaster on American radio, because in his own view previously this action was among the most unworthy he could have taken. With Jean-FranĂ§ois Chabrun already at their head, the young surrealists met at the Closerie des Lilas.
Georges Hugnet, the poet-bookseller, was installed in the Jeanne Bucher Gallery building and became a great friend of ours. It was at his place that we met Paul Eluard, whom we liked very much, and whom we were to see a great deal of later. When America finally entered the War, we were living in small hotels in Paris. Thanks to Hugnet I did some watercolour illustrations on the blank pages of de luxe editions for several bibliophiles. Eluard was amongst them. Installed in a minute room in a former convent on the rue Lhomond, I felt like a medieval monk working on his illuminated manuscripts. We also did lithograph illustrations for a work by Georges Hugnet published by the Jeanne Bucher Gallery. It was my first published work. Hugnet wrote his text by hand on lithographic transfer paper. Christine's illustrations were whole-page; mine were mixed in with the text as a complement to it.
At the same time as our book was published, Hugnet published a small book on Picasso. We went to Picasso's house with him to have the 25 de luxe copies signed. I shall always remember this impressive signing as the painter signed each one with a small pencil with a multi-coloured lead, and each time he signed a book he would take it to the window to study the effect of this colour mixture. This was our first meeting with Picasso, who invited us to come again. My second visit - still to the rue des Grands-Augustins - left me with an unforgettable memory. Seeing he was surrounded by people in his bedroom which served also as antechamber, I went to look at the paintings on the wall in the extension to this room thinking he had not seen me. He was suddenly beside me telling me how pleased he was to see someone who was truly interested in painting. Dropping all "these boring people" he invited me to visit his studio where we spent the whole morning, and made me promise to come back and see him soon.
It was shortly after the death of his old friend Gonzalez. He showed me a painting of a skull that he told me he had done when he came back from the funeral. He was very sentimental: Manuel Viola told me that among the thousands of objects he accumulated around him was a piece of string which had been tied around a parcel given to him by Apollinaire. Everything for him had a meaning. This visit was the beginning of a very long friendship full of precious memories for me.
At Hugnet's we met quite a few artists who were rather fashionable, such as his wife Germaine, the painter Valentine Hugo, whom we liked very much, the lady poet Lise Deharme, the men of letters Francis Ponge and Maurice Blanchot, part of a world we had not known until then. Georges Hugnet was a rather complicated personality, suffering from psychological problems to which could be attributed his avarice and his almost dishonest ways. Yet his friendly warmth and vast know ledge made him an engaging person.
... It was at PĂ©ret's that we met a Czech surrealist poet with whom I argued on the very same night. This was quite extraordinary since I never argued with anyone. The event although appearing trivial seemed ominous. We made him false papers a few months later, oblivious to the fact that he used a multitude of different names. When he was arrested by the Germans they discovered his illegal situation. In the hope of being dealt with more leniently, he informed on all the small surrealist group who were to meet at Chabrun's a few days later. They were all put into prison. Among them were Ubac and Viola. In the latter's pocket they found a note I had written giving instructions on forging identity cards for her friend, a deaf Jew who was well known in Montparnasse. I had not dared to carry out the deed myself as it had seemed too dangerous. The Germans, who were looking for us after our caretaker informed them of our precipitated departure, thought that we belonged to the Intelligence Service. The truth of the matter was we knew no more than they did about the USA entering the War, which we had deduced from the announcement that War had been declared on Japan. Sought by the Gestapo, we crossed the demarcation line and went to the CĂ´te d'Azur to visit Sonia Delaunay, Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber.
I had always admired Arp's work greatly, both his sculpture and drawings as well as his poetry. The artist was the very mirror image of his output. From him emanated a personality which was highly amusing, of a simple repartee peppered with childish ditties. As well as being a worrier who tried to excel in all fields, he loved to joke, but always on a childish level.
... We had no ration books and no money. In a part of the country where food was scarce as it was at the terminus of the railway line, we were terribly hungry. I fed myself on animal fodder, which was obtainable without coupons. I made it into rissoles mixed with water, fried them without fat and swallowed them almost without chewing as the taste was nauseating. Christine could not bring herself to do the same. One day she collapsed against a window and cut her face. We were almost resigned to leave for America, but while the American Consulate was examining our case the German Army invaded the neutral zone putting paid to the Consulate.
... One day I acknowledged a tall young man whom I saw in the street and whom I thought I recognised. Thinking back, I remembered meeting him at Fred Klein's, who was an outstanding Dutch painter. I had forgotten our first encounter had fared so badly, which could have been the shape of things to come. Nicholas de Stael - for that was who it was - lived in Nice with the talented artist, Jeannine Guillou.
... We encouraged him to paint and discover the world of the abstract. His first painting in this vein, along the lines of an idea which was very dear to me was a joint effort between Christine, his wife and me, but we left him to complete it. We found out he was very talented. Using liberal strokes with the palette knife he continually destroyed what work he had done and which I already found very beautiful. The de Staels had become our closest friends. We saw very few people.
... Apart from Wulfert and Sinemus, we often saw Jacques Matarasso and Chounette, his wife, whom we introduced to the de Staels.
... All during our clandestine activities no one knew our assumed names nor where we lived, not even members of our family. It is thanks to this that we were safe from harm. We arrived in Cannes where I took on several menial jobs, the most irksome of which involved sawing slabs of sandstone by hand. I started early in the morning and worked through until six o'clock in the evening. The stone was called a "soft" stone but I found it extremely difficult to believe it was. I had to leave that job when Christine caught typhoid. In our illegal situation there was no question of her being admitted to hospital, but a doctor friend whom we trusted was willing to help. We paid him in pictures.
... We finally obtained genuine identity documents under our assumed names, as all the French had to change their identity documents at the Town Hall. I found the new papers less well made than our old ones which we had made ourselves.
... It was at this time that I was able to call in on Pierre Bonnard frequently as he lived in Le Cannet which was where my designated town hall was located. I took him his ration book and at the same time introduced myself under my real name as an artist. He was a very composed man, of advanced years. He had a young voice and was of sound judgement when talking of painting. Looking at our pictures, he remarked that if artists of his own generation departed from objective reality towards an inner equivalent in themselves, and those belonging to ours departed from their inner beings towards a reality they had created for themselves, he did not see why we could not meet halfway. On learning that I was preparing some lithographs for a book which I wanted to submit for publication but was faced with the impossibility of obtaining materials in wartime, he suggested sharing his own with me, and offered to cut his pencils in two and also to give me transfer paper. Thanks to him, I was able to accomplish the ten lithographs in "Explorations" where each one explored the preceding one's space by penetrating it further. Illustrated with poems by Picabia on the same theme, the book was eventually published in 1945.
