Ber­nard Pa­gès Las­ting Im­pres­sions

Art Press - - SPÉCIAL DESSIN -

Sculp­tor Ber­nard Pa­gès draws with the sky or ci­ty as back­ground, in great me­tal ges-tures that de­fy the laws of equi­li­brium. Less well known, his work on pa­per is rich, and of a piece with the ex­pe­ri­men­tal spi­rit that ran th­rough the Sup­port-Sur­face mo­ve­ment, wi­thin which he took his first steps as a ma­ture ar­tist. The Mu­sée Pi­cas­so in An­tibes has had the fine idea of hol­ding a retrospective of this as­pect of his work (March 21 th­rough June 21), which ni­ce­ly ex­tends the sur­vey of dra­wing we have un­der­ta­ken in this is­sue. He spoke to Ca­the­rine Millet. It’s of­ten said that people be­come ar­tists be­cause they were good at dra­wing when they were chil­dren. Is that how it was for you?

You don’t need any spe­cial ma­te­rials for dra­wing, so it’s the most ac­ces­sible me­dium. I must have been around se­ven or eight when I got my first sketch­books, pen­cils and a box of wa­ter­co­lors. I made weird dra­wings that got pin­ned up on the kit­chen wall and re­gu­lar­ly re­pla­ced with new ones. When I ran out of white paint I used white sport po­lish. I de­ci­ded to be­come an ar­tist fair­ly qui­ck­ly be­cause I was bo­red in high school, but al­so I really wanted to. Du­ring va­ca­tions I spent most of my time pain­ting and dra­wing. So­me­times I went with a few friends, who la­ter went on to do so­me­thing with their life, to paint out­doors. We had two shows at the Mu­sée Hen­ri-Mar­tin in Ca­hors when we were eigh­teen years old. We were going down a dan­ge­rous path be­cause our pain­tings ve­ry qui­ck­ly be­came crude splurges of co­lor. Your dra­wings of trees and buil­dings? They’re just on the cusp, but the gau­dy side is less no­ti­ceable in dra­wing. [ Laughs.] Af­ter I came to Pa­ris and star­ted ta­king courses at the Ate­lier d’Art Sa­cré, my concep­tion of art chan­ged. The key mo­ment was when I vi­si­ted Bran­cu­si’s stu­dio, be­cause dra­wing and pain­ting didn’t sa­tis­fy my taste for a more ma­nual prac­tice. I was fa­mi­liar with the un­so­phis­ti­ca­ted tools in that work­shop, and af­ter seeing them I be­lie­ved that sculp­ture was a path I could fol­low. They were farm im­ple­ments and the kind of tools used by a ma­son or a boi­ler­ma­ker. I li­ved on the farm un­til I was se­ven. Du­ring the Oc­cu­pa­tion, people or­ga­ni­zed their lives au­to­no­mous­ly to sur­vive. We made lots of things for our­selves. I have a ve­ry po­si­tive me­mo­ry of that.

Yet you didn’t de­cide to be­come a ma­son.

I li­ked those tools ever more be­cause they had been used to make re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry sculp­ture. They were like an unex­pec­ted link bet­ween two worlds. But I didn’t give up my aca­de­mic prac­tice un­til af­ter my­mi­li­ta­ry ser­vice, in 1965. That’s the year I did my last pain­ting, an al­most pho­to­rea­list still life. As a form of self-dis­ci­pline I res­tric­ted my­self to house paint to avoid mixing co­lors on a pa­lette. I wanted to res­trict the choice of mate- rials, of co­lors, as a way of im­po­sing an ar­ti­fi­cial ri­gor on my­self, but wi­thout that res­tric­tion being vi­sible in the fi­ni­shed pain­ting.

Af­ter that you tur­ned to sculp­ture, and ve­ry qui­ck­ly met the ar­tists who were to found the Sup­port-Sur­face group.

