Jean Messagier — Campagnols d’hiver

Exhibition

Drawing, print

Jean Messagier
Campagnols d’hiver

Ends in 15 days: March 20 → May 22, 2021

“You have to break up forms to allow light to reach them all, to kill the surface to be painted while respecting it”. Jean Messagier, Journal, 1956

Galerie Catherine Putman has pleasure in organising a new exhibition of works by Jean Messagier. The previous one—held in 2018—was centred on the truculent 1970s and 80s, spray paints, fluorescent effects, « gels », etc. The present exhibition goes further back in time, with works dating from the 1950s and 60s: watercolours, monotypes, drawings and engravings.

Jean Messagier (1920-1999) did a large body of protean and varied work in which several periods can be observed—with a range of different styles that has been disturbing for some people—but always centred on nature, life and poetry. It displays ceaseless movement and metamorphosis.

The artist started painting, drawing, engraving and exhibiting in the mid-1940s. At the beginning of the 1950s he installed his studio and his family in Colombier-Fontaine in the Doubs département, while exhibiting more and more in Paris and abroad. He developed painting that had structure but blurred contours, landscape painting but without a convention. The untitled watercolour in greens and yellows and dated 1955 illustrates this search for light with no shadows as the atmosphere. Messagier talked of the «search for weightlessness». Seasons, valleys, rivers and hills are the themes of the geological, breathing nature in which he moved and sought to pass on through art.

These stylised landscapes are also found in aquatint work: “Entre les blés” (1952), “Les grandes journées” (1953) and “Inondations rectilignes” (1956). “Marais salant”, a small 1954 ink drawing, sketches one of these landscaped forms with the fast movement and simplification that also prevail in his everyday drawings.

A large 1957 watercolour with subtle shades prefigures the changes that were to come in Messagier’s work. The paintings of the 1960s feature whorls and volutes. The subjects and motifs are less identifiable. The poetic titles (inscribed on the works from 1963 onwards) are set out like initial intentions to which the artist aims: “Retourneurs d’automne”, “Paraphe d’été”, “Signature du mois d’août”, “Campagnols d’hiver”. Movement became ample. Watercolour or coloured pastel spread over the surface of the paper. In engraving he returned to drypoint with a freedom of gesture that became his own style. Art became vital movement. He felt the nature that surrounded him and retranscribed it in his work as if he were breathing it.

The exhibition is strongly focused on works on paper with the collection of drawings and engravings resulting from long collaboration between the artist and Jacques and Catherine Putman, who defended him with ardour. Jacques Putman published a great number of his prints and compiled the catalogue raisonné of Messagier’s engravings.

Messagier, who liked engraving for the pleasure given by the line and its trace, also made a large number of monotypes. He freed himself from technical constraints and liked the effect of surprise. ‘For me, a monotype is relaxation, an escape from the bite of acid into metal that impresses me; seeing acid penetrating copper always traumatises me—troubles me. A monotype is precisely halfway between engraving and painting.’1 The three monotypes shown here demonstrate the alliance of this great mastery and this freedom.

1 From Jean Messagier’s talk with Daniel Meiller and Patrick Le Nouene in ‘Messagier, les estampes et les sculptures, 1945-1974’, Yves Rivière, Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Paris, 1975, pp. 19-23