Francis Picabia and Olga were our closest friends during the Occupation. The artist's company was stimulating, peppered with sparks of genius, although a little disillusioned at times. He lambasted abstract art which he claimed to have invented in 1909 with his painting "Caoutchouc" (Rubber) which in my opinion looked very much like a vase of flowers. His conversations were almost always based on paradoxes but as his statements continually contradicted each other you had the impression you were going around in circles in a fantasy world. I think this was how after launching a venomous attack on all abstract art, he ended up a part of it from then on and continued to do so until his death. He often began his paintings as a challenge or practical joke which then became serious, ensnared him and finally absorbed him commanding complete dedication. And so his "les points"(Dots) period might be explained during which he produced exquisite pieces of work. One Spring day, Olga telephoned us to say that Francis had gone mad. He had taken long-completed works and painted tiny flowers all over them to put him in the mood of the season. One of these was to become a great work of art; I admired it so much that he gave it to me. His generosity knew no bounds as with everything else about him. He wrote hundreds of letters to Christine whom he liked very much, and also some to me, and gave us many of his works. He dazzled us with his stimulating, alert mind. Christine and he painted a picture together where each destroyed what the other had painted at the previous session. Christine had the last word: there were only five dots painted by Francis' hand which were lost in a dense glaze. In his ritual contradictory manner, he spoke well of the Germans to his friends as they were all against them, but in front of those in their favour he was bound to condemn them with the same passion. This brought him problems when France was liberated. I did all I could for him to leave for Paris but he refused to do so, stating that he had done nothing incriminating, which was absolutely true. On the contrary, he had helped out friends in the Resistance when they were in danger at great risk to himself.
... Everything was paradoxical and contradictory with Picabia. You could not state something about him without the reverse being equally true. There could be no one more precise or who so revered precision. He liked to take watches to pieces so that he could then repair them and each time he came to visit us he amused himself by sharpening the knives or scissors.
... Apart from the Picabias, we knew RenĂ© Laporte and his wife who lived in Antibes. We saw them nearly every Sunday, whereupon we were able to recapture the pre-war spirit.
... We very much liked RenĂ© Laporte's writings and thought he deserved more recognition. He never obtained it as he died as the war ended, run over by a lorry.
Our friends were now scattered far and wide and a new generation was starting to replace them who knew little of pre-war values. We were seen as yesterday's people. We got in contact with Ubac and Aguy again, along with Manuel Viola who had been living with Laurence since the loss of her husband Robert Rius who had been killed in the Resistance, and we gradually saw more old friends such at Hartung, who, alas had lost a leg. Picabia and Olga soon resurfaced. Madame Bucher still ran her gallery. Masurel, who had bought one of my sketches from her, had also lost a leg. New friendships evolved, such as with Francis Bott and Atlan, my neighbour, who had become a painter at the psychiatric hospital where he had had himself admitted to escape the Germans. He had been a poet before the War and a philosophy teacher with an interest in politics. A very intelligent and highly likeable man, he held meetings in his studio, inviting numerous artists and writers. I saw the Atlans every day and was introduced to their friends. Among them were Clara Malraux, Charchoune, whom I had met before the War, Michel Ragon, an expert in popular literature, whom Atlan had transformed into an Art critic, Marcelle Loubchansky, a likeable painter, William Gear, a Scottish painter who had recently been demobilized, Goebbel and his girlfriend, who were both excellent artists, and a whole host of others. Charles Estienne, who had taken up painting late in life, and RenĂ© Guilly defended the abstract artists in newspaper articles. The latter produced a radio programme on the national channel, called "The World of Paris". Ubac took charge of the poetry section. All facets of Art were covered. They called upon me to cover the section on painting, as all those eligible to do the work were impossible to locate.
I agreed to do the broadcasts â€śthe first in France, I thinkâ€ť, to be dedicated entirely to painting. Each week, I would visit a studio. In this way, I met Picasso, Braque, Brancusi, Kandinsky, Gonzalez, Picabia, Max Ernst, and many others. The only programme I was denied, on the grounds that the artist was not well known enough, was on Hartung. I also reported on exhibitions. The work of a young artist had caught my eye at the Salon des SurindĂ©pendants, that of FranĂ§oise Gilot. The name meant nothing to me, but Picasso introduced me to her at my exhibition the following year. He was living with her, which I had not known. After broadcasting for six months, I gave way to Clayeux, who in turn gave way to Charles Estienne when he was appointed artistic director at the CarrĂ© gallery. I signed a contract with a publishing house in Paris for my forthcoming book on my radio series. I collected all the necessary photographs for the project, but, on reflection, I decided that such a book, written by a painter, seemed misplaced, and so I with drew it. I came across the contract recently, whilst sifting through my belongings, and was astonished to discover that it had been signed on behalf of the editor by none other than FranĂ§ois Mitterand. He must have been young at the time, and I do not remember much about him.
Our greatest friend of the time was Francis Bott, whom we met through Greta Sauer, as they were both German. She herself had been the girlfriend of Will Wendt, an excellent pre-war painter. His talent was never recognised for its true worth. Greta Sauer found it equally as hard to live of her painting. Their nationality did little to ease the situation.
Francis Bott, a very intelligent and cultured self-taught painter, had spent his youth as a tramp. He had even been secretary of the International Society of Vagrants, or something like that, if I remember rightly. He did not know many people from artistic circles, apart from Soulages, whom he had met in Montpellier during the War, and introduced us to him. As Christine and I detested entertaining at home, we received friends every Saturday evening at the Bott's home. It was there that we met Yves Bonnefoy, a young independent surrealist poet who had founded a very entertaining and courageous magazine, and painters such as Dauphin, Bovet, Antoine Duhamel (who became a musical composer) and many others. We had persuaded Doctor Audoli, our sole regular buyer, to come, who then began to buy Bott's work before Madame de Rothschild became his Patron. On one particular evening, I took his side in an argument with Clayeux, who was later to become director of the CarrĂ© gallery in an affair where he was in fact indefensible. As a result, I lost touch with Clayeux, who, in a way, had become our patron. Later on, for similar reasons, we stopped seeing the Botts.
Among the artists Picabia introduced me to, and whom I saw frequently after that was Brancusi.
... He looked like the stereotype image of God, with his white beard. Everything was white in his studio, which was filled with his sculptures which he sold for extortionate amounts, though rarely. He considered all natural things to be of superior quality. Picabia told us of the time when Brancusi came to visit him at the ChĂ˘teau de Mai in the South of France and fell ill.
He claimed to have discovered a spring of water which possessed healing qualities, but which was later found to flow from a cesspit! He had very personal ideas on sculpture, fundamentally liking only his own. According to him, Michaelangelo was devoid of talent. He was angry with Paris, and indeed with all of France, so unbalanced was his rage, because of the furore over his sculpture called "Princess X" which was the portrait of Princess Bonaparte. The work was withdrawn from the Salon d'Automne to prevent a possible public outcry. As a result of this incident, the sculptor vowed never to exhibit again in Paris, and when Yvonne Zervos came to ask him to exhibit at the large exhibition she was organising at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, we quaked in our boots, thinking we were to witness the ritual explosive refusal. As meek as a lamb, Brancusi agreed, his reaction as unpredictable as ever. One day I took my pupils from the Fontainebleau Conservatory to see him. He was in a foul mood and whilst pointing at one of my students he shouted: "He is an architect and I detest architects." This was indeed so, and I tried my best to convince the student that he was joking, which was not the case.