I had a lit­tle space and time avai­lable, and I be­gan to make sculp­ture in­fluen­ced by Bran­cu­si. In 1967, a Nou­veaux Réa­listes ex­hi­bi­tion in Nice ope­ned my eyes, and made me aban­don car­ving. That’s when I star­ted re­mem­be­ring the farm and using the ma­te­rials I knew there and la­ter forgot, like bundles of sticks, wire mesh, scrap iron and straw. Thanks to Jacques Lepage,(1) I met Vial­lat, Say­tour, Dol­la, Biou­lès and so on. That really sa­ved me, be­cause I had been on my own, trying to make art and gi­ving up one thing af­ter ano­ther. All of a sud­den I felt I had sup­port.

You first im­prints were in the spi­rit of Yves Klein and Ar­man. Since you were such a skil­ful drafts­man, it must have ta­ken will­po­wer to renounce that skill. Ma­king im­prints felt like being li­be­ra­ted in re­la­tion to dra­wing. I felt they re­pre­sen­ted a step for­ward.

How did you re­late to Sup­port-Sur­face? Soon enough, in 1971, I left the mo­ve­ment. I didn’t want to take part in the ex­hi­bi­tion or­ga­ni­zed by Pierre Gau­di­bert at the ARC in the Mu­sée d’Art Mo­derne de la Ville de Pa­ris, be­cause I’d had a pro­blem with L’Abri de jar­din (Gar­den Shed). The Sup­port-Sur­face ar­tists would show their work anyw­here, no mat­ter what that work was, wi­thout ta­king the en­vi­ron­ment in­to ac­count. For them, it was all the same if a piece was hung in a gal­le­ry or on a cliff. I didn’t agree with that. So I sho­wed work that was re­la­ted to the landscape, and that pro­vo­ked a ma­jor con­flict. There was ano­ther dif­fe­rence bet­ween us: I take a long time to make a piece, whe­reas they wor­ked ve­ry qui­ck­ly. That tor­men­ted me and I didn’t want to have to adapt my­self to their rhythm just to have work rea­dy for any pos­sible ex­hi­bi­tion. I spent four years wi­thout sho­wing my work, from 1971 th­rough 1974, while I was ma­king the small sculp­tures I call “as­sem­blages” and ”ar­ran­ge­ments.” I’m struck by their gra­phic qua­li­ty. [We are loo­king at pho­tos of a 1971 “ar­ran­ge­ment.”] That’s pure dra­wing! I think there are 47 “dra­wings” de­pen­ding on how the laths are ar­ran­ged on the can­vases. The laths are the same length as the can­vases, and when they are jux­ta­po­sed with them they co­ver the en­tire length of the can­vas. In one, a stick is ar­ran­ged dia­go­nal­ly across the can­vas. In ano­ther, the laths are su­per­im­po­sed on the can­vas’s un­du­la­tions. I tried to ex­haust all the pos­si­bi­li­ties. I have a slight­ly sly ques­tion. When I look at your ve­ry de­tai­led dra­wings for the as­sem­blages—for example, the ones made of two woo­den bars— I can’t help won­de­ring if that wasn’t a way for you to keep doing a kind of aca­de­mic dra­wing. I don’t much like them, but be­cause I wasn’t sho­wing my work in those days it was a way to lose my­self in de­tails wi­thout thin­king about some sort of giant show and tell. It’s weird; I don’t where they are any­more. Maybe I mis­pla­ced them be­cause I don’t really consi­der them dra­wings; they’re more like tech­ni­cal sketches. For me the im­prints, which aren’t made free­hand, are more credible. [We look at pre­pa­ra­to­ry dra­wings for a sculp­ture in Arles (1992) and a pho­to of the fi­ni­shed piece.] The sculp­ture’s fi­de­li­ty to the pre­pa­ra­to­ry dra­wings is re­mar­kable, as is its re­sem­blance to your dra­wings of trees from the 1960s. Why not? I agree that there is a fa­mi­ly re­sem­blance, a taste for things that are scrag­gy, sharp, cut out from life. In an in­ter­view,(2) tal­king about sculp­tures that of­ten seem un­ba­lan­ced, you use the terms “wri­ting” and “ges­ti­cu­la­tion.” The thing is, these words aren’t ap­pro­priate when ap­plied to sculp­ture. You can say that there’s so­me­thing di­sor­de­red and un­con­trol­lable about ges­ti­cu­la­tion, but you’re ta­king cer­tain li­ber­ties if you use this term for sculp­ture, in op­po­si­tion to the im­po­si­tion of ri­gi­di­ty and ri­gor. I call this oblique orien­ta­tion a slant. The sculp­ture doesn’t move, but it seems to. Pa­ra­doxi­cal­ly, the twis­ted sculp­tures are in a state of equi­li­brium. I give them a ran­dom shape, stand then up, and then put one small wedge af­ter ano­ther un­der them un­til they can stand up by them­selves. When they find their ba­lance, I trace the base ho­ri­zon­tal­ly, with a le­vel, to ob­tain the de­fi­ni­tive cross-sec­tion dra­wing of the sculp­ture’s base. That way I don’t have to invent a pos­ture. The sculp­ture finds it all by it­self.

