Claude Viallat, Recent works 1990-1996

23 June 1997 - 20 September 1997

Viallat's now immense œuvre remains as open, risk-taking and paradoxical as ever.

Viallat emerged as a central figure in French art during the 1960s. Like many artists of his generation (Parmentier, Rouan, Buraglio, Kermarrec...) he chose abstraction, stimulated by his discovery of American painting ( Colorfield and Hard Edge ). His work engages in a critical analysis of traditional painterly norms, enumerating and exploring the various elements which combine to make a pictorial work (the stretcher, the canvas, form, colour…). From the first beginnings, and the legendary 1969 exhibition at Paris's Ecole Spéciale de l'Architecture, the Supports-Surfaces group (of which Viallat was a founder member) sought – among other things – to annex new materials, break free of the limitations of traditional pictorial space, explore the role of the painter, seek anonymity, and acknowledge the inherent fragility and transience of any work of art. From as early as 1966, Viallat refined the essential principles of his personal system of painting, which remain unchanged today, namely the awareness of the work as an object in its own right, through which he was able to discard the problem of representation altogether. Viallat's work fluctuates between aspirations of grandeur, expressed in a more or less conscious dialogue with the great masters of the past, and a tendency to minimalism, a quest for craftsmanlike skill and ingenuity, or a deliberate "cult of poverty," though the use of rough, impoverished materials. Viallat's "objects" are far less well-known than his paintings, but are seen by the artist himself as an essential, valuable aspect of his work. The first pieces were created in Limoges, in 1969: ropes with knots soaked in blue pigment. The use of simple materials, and the deliberately craftmanslike approach were intended as a critique of industrialised society, its devoted to consumerism and its lack of values. Viallat cherishes the sensual aspect of painting, and this has encroached on the objects through processes such as soaking, impregnation or the addition of colour: vivid yellow, bright red or silver, recalling the metallic sheen of kitsch lurex textiles. Viallat's personal artistic rules underpin his enduring artistic independence, and form the basis of his forward-looking, optimistic approach. He paints in a kind of "eternal present," where "advances may be tiny steps, and great leaps cover the minute distances."