... He lived alone and did everything himself; he look pride in his cooking, did the housework and even took his own photographs of his own work, which he then developed himself in his darkroom. We never knew him to have had any involvement with the opposite sex.
Gertrude Stein came to visit us one day, along with the Picabias. I found her highly pretentious. Above all, I did not like her authoritarian manner of judging artwork, and I did not react to her proposal to handle my works.
... The salon des RĂ©alitĂ©s Nouvelles was conceived before the War from a joint effort between SidĂ¨s, former antique dealer, Yvanhoe Rambusson, a man of letters and Nellie Van Doesburg, whom we called Petra, widow of the artist who was the founder of the De Stijl in Holland, a very brave act at the time. It brought together works by all the abstract artists. One year, I was obliged to be a member of the accepting panel for the Salon much as I had always steered clear of this kind of committee. Our only task was to decide whether the submitted work was truly abstract. That was the only criterion.
... Herbin was a small man with a ruddy complexion, known for his strict principles and quick temper. He was of Picasso's generation, and although he was one of the forerunners of abstract art, he had also been a member of other movements along the way. Before the War, he had exhibited in the Salon des RĂ©alitĂ©s Nouvelles, a very sectarian place which gradually opened up to house abstract artists' work. Hartung burned to be included and he succeeded in having a few of his abstract works accepted, whose dates corresponded to the programme, but they did not appear in the catalogue, as he was not well-known enough.
... Out of all the Salons, the most democratic and interesting for highly contemporary art was the "SurindĂ©pendants". As with its forerunner, the "IndĂ©pendants", anyone could exhibit their work as there was no jury. Apart from showing the work of too many artists, the problem with this last salon lay with their chaotic picture-hanging system, which was sometimes based on alphabetical order, sometimes on nationality or on painting size. At the "Surs", classification was by artistic style. Almost without exception, all the artists considered significant to art as a whole nowadays exhibited there. Later on, they were pushed out by the harsh but necessary ruling that artists could not exhibit in the other Paris salons: as the Salon was situated at the Porte de Versailles visitors would not make the effort to go if they could see the same artists' work in the centre of Paris.
Ubac was due to exhibit at the 'Galerie des Deux Iles', zealously run by Mme Bank, who later became Mme. Brown, but, with his usual unselfishness he suggested that he be replaced by Albert Flocon, a brilliant engraver who worked in the commercial art agency run by Vasarely. Mme Bank added other artists to Ubac and Flocon, including Christine and myself and it was thus that the group 'Graphies' was born. This group was made up of engravers of all ages and specialities, such as Villon, Vieillard, Germaine Richier, Vulliamy and Fautrier and was completely democratic, without president or committee. We staged numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. Flocon took on the role of secretary. The works were stored in our studio, rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in the heart of Montparnasse.
... During the War, Vasarely had taken his first steps in painting by creating small works, very skillfully painted, whose main characteristic was the Trompe l'Oeil technique. He had persuaded Denise RenĂ© to open a gallery in the apartment which she used as a millinery workshop. The first exhibition at the gallery was Vasarely's. Denis RenĂ© showed me his works one day when I came to do a radio report on the Max Ernst exhibition which was to follow it. I liked Vasarely's miniatures as much as his later, very different works which brought him worldwide fame. Each of his works, perfectly constructed and painted contained a certain magic, haunting ingredient which gave it an indisputable presence. We asked him to exhibit with us and our friend, Francis Bott, at the Breteau Gallery.
During 1947, I had seen a lot of the surrealist group led by Breton on his return from America. He had got to know of my works once again, as they were reproduced in the 'Cahiers d'Art', thanks to Paul Eluard. Paul Eluard was very receptive to painting and much more sensitive to art than most literary men. He was very cultured, and as knowledgeable about art as about literature. His poems were very elaborate and vibrated with life and passion intensified even more by his deep, melodic voice when he recited them.
This marvellous poet was the friend of artists. He had written many poems dedicated to the artists in his circle of friends and owned a very interesting collection which I loved to view in his dark apartment on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. Eluard heatedly defended his political beliefs as a poet more than as a politician preoccupied with logic. Nutsch, his wife, had a natural gracefulness, which highlighted her charming air of mystery and her fragile beauty. I admired Paul Eluard's natural open-mindedness devoid of snobbish prejudice and his love of artistic culture. He complained, as I did, of the lack of culture in the post-war artists. An ardent book lover, he had the kindness to commission me to illustrate in watercolour, a volume of the 'Cornet Ă DĂ©s' by Max Jacob. He had asked the latter for a copy of a very rare edition which he had bound in parchment. After the war he recommended me to Christian Zervos. He in turn received me most warmly and asked me for a photo of a painting for the 'Cahier d'Art'.
... I exhibited a painting and a showcase at the International Surrealist exhibition at the Maeght Gallery, but felt that my painting was out of place there. In the showcase, I placed a bone that PĂ©ret had asked me to cover with a painting representing 'Le RĂ©veil' (The Awakening) by DĂ©taille, a forged identity card - the photo representing the countryside and distinguishing marks included 'a few trees'; as well as a terracotta bowl in the shape of a woman's breast, entitled 'The Symbol'. All this sprang much more from a playful mind than a really surrealist one. I henceforth detached myself from the group. A long time later, by chance, I found myself sitting next to Breton at the cinema. I felt he was embarrassed, not certain whether we were antagonistic to each other or not; we cordially shook hands, but I found nothing to say to him.
My first big exhibition was held at the Breteau Gallery, my dear old friend turned art dealer. This was thanks to the intervention of Henri Pierre RochĂ©.
... It was also at this exhibition that a youth in military uniform (he was doing his military service), noticed the lithographs of my book 'Explorations', in which each illustration merged into the previous one. He thought this idea would transfer successfully to the cinema form and asked if he could make a film of it. This was Alain Resnais's first film, which I showed to Gaston Diehl, who was searching for a producer for a film on the life and works of Van Gogh, for which he had been officially commissioned. The film about me pleased him. The Van Gogh film won first prize at the Venice Biennial and helped its creator receive the recognition he deserved.
Alain Resnais was very quiet, perhaps even shy, but would often suddenly express a paradoxically explosive opinion. His cultural knowledge was enormously artistic as well as literary, his library was always well stocked. He collected comic-strip books from a very young age and was a master of his craft as a filmmaker. He had studied at the I.D.H.E.C. and had a great admiration for Madeleine Rousseau, a lecturer there, who was also one of our great friends. An 'Eminence grise' of painting, her opinions were respected by a number of famous dealers. She edited a very readable review.