GES­TI­CU­LA­TION

These sculp­tures have ve­ry gra­phic ends with their twis­ted bars and mesh. When seen against a blue sky they really are dra­wings on the sky. They al­so consti­tute an in­vi­ta­tion to see the plant world. They’re like a shoot of grass or a sh­rub. I think that the en­vi­ron­ment out­side the stu­dio, the scrag­gy trees and roots co­ming out of the ground, and the dry­ness in ge­ne­ral, all play an ac­tive role in some dif­fuse way. What about when you’re wor­king on a pu­blic com­mis­sion for an ur­ban set­ting? For ins­tance, a piece in Saint-Ouen made of th­ree gir­ders stan­ding upright. I no­ti­ced their re­flec­tion on the fa­cades of the neigh­bo­ring buil­dings. [I look at the pho­tos.] The re­flec­tions look like pain­tings! There’s a mee­ting room be­hind that bay win­dow. At first this wasn’t plan­ned, but we wor­ked to­ge­ther with the ar­chi­tect to ob­tain this ef­fect. Ano­ther piece I did for the Conseil Gé­né­ral du Lot in Ca­hors is long and ho­ri­zon­tal. At one end is a tinted concrete slab. The ce­ment was mixed with white marble and blue pow­der, and I car­ved it af­ter it was cast to bare the consti­tuent ele­ments. At the other end is an upright gir­der 6.70 me­ters high. Bet­ween the two ends is a sheet of stain­less steel 31.50 me­ters long and 3.50 me­ters wide with two lines from a poem by Clé­ment Ma­rot writ­ten on it in ca­pi­tal let­ters: “Car tout ain­si que le feu l’Or af­fine/Le temps a fait notre langue plus fine” (Just as gold is re­fi­ned by fire, our lan­guage is re­fi­ned by time). These lines re­fer to the use of fire in the lo­cal steel­works, and at the same time to the his­to­ry of the lan­guage, the shift from Oc­ci­tan to French. The words na­vi­gate th­rough a gap in the buil­ding, bet­ween the res­tau­rant and the of­fices, and are re­pea­ted so that they can be read from both sides. Like a garland, the text winds it way and scin­tillates as it moves. You’ve men­tio­ned in­ter­ior dra­wing in some sculp­tures. What do you mean by that? I meant that my co­lumns used to frag­ment. I had to mark the consti­tu­tive pieces with in­di­ca­tions for put­ting them back to­ge­ther. This dra­wing was done around a cen­tral axis. The first step was to find a hole in the stone where the axis could go th­rough. Around this axis I pla­ced mor­tar, bricks, etc. So­me­times the ele­ments don’t match up and I took ad­van­tage of this to make a re­cess. But there was still this ma­jor in­ter­nal geo­me­try de­ter­mi­ning its fa­bri­ca­tion, the put­ting to­ge­ther and ta­king apart of the sculp­ture. I find this in­vo­ca­tion of an in­vi­sible dra­wing po­wer­ful­ly poe­tic. It’s like a bo­dy… …that’s kept alive be­cause of its in­ter­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion. What made you start doing work on walls? I met Ro­bert Gro­borne in 1975, at Ca­the­rine Issert’s home in La Colle-sur-Loup. He was dra­wing on walls, and be­fore he star­ted he wor­ked hard to make sure they were as smooth as a sheet of pa­per I told him that if I were going to draw on walls I’d do exact­ly the op­po­site. I’d choose a da­ma­ged wall be­cause that way I could take ad­van­tage of its flaws, the ridges, hol­lows and spa­ck­ling. Af­ter that, I made my first wall pain­ting, all across one of the walls in a room in her house.

