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Georges Mathieu

Lyrical Abstraction,Tachism,

(Boulogne-sur-Mer, 1921 – Boulogne-Billancourt, 2012)

Georges Mathieu

Mathieu is one of the fathers of Lyrical Abstraction. Born into a family of bankers, he studied law, literature and philosophy and obtained a degree in English. In 1942, he decided to turn to the visual arts and executes his first oil paintings. He realized his first paintings in an intellectual process, from readings. Self-taught, he is convinced of the possibility of a graphic expression independent of plastic representation and of any reality. His first works in this direction date from 1944: Inception and 1945 Evanescence-Eternity, in which he squeezed paint directly from the tube. He practices for a few years the teaching profession before embarking on a career in art.

Opposed to the neo-constructivist abstraction that had conquered the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, he contributed to the definition of lyrical abstraction. In 1946 he held his first exhibition in Paris at the Salon des Moins de Trente ans. In 1947 he exhibited at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles paintings composed of paint stains sprung directly from the tube and spread with his fingers. He organized the exhibition L'Imaginaire in 1947 and in 1948 the exhibition HWPSMTB, which brought together Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Stahly, Mathieu, Tapie, Bryen. Then he organized the Black and White manifestation, confronting the painters of his group of Paris and a few American painters discovered recently and that seemed to work substantially in the same spirit. His technique is defined by his gestures from 1948, as in Red Decadence, Arithmée, Phosphène, Pertre II or Acone and in 1949 Incronation. Despite appearances, his design is fundamentally different from the Far Eastern calligraphy in that they are not based on a meaningfull vocabulary, but, instead, on non-conventional and unfixed signs, that are always renewed. However, he does execute them with the same rapidity. In 1950 he made his firts Tachist paintings and had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Drouin in Paris. Since the same year he exhibited in the US and Japan.

For the Salon of May 1954, he directed the Bataille de Bouvines, followed by a series of battles. From the same year, 1954, he performs Happenings before an audience; he painted vast canvases in record time to present the speed and spontaneity of his gesture. Thus, in 1956 the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris, Mathieu, in front of nearly 2,000 spectators, creates a canvas of 4 × 12 meters using no less than 800 tubes of paint.

Mathieu advocate the continuation of the tradition underpinning revolutionary artistic movements, a point of view he expresses on the occasion of conferences and numerous writings until his book Au delà du Tachisme in 1963. In the same year, 1963, Mathieu accesses the official recognition thanks to its high retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris.

From that turning point, Mathieu spent a year without painting. He then decides to adopt a dialectical approach whereby improvisation was permanently controlled and accident eliminated. This new controlled manner results in small formats paintings, perfectly balanced, often taking the appearance of heraldic coat of arms.

He applied these new processes in various media, creating a triumphal arch in 1962, a chair for the national furniture in 1968, table service for les Ateliers de Sèvres or typefaces for the foundries Peignot.

In 1973, he made his only architectural work by drawing plans for a factory in Fontenay-le-Comte. The result, called the Mathieu factory, shapped like a star with 7 unequal branches is fully made of glass and is seen by the artist as a way to link the workplace with nature.

In 1975, Mathieu was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1980, his painted work shows a new maturity, he broke up with the last vestiges of Classicism, abandons the central figure and diversifies the range of colours of his palette.

He became an Officer of the Order of the Crown of Belgium in 1982. The 10th of June, 2012, Georges Mathieu dies at Ambroise Paré Hospital in Boulogne-Billancourt.

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Work(s)