... Alain Resnais, unusually self-effacing, detested all publicity and was very reserved about his private life. His health was very fragile as he suffered badly from asthma and spent half his time confined indoors. I was very surprised to hear that he approved of film censorship. He well understood the powerful effect of the screen on the psychology of the masses. He himself fell victim to political censorship for his magnificent film 'Les Statues meurent aussi' (Statues die too), in which I was lucky enough to play a small part. Resnais was very attached to certain rituals which seemed to give him security. Every Christmas we received a present from him - a book or a record which reflected his taste for black, even sometimes morbid, humour. As he always travelled around Paris on his Solex moped, he asked us to drive him to see the dying Cocteau, to pay his last respect as he held him in very high esteem. He often surprised us by his odd habits. Once when we had to drive through the night, he put on his pyjamas, with much difficulty, as he thought it absolutely imperative that he wear pyjamas to sleep. We loved all his films, he invited us to all the first run-throughs, where he would be surrounded by all his friends in a small projection room. Alain's temperament appreciated the ludicrous, contrasting with a nature which was to outward appearances very conventional. This was why he asked me for a photograph I had taken of him wearing a false nose, as he intended to give it to the newspapers at the next interview he gave.
I had another brush with the cinema working with Roger Livet. His wife Marguerite, had worked at the American Consulate in Nice during the occupation, and had helped us with our administrative formalities. Livet had had links with the Surrealist movement well before the war, when he made the film 'Une Regrettable Affaire', which remains one of the great classics in film history at the CinĂ©mathĂ¨que de Langlois. His choice of a career in engineering seemed to alienate him from the rest of the group. A first rate technician, he decided to make the film 'Histoire d'AgnĂ¨s' (The Story of Agnes) using the poetic, even romantic elements of surrealism. He had the ingenious idea of adding the actors to a painted static backdrop, so that they moved in illusory space. My paintings of that period correspond exactly to this idea. I painted quite a few decors for them. Unfortunately, Livet had as little patience with himself as with others, and his self-criticism became self-destroying, The project dragged on for seven years, weakening his poetic support and prompting Bonnefoy to break away. To cap it all the film was released at Studio 28 during the month-long underground strike. It sank without trace. It was a sorry affair.
... Jacques Villon was very modest and kind. He always praised everyone without the slightest hint of pretension. I met him at Camille Renault's restaurant, haunt of many artists. One day, I took Villon to Fontainebleau, to the conservatory where I taught painting. On the way, during our long conversation, I deliberately asked him about one of our colleagues whose work I did not admire. He replied that his engravings had been interesting at the beginning - which was true. He talked at length with my students about the 'Golden Mean', saying it was indispensable to him, but the students made great use of it, a practice of which I disapproved. At the time it was well known that CarrĂ© gave him very little money, although he sold his works at very high prices. He told me he was very happy with his dealer - he lived as he wished and did not want for anything.
... Looking back, that time was what I could call my 'splendid savage' period. I was suddenly aware of naĂŻve painting, children's and non-artistic art. It is Mme Bucher whom we can call the mother of the naĂŻve art movement. She was always won over by any picture with the naĂŻve hallmarks. Throughout the war years, I knew all her protĂ©gĂ©s, including Bauchant, a wily peasant from the Loire Valley. His wiles made him a hard businessman.
... There was DĂ©chelette, ex-painter and decorator, who told me that if he could not earn a decent living from art, he would go back to his old job. His vision of art was very individualistic. He did play on words paintings in Impasto colours, which obviously were to my taste. I remember a particular road where the name plaque said 'AllĂ©e Thiers' on a crooked post. The title of his subsequent picture was: 'Le pot au lait et la laitiĂ¨re' (The Milkjug and the Milkmaid).
We were the only people from the gallery who frequented the naĂŻve artists, who, alas, did not get along with each other due to professional jealousy.
... Our best friend amongst the painters was Narcisse Belle, a market porter. He had the right build too. When he was showing me some of his works at his home, he admitted that he had never set foot in the Louvre, as Mme Bucher had forbidden him to do so. He explained that it was to keep his purity intact.
This was the period of young prodigies such as the poet Minou Drouet. There was also Bahia, the daughter of the daily help to M. McEwen, the director of the British Council. Mr. McEwen promoted highly contemporary art, and organised some fine exhibitions by some of the best artists of the time. At one of Henry Moore's exhibitions, I asked Brancusi with studied casualness, what he thought of it. Rather put out, he turned towards a showcase saying that the watercolours were good.
Amongst the non-painters, there was a country cobbler Gaston Chaissac, who wrote beautifully poetic letters to most of Paris. I received one in which he wrote about a festival in his town, when he dressed up as a Druid, although he did not believe in Druidism. He did however believe in toothache, and dung and he loved tea roses. I found this turn of phrase attractive, if somewhat naĂŻve, and too self-conscious.
I also class Atlan amongst those who took up painting from one day to the next even though they knew nothing of drawing technique and came from a non-artistic background.
... During the War, I thought a lot about so called 'avant-garde' painting. I loathe this term, construed for soldiers, but there is no other as appropriate. It seemed to me that a pictorial synthesis would arise from the credo of abstraction, which was hostile to all figurative art and from its antithesis; surrealism, which is realism in the extreme. My art seemed to push me towards this conclusion. I talked to Denise RenĂ© about my idea after the War. She asked me to organise an exhibition on these lines, which would clarify this. I invited the bright young things of the time, including Hartung, Schneider, Roberta, Gonzales, Ubac, Atlan, Deyrolle and Dewasne. Everybody was in agreement. I heard soon after that Deyrolle and Dewasne had organised another exhibition at the same gallery entitled 'Abstract Painting', which seemed to me to be the negation of my synthesis. I told them all to make a choice as it would be inconceivable to take part in both exhibitions. I was seen as a dictator abusing his authority and was defended only by Ubac, who was more easily persuaded by dialectic. There was a violent discussion in my studio. It was a long time before peace was restored with some of my friends, others still cold shouldered me. On top of all this, Denise RenĂ© resented the fact that I judged it impossible to mount the exhibition. I still believe that I was right. Christine and I did not escape unscathed from the affair.
... Each summer, we spent our vacation in the South of France, in a primitive cottage but with breathtaking views of the EstĂ©rel. We saw Picasso nearly every day - he had settled in Vallauris for good. When I asked him if he had seen the cave paintings at Lascaux, he replied that it was he who had created them - and it was true. Untiring, he seemed to be working every minute of the day, even when he was not. One day, I went to the beach where we met each day, wearing a pair of white socks. I had hardly changed into my swimming trunks when I saw him transform my socks into fantastic sculptures by filling them with wet sand which he modelled with such fervour that he ripped them. His critics accused him of creating an art of ugliness but beauty held no interest for him. I will always remember a conversation between Cocteau, who was above all an Aesthete, and Picasso. The latter proclaimed with venom that he despised beauty, as truth alone mattered. Cocteau, so pliable by nature, transformed by his sheer admiration of the man into a second Picasso, echoed his words in condemning beauty in favour of truth alone. He seemed sincere in this belief.
... Picasso had an innate feel for the medium he was working in. Whilst showing me his ceramics, which had been made from rejected clay, he told me that Matisse, whom he had taken to meet at the RamiĂ©s, had used the same technique but his works had cracked. He had a surer instinct for it, himself.
... One summer, the Albanian photographer Mili came to take some stroboscopic shots, which amused Picasso greatly. This involved waving a torch in the air, or two torches with different coloured bulbs. Their trail image was imprinted on the photograph. Picasso practised this technique all summer. He ended up having mastered it to such an extent that he could draw a bull, by starting at one horn and tracing its outline finishing where he had started from. He must have been able to visualise a projection of his work in the imaginary space where he traced his actual drawing. Mili photographed me several times. I found it all very interesting. We all dabbled in ceramics: Picasso's enthusiasm was contagious. For us youngsters, this all took place in Golfe Juan, at Madame MĂ©ret's, who had a kiln, but Picasso also introduced me to the RamiĂ©s at Vallauris, where he was working. Madame RamiĂ©, whom he saw every day, was devoted to him and acted a little as his personal assistant.
... One day in 1949, my friend Albert Flocon decided to found an academy to teach etching. He asked me to run the painting classes. His plans never reached fruition but that same night, I spoke of them to some young girls who had dropped by with Roger Rimbault. The latter, an old friend, had written the first monograph ever dedicated to me, under the name Lorsky; since then his pen name has been Roger Carrois. One of his friends, Pierrette Bloch, asked if I would be accepting Flocon's offer, and when I replied that indeed I would be, she asked to be my first pupil. Others followed suit, and soon I had to move my class to the neighbouring Ranson academy. Five years later, I left, only to return to my classes at the Grande ChaumiĂ¨re academy, where I was to teach for a further five years. Because of the increasing number of students I taught, I eventually ran two classes. I went through many other academies before founding the Goetz Academy, situated in the former premises of AndrĂ© Lhote's school, next to Montparnasse station.
... I have never charged for my lessons; they gave me a sense of purpose and I enjoyed it and found it broadened the mind. My students came from far and wide: they taught me a lot, and I would like to think the feeling was mutual. Some became excellent artists, and some became fashionable artists, but rarely the same ones became both. ... I was lucky since I never had to do it for a living.
In 1967, Albert Flocon came to dinner with his wife, whom I had taught and whose work I admired. He spoke to me of his work as a teacher at l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts) in Paris. I told him that, despite my long established career in teaching, I had never been offered an official teaching post. He replied that this was not unusual as it was normally the teachers themselves who applied for the available posts. Bitten by curiosity as to whether I was wanted, but not overkeen on belonging to the Ecole, I sheepishly went along to the Ministry where I was warmly received by Monsieur Saint-Jorre. By the greatest stroke of luck, he was familiar with the work I had exhibited at the Hervieu Gallery in Nice, which he had regularly visited when he lived there. I submitted my application without guaranteeing that I would take up any job offered to me. A short time afterwards, his secretary contacted me, offering me Legueult's old teaching post. I accepted. Two weeks later, the May 1968 disturbances erupted. The school closed down. Shortly afterwards, I accepted a post teaching art at the brand new FacultĂ© de Vincennes, influenced by my decision concerning the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Months passed, punctuated by futile palavers.
One day, in a general lecture, one pupil wanted to know how I viewed my teaching methods. In the middle of my explanation, I was asked if I had decided to limit myself to easel painting, to which I replied it was the only method I knew of, but if they knew of any other, I would be glad to oblige, happy that I would be taught something I knew nothing about. I was applauded, which was a rare occurrence. One day when I had become exasperated by the energy wasted in useless discussion, I asked one group if any amongst them painted. And so I collected a number of signatures. With the support of those who had signed, I approached the governing body in the hope of obtaining premises, and in due course, I started my classes. I took on a Japanese assistant, Sachiko Hasada, whose work particularly interested me. She was short, but she had an engaging personality and was very strict, she dominated the 256 pupils who had enrolled on the course. It was thanks to her industrious nature that I was able to survive two years in this constant sea of bickering, where I made a few enemies and a great many allies.
... As well as painting, we did some etching, through which we met publishers, and a few poets. Christine had already illustrated a few books before coming to France. After working together on Georges Hugnet's "La femme facile", and on "Graphies"" and "A la gloire de la main", to which we contributed one lithograph each, we produced a book, illustrating the works of the young poet Clarac SĂ©rou, who had become head of a gallery. The six etchings that were used as illustrations were made entirely by us, but mainly by Christine, on the little printing press Friedlander had given us as a present. Before the War, I had received my first lessons in lithography and etching from Christine who had herself learnt them at the Beaux-Arts Academy in La Haye. She had dabbled in the techniques for years. It was an etcher friend of ours called Dutoit, who encouraged us to take it up full-time.
... I bought a strange wooden instrument, of which I never learned the true function, with the idea of converting it, which we did with a certain amount of success. We used nuts and bolts, and a wooden cross which turned the axle in the large wooden roller. In this way, we managed to run off some copies. As there was not enough pressure coming from the machine, Christine sat on a plank over the roller. This was not very convenient.
During the War, some very beautiful drawings had caught my eye at the Breteau Gallery. They were by a certain Friedlander, and I had remembered the name: the etchings at the Salon de Mai, by the same artist, and which I admired enormously, set me thinking. When I was introduced to him, I asked him to come round to give us some advice. Trying to make a copy on our makeshift press, he fed paper through, but it remained blank. He gave us a small printing press, which he did not use anymore, as a present. The other press I gave to our friend Fin, Picasso's nephew and a great painter, who sadly died too early to establish himself in the Art World. He was adept with his hands, and tinkered with our press until he had greatly improved it.
... We used Friedlander's press to make prints and for illustrating other books, but Christine pursued her favourite pastime of lithography. As for me, after a few more books by Jacques Goldschmidt, including "Nourritures terrestres", I gave up lithography for etching, which Christine practised too. We also designed silk-screens for Goldschmidt, which were printed as well as produced by Vercors, the author of â€śSilence de la merâ€ť, who thus became the great friend that he still is today. He had been an etcher and a draughtsman for a long time, and had his own silkscreen printing company. He had developed his own technique of screen printing, which he called callichromy, to differentiate it from the old established methods. The business was intended to be passed into the hands of his two sons, twin brothers to whom he had thought manual work of this sort would be well received, but, callichromy was not for them.
Vercors who had always enjoyed working with his hands - which was rare in a man of his intellect - had produced a number of silkscreen reproductions of famous works of art. I credit myself with having helped in a particularly successful imitation of one of Picasso's paintings, for which I had acted as go-between. We were at the latter's home in rue des Grands-Augustins when Vercors arrived with a few of his copies, framed like the original. He stood them against the wall and challenged us to pick the original. We all decided on the same one convinced that our choice was the painting by Picasso. We laughed heartily upon learning that he had only shown us his reproductions. He told us that Fernand LĂ©ger had examined one of his gouaches when it was returned and was surprised that the paint was in such good condition. LĂ©ger laughed too upon learning that the work he held in his hands was but a reproduction executed by Vercors.
Magnificent albums were produced before the War by the man who was to write "Silence de la mer" and "Animaux dĂ©naturĂ©s". They were full of spirit and contained graphic work of a rare magnificence, and yet they did not receive much public acclaim. His illustrations reflected the same pride in achievement, and conscientious ardour of his written works.
... In reality, I do not have the attitude of a true engraver, as I lack the necessary patience and methodical ways. It is probably for this reason that I sought other projects more in tune with my character, which hankered after immediate results, and so I invented carborundum etchings which I immediately related to all my friends, AimĂ© Maeght published a manual in which I explained the process, and Miro, who used my methods profusely, kindly offered to write the foreword.
I continued experimenting with these techniques, which meant that a second manual was produced. After many fascinating experiments, all became much simpler, and the process much easier. Recently, I hit upon a way of discarding equipment which was hard to get hold of, such as replacing carborundum by glass, and even an efficient yet hardly practical way of producing prints without a press. I found it essential to make copperplate engraving accessible to all artists. I hope that this process encourages artists to reach a wider public by the use of prints without having to go through the arduous apprenticeship normally involved in engraving. However, it is obvious that no technique could ever rival the purity of a skilfully employed etcher's needle.
Every facet of art had enthralled me all my life. When I was twenty years old, having admired Leonardo da Vinci's drawings for which he had used silverpoint I read up all I could on this old technique. At different times throughout my career as an artist, I had used this method, which allows a refinement of line, but limits one to using the paler shades of grey.
This inspired me to experiment with metals other than silver or gold used in former times, and other combinations of my own invention. The fruits of my research led to drawings both of refinement and chiaroscuro.
A number of painting techniques had always interested me. Pastels allow a direct, spontaneous expression, without using any other instrument, not even a paintbrush, but pose a few problems, the most serious being fixing. Around 1952, in collaboration with my friend Schaeffer, an engineer without whom I would never have found my niche in engraving, I created a pastel fixative which I have since perfected. I have recently found a way of painting which totally agrees with my own technique. I prefer using dry pastels as it is the most direct of techniques. I sketch the work roughly with dry pastels on a canvas treated with acrylic or vinyl emulsion, then I can modify the picture after a provisional fixing. I then use a strong fixative, which would normally have the disadvantage of making the colours paler. On the contrary, this change is beneficial as it helps the unity of the picture by making the tones more harmonious. I then virtually redo the painting with all pastels, re-emphasising the original colours where necessary. A certain vibration comes from the slight difference between the oil pastels and the light pastels beneath which show through thanks to the grain of the canvas. This finished, I paint over everything with my fixative. I then eventually proceed with oils which add depth where necessary.
Throughout my career, I have used different techniques which seemed to agree with my feelings of the time - sometimes using oil paints, excellent for light glazes; cherry gum as they used before the Renaissance; the paint and egg mixture updated by Doerner and various other techniques, perfected by myself. I feel that these experiments serve to stimulate the creative imagination.
... It has always seemed strange to me that so few of my contemporaries are interested in problems of technique. Hartung was an exception to this rule. However, amongst my older friends, most of them were passionately interested in these matters. Picasso had a great knowledge, coupled with an almost innate feel for the materials he worked with, which enabled him to defy most artistic conventions. He once showed me some ceramics which he had done without obeying the 'Rules' - there were neither faults nor breaks in the work. On the other hand, there was Severini, a very conscientious artist, who was equally fascinated by technique. He took copious notes on my pastel research. I went to his studio to fix his pastel drawings with my products and we gravely exchanged our findings. He was a short unpretentious man, very simple and looked almost childlike. He always wore a comical hat that he made every morning out of newspaper. His headgear kept his bald head warm and his crown was unnaturally large. He taught mosaics at the Italian school in Paris, where his student Licata succeeded him. Licata was an excellent technician, as well as an inventive and poetic artist. He taught my engraving class at the academy for a long time with kindness, natural elegance and a good nature which earned him the great affection of his students. He had the same lack of pretension as Severini. I would like to cite Jacques Villon and Survage as well as Braque and Kandinsky as some of my friends and acquaintances of the old school who were interested in the technique.
... We never knew Delaunay. Sonia, his wife, was intelligent and kind; full of energy and great ideas. She was friendly with the Arp and Magnelli families, whom we sometimes saw in the South of France during the Occupation. We were invited by the Magnellis, although most people were afraid to be too friendly with us at that time because our situation was irregular. A reflection of his art, Magnelli was very calm, slightly haughty with a natural sensitivity and rather susceptible. We loved their beautiful house in Grasse and their apartment in the Villa Seurat in Paris, where one could breathe in the worthy majesty emanating from his paintings.
Arp, on the contrary, was neurotic. He was very humorous, sometimes involuntarily, very warm-hearted and endowed with a sensitive and deep nature. His wife, Sophie Tauber, had typical Swiss honesty and simplicity. She was devoted to him. Her artistic vision was very pure.
Looking back, these post-war years seem much more sociable than nowadays. Paris was the very heart of the art world. Without contact with the capital everything seemed dull and boring. This was without doubt a great injustice and an unjustified conceit. We are now suffering the consequences of it which are equally as unjust. Many groups met to debate artistic questions, the main theme generally being the false problem of abstract art. Like Ozenfant, I believed that we should encourage the cultural education of artists, which had been neglected since the First World War. At our AcadĂ©mie Ranson, I organised debates, and brought together keen partisans and vehement enemies of abstract painting. EstĂ¨ve belonged to the latter category. I loved his painting and worried very little about his opinions. Very nervous, glib, preoccupied with slightly theoretical arguments, I was touched much more by his painting than by his personality. Nicholas SchĂ¶ffer, attracted to the bright lights of Paris from his native Hungary, took an active part in the debates. An eminently likeable man, he served to represent the beginning of a move away from the strictly artistic domain. When we knew him he was painting a mystical, sinister picture, in which several people sit around a biblical table, enveloped in a dark brown mist. Soon, influenced by Picasso, these all became monsters; very Picassoesque, but without the true master's structure and inherent power. Following the example of other artists, he began to add metallic plaques to his paintings whose role became more and more important and finally engulfed the work. His metallic constructions bordered on "spatio-dynamism" a pedantic term which pleased him so much that with others of a similar nature, it dominated the talks he gave at our Academy.
Domela was very interested in an art centre on the rue Cujas. Exhibitions and debates were held there frequently encompassing experienced abstract artists and often rather green newcomers. I remember particularly one evening chaired by Madeleine Rousseau, a very attractive woman, full of fervour and ideals for an art which later proved justified. A teacher at the IDHEC, an "eminence grise", sincere, quick-tempered, she spearheaded an effective campaign for the art which she fervently defended, supported by her interesting magazine.
... Soon after the War, there was a certain solidarity amongst the Spanish group in Paris, founded by those exiled by the Spanish Civil War, joined by the Spanish living in Paris, including Fernandez, Dominguez and Fenosa. We liked this atmosphere and frequented most of the artists of the group who had enjoyed great success in Czechoslovakia where Prybil, a painter and employee of the Czech Consulate, had organised an official exhibition for them. Unfortunately, they had not been able to bring out the money they had earned from the sale of their works, and they were in great need of it.
There was also the Dutch-Danish group, Cobra, which Christian Dotremont formed. He dedicated the movement to the "splendid savage" in reaction to the beautiful pre-War Dutch and Scandinavian paintings which were influenced by the "New Objectivity", the German Neue Sachlichkeit, which extolled pictorial affectation, permeated by irritating sensitivity. In our opinion, the nicest and most talented member of the group was Corneille.
... I was made very welcome by Dotremont and Alechinsky, future members of the Cobra group, at Alechinsky's home in Brussels. He had established a type of commune, with quite a few other artists in his father's apartment. As all the bedrooms were taken, I slept in a sleeping bag in the sitting room.
... Like its predecessor the Second World War represents a schism in the world of Art. During the occupation, very few artists rose to fame from obscurity. There was, of course, that exhibition at Braun's on the Avenue de l'OpĂ©ra, when the French artists still remaining in Paris were grouped as the heirs to Cubism and Fauvism with its bright colours. At the end of the war however, new talent emerged, such as AndrĂ© Marchand, an amusing artist creating brilliant effects, who was inspired by Picasso and Dubuffet, a former wine merchant, who based his work on Paul Klee's research. I found his work interesting, but objected to the praise heaped upon him by people ignorant even of Klee's existence. There was a general lack of culture among newcomers to the abstract art movement.
One day, Atlan introduced me to Dubuffet outside the Drouin Gallery, which had become one of the leading galleries in Paris. Dubuffet said point blank, and rather aggressively, "It seems you don't like my paintings." As I was denying this, he replied that he was going to see my paintings at the Maratier Gallery also at the Place VendĂ´me. I went with him. He perused my works in silence. We then went on to see an exhibition of Szobel's work on which he heaped great praise. Out in the street again, he clicked his heels as a wry gesture of farewell and said humorously that Szobel was good but rather too much like Klee. His irony pleased me. There was also Labisse, a jovial man and talented painter, with somewhat dubious taste, but mistrusted by the Surrealists. They favoured more the brilliant Matta, who was a spiritual and agreeable man - full of a fresh enthusiasm whose paintings, although rather intellectual were almost perfect technically and above all very personal. They began to support Riopelle, newly arrived from Montreal. The surrealists enjoyed meeting in a large studio on rue Jacob which I believe had once belonged to Delacroix. Thanks to his lovely Canadian accent and his warm, friendly nature he immediately thawed the surrealist ice which existed around the fascinating shyness of Breton, and his admiring followers. The re-formed group became once more a closed set with excommunications by Breton, sometimes, followed by sudden and often inexplicable changes of mind.
... Around the central official core and the dissidents grouped around Eluard and Aragon were the breakaway groups - one of the best was headed by Yves Bonnefoy, who was modest, intelligent and austere. His poetry was beautiful and unpretentious - a rare quality amongst surrealists. Another group, called Rixe, led by Edouard JaguĂ¨re aided by Clarac-Serou, branched out to foreign countries. My German homonym, Karl Otto GĂ¶tz, a kind and talented painter, was a member.
Surrealist ideas abounded. I was overwhelmed. I remember a visit from a Czech poet who gave me a book of poems in his language which I unfortunately do not understand or speak. I noted down the words and phrases which pleased me and made another poem from them which of course I could not make head or tail of. I sent him my offering which he translated - it was very interesting. We also played surrealist games - my favourite was when we met and each of us painted a picture in the style of his neighbour. I have unfortunately lost the sheets where Picabia painted a fake Goetz and I a fake Dominguez. I cannot remember who Christine imitated. I enjoyed truth games far less, but I admired the sincerity with which they were played which often led to estrangements and arguments when the subject of marital infidelities was raised. Dominguez's transfers amused everyone. In his studio one day, Dominguez stepped on a piece of paper on which he had just spilled poster paint and which crumpled under his foot. When he unfolded the sheet a mysterious detailed design was formed which one could interprete as the inside of a grotto or as anatomical forms. Dominguez was an excellent technician and perfected his invention so that he was able to use the same technique with oil on canvas. As he was talented he managed to make his random chance paintings as meticulous as his transfers, which was no mean feat. He had many imitators, such as Malespine, whose main fault was to limit themselves to this single form of expression. The advantage of this technique was that non-painters such as Breton could also practise it.
After peace was declared everybody felt that new talents would emerge. Bernard Buffet was discovered. RenĂ© Guilly showed us letters from a friend in the country who wrote some fine things about his artistic intentions. When he arrived in the capital we were introduced to him. His name was Georges Mathieu. He lived in a bedsit on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, where he enthusiastically painted huge canvases, which spilled out into the corridor from his tiny room. Perhaps "painting" was not the right word, as paint was spattered everywhere. He wanted to join our "Graphies" group, and showed us some of his engravings, for which he had used a hammer and chisel. Mathieu's engravings were extremely valid works of Art. The strength of copper was like putty in his hands, yet demanded concentration from him in a way which undermined his spontaneous
Another candidate for our group was introduced by Friedlander. It was his pupil, Zao Wou Ki. An engaging person freshly arrived from Peking, his art was very delicate, drawing influence from that of Paul Klee, but with touches of the Orient. These exotic paintings were as strange as his formed works, and those which he had worked on in China were solely of a Western influence. It appeared that Wou Ki had become Chinese in France.
... Well before my research into etching processes started in 1967, events brought about a watershed in my life. At the beginning of 1959, we received a mysterious telephone call, informing us that a house with a large garden was up for sale in the Rue de Grenelle, near the Military Academy. Our studio in the Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs was pleasant enough, but it was too cramped for two people. A two metre high partition split it in two so that we might isolate ourselves in our work, but this used up precious space. Later, we converted the attic into a studio for Christine but it was rather small for her to work in. We had not considered moving, as studios were very hard to come by in those days. When we went to the place we had been summoned to, we saw a huge decaying house, containing an equally huge studio, ten metres high. There were three storeys, and a garden. All this, in the centre of Paris. The woman who greeted us owned an estate agent's. In answer to our questions, she said that she did not know us, but that the house seemed ideal for artists. And so, she had opened the telephone directory under " artists/painters", and dialled the first number that she had picked at random. The price was reasonable, in fact it was too low, not much more than the sum we would receive for our old studio. The studio, which was divided in two height-wise, was ideal. As for the garden, it was Paradise for Christine, as her second love, after painting, was gardening. Throughout her life, she had studied the names of all the flowers, and many plants, which she knew in several languages. She spoke Dutch, German, English and French all fluently, as well as Malayan, which was her mother tongue in Indonesia. It seemed a lot for someone so quiet. She spent hours in the garden, where I must admit I did little to help as I knew little about the subject.
... Far away from Montparnasse, our life changed dramatically. Our contracts with Art dealers meant that we lived a more comfortable life. We often went on outings to the country in our new car. It was on one of these occasions that my Art underwent a change. We had always painted anywhere we could. One day, I began a painting out of doors which, on my return home, I decided had an affinity with its surrounding landscape. And yet, I had not consciously wished to represent anything of this. I decided that I had subconsciously succumbed to its ambience, its light and the overall effect, without using outside influences. A similar experiment, this time intended, produced a similar result. This encouraged me to set up my easel outdoors, changing my location so that each work I produced was different. In this way, I avoided repetition, so rife in abstract artists' work. As for Christine, who was less conventional than I, she had always painted landscapes, wherever she was. She always became transported into the magical world which was a trademark of her paintings. For a number of years, I too had painted landscapes to pass the time. I did not take them seriously as I considered them devoid of any lyrical sentiment.
From 1960, I became a landscape artist, using my new method. In winter, I painted still lifes from objects on a table, but interpreting them abstractly. In the same way, I painted interiors, and a few portraits. And yet, I did not devote my work solely to this purpose. I continued to paint pictures totally alien to their surroundings. Faced with the thought that artists see many more paintings than they do trees, I decided that my paintings belonged just as much to my surrounding world. I painted quite a large amount of works using others as inspiration, the divergence between each being equal to the divergence between the canvas itself and the outside world. Some of these were made up of five or six paintings or drawings. I think that, when launching oneself upon a new project in Art, one widens one's vocabulary, which could lead to an enrichment of expression itself. For these reasons, I like changing my medium frequently, moving from oil painting to etching, and from cherry gum to pastel, from pastels to oils to acrylics.
I find it almost impossible to write about my paintings. I think my personality is too mixed up in the process, for which, ideally, I should distance myself totally. My art evolved slowly and progressively rather than in fits and starts, from the first portraits which were as realistic as possible, to a more expressionistic style. My landscapes and still lifes owed more than a little to Cubism, which I hoped revealed a world I considered independent and far-removed from reality. I called them abstract although others deemed them surrealist. The only marked shift in my work occurred in 1935, after my first visit to Holland, when I embarked upon the Abstract. Viewing the works of the old Flemish and Dutch masters made me ache to express myself by more meticulous methods, and by exciting my imagination, abstract art freed me from my shackles. But, from then on, I felt that the path I trod, even though it evolved gradually, did not meet any voluntary turning point. This could partly be a result of my surrealistic way of thinking, where the art of creation is brought about automatically whilst constantly being vetted. My curiosity concerning various techniques, some of which I had invented myself, rekindled the expressionist in me. I think that the regularity of my constant work, which no holiday, vacation or journey (as I even drew on aeroplanes) could hold back, is the reason why my work evolves progressively rather than in visible stages. Yet sometimes I seem to tire of a technique, or to feel empty faced with it. In times like these, I find it therapeutic to take up another method of expression, which puts things into perspective which is why my techniques are constantly changing. Even by using these methods, I often react to a finished painting by embarking on another which seems its total opposite; from a violently coloured canvas to a more sober-toned affair, from a huge size to the tiniest, from aggressive shapes to the most gentle. On each occasion, I proceed with an open mind, ready to press forward into unknown realms.
I was flattered that Claire Rado had used my pastel drawings as inspiration for her tapestries, as she had done with a watercolour of Christine's. Indeed, my work inspired many: Vercors' silkscreens; in Venice, Constantini's glass-blowings based on my engravings, and in Chartres, Loir's stained glass windows. Other ventures included carpets in London, inspired by my pastel drawings, tapestries at Aubusson, and one of my etchings was used in Gobelins for the cover of a music-score by Paul Arma, a musician friend who writes music as the painter paints.
Christine, too, liked to try her hand at different techniques. She found it enjoyable to be commissioned by others to paint portraits, or to produce prints for exacting editors. I differed from her in this respect, as I was incapable of fulfilling others' orders. I remember one of my works was composed of five or six painted glass panels, which I had arranged within a box. A slight distance between each created an illusion of perspective, and the different elements seemingly flowed in three-dimensional space. Madame Bucher, who succeeded in selling the work reasonably quickly, commissioned me to produce a half dozen more. That was all it took for me to drop the idea. I envied Christine's ability of working to order. I found her work more lyrical than mine. I often think of a remark made by our friend Jean LefĂ¨bvre, who had just arrived from Montreal with Magdelaine Morin, at the beginning of the '50s. The couple themselves were much younger than us, and we saw them as our "children". Jean told me that my work varied from the constructivist to the surreal; from the abstract which tended to be a little dogmatic, to the experimental through to the lyrical. He preferred these latter trends, and, I think, justifiably so. I often think back to his comment.
... Christine held fifty exhibitions, and illustrated several books. She also had a few contracts with Art dealers. Her works were praised almost unanimously by those in the know. They were bought by people who genuinely admired them, the majority of whom were not great collectors. She loved the garden at the rue de Grenelle, as she loved our apartment at Villefranche, in the South of France.
... As soon as Christine's illness began, she was taken under the wing of Doctor A., an enlightened collector, and surgeon of high repute. He treated her in Neuilly hospital, and it was thanks to him that she lived in comfort throughout her remaining three years. We had to insist that he accept some of Christine's beautiful watercolours, which he treasured.
Since her death, I have taken it upon myself to keep her work alive. The discretion and unselfishness of this quiet woman had created an air of secrecy which enshrouded her delicate art. In an interview with a literary review which had published one of her drawings, she gave the following description of herself: "I was born in the sun, but like living in the shade." I printed this phrase in her Death announcement.
... Some years after her death, I found notebooks filled with her writings in her studio. She had never told anyone that she wrote, as she confided her innermost thoughts and feelings in them, as well as poems. My surprise was equal only to my awe in reading these pages. I made a legible copy of all that I could find. Then I gathered all I considered suitable material for a book, which I called "Christine Boumeester's notebooks." My old friends, the Gheerbrandts, contacted a publisher in Paris who agreed to print the book. His reply was too long in coming, so I accepted another offer from a publisher in the provinces, who swiftly published a magnificent de luxe version which contained numerous previously unpublished examples of Christine's engravings.
LIFE WITHOUT CHRISTINE
Lastly, I would like to talk about my written works, though they may be few and far between. For a number of years, I had been working on a book about the theory of pastel, but the subject proved too immense, and I gave up, after a few chapters had been published in Art reviews. Christine helped me in translating from German at the National Library. As well as the seventy forewords on exhibitions which I wrote for the exhibitors, a task I could never refuse, I wrote the text for the monograph on Christine's work, published by Monsieur Maeght, and which I was able to show Christine shortly before she died. Maeght also published both editions of my manual on the processes of engraving, for which Miro wrote the preface at his own request. My first steps into the literary field had begun when I worked at the Radio Diffusion FranĂ§aise for six months, writing essays on painting.
This book, on my life and my friends, will be my last, I think. After all, a painter does not express himself through words, but with the paintbrush. Mine say too much, yet not enough. I try to communicate in other ways. As my friend Jean Guichard Meili would say, I'm not dead yet, so the tale is far from ended. For me, it has been an experience, an opportunity to install some order into my life. One lives from day to day, preoccupied by the engulfing present, reluctant to place each chapter in life under separate headings in the same book. As the first, and probably most interested reader of my book, I feel that everything happened in the way it was written and even if there are a few inaccuracies, omissions and mistakes, the overall effect weaves a tale which corresponds to a view of people and things which, for me at least, defines the person I am. I leave you with my thanks, for your patience and, perhaps, for your indulgence.