CONSTRUCTING TO DEMOLISH

The lines and points dug in­to a wall that you pre­vious­ly spread paint on were a kind of dra­wing made with a bu­rin, or in other words, with a sculp­tor’s tool. Or a ma­son’s tools. What I was doing was in bet­ween the work of a pain­ter and a plas­te­rer. If you want to fix up a wall, first you have to sand it, re­move the sur­face coat of paint, etc., be­fore you can re­paint it. In my case, first I had to put on the co­lor, which was im­por­tant, but it was more gra­ti­fying to carve in­to the sur­face, and pa­ra­doxi­cal­ly, that’s what brought out the co­lor. Exact­ly like with sculp­ture. Let’s get back to your work on pa­per. Some of it is like what you just men­tio­ned—for ins­tance, the mo­no­types made with en­gra­ved stones. Right. So­me­times, conver­se­ly, I paint over a pre­vious car­ved wall and put pa­per on it to make the re­liefs stand out. Your wire mesh dra­wings of the 1970s were made ei­ther by pres­sing co­lor-coa­ted wires on pa­per or by using the mesh like a sten­cil. I put the fen­cing on a piece of pa­per and wor­ked in­side the mesh. I made a list of tools, be­cause I used a dif­ferent one eve­ry time, and kept track of the width of the dif­ferent kinds of mesh, the co­lors (and the de­gree of li­qui­di­ty) and the qua­li­ties of the pen­cils (grea­sy or dry). In the mar­gin I no­ted the orien­ta­tion of the brush (from left to right or vice ver­sa, or at a dia­go­nal). So­me­times the scrib­bling fol­lo­wed the out­lines of the mesh; at other times it filled the squares. I set my­self a huge task but the plea­sure of ac­com­pli­shing it made me for­get all the trouble it took. The point was to go back to dra­wing wi­thin the fra­me­work of a high­ly constrai­ning dis­ci­pline. And as it tur­ned out, I wasn’t dra­wing at all. The im­prints made with wire, a ma­te­rial I use « Em­preinte de grillage triple tor­sion, maille moyenne ». 1974-1975. Pein­ture vi­ny­lique épaisse ap­pli­quée au pe­tit pin­ceau (10 mm). 65 x 100 cm (Coll. pri­vée ; Ph. F. Fer­nan­dez). “Im­print of triple twist wire mesh, me­dium” a lot in my sculp­tures, date back to 2000-5. I sprayed the wires with black ae­ro­sol paint, laid them down on sheets of pa­per and pressed down ve­ry light­ly. That pro­du­ced a dra­wing whose precision could not by mat­ched by dra­wing free­hand, and I like that. I re­mem­ber vi­si­ting the Pech-Merle cave in the Lot. There are hand im­prints and dra­wings, but what im­pres­sed me most was an an­cient mud puddle with a per­fect foot­print of a child about ten or twelve years old, as if it had been made just yes­ter­day. I must have been about four­teen or fif­teen my­self when I vi­si­ted that cave, and the per­fec­tion of that im­print is what I re­mem­ber best. Using wire on pa­per pro­du­ced the same sharp­ness, the same exac­ti­tude, the same tru­th­ful­ness. An im­print is rea­li­ty sti­cking to pa­per di­rect­ly, with no in­ter­me­dia­ry. But if you do it too much the ef­fect wears off. What struck me about that foot­print was its spe­cial­ness, its fre­sh­ness, the way it pre­ser­ved an act. I want some of that fre­sh­ness in my im­prints, so I can’t make them constant­ly. As a sculp­tor, you work against gra­vi­ty by rai­sing hea­vy ma­te­rials. As a drafts­man, on the contra­ry, you use ma­te­rials that rest on the pa­per, so that you can walk away and let en­tro­py do the work. The rust im­prints left by iron bars are pro­du­ced by the me­tal’s de­te­rio­ra­tion. I wouldn’t call that de­te­rio­ra­tion. It’s a trace. The oxi­da­tion is su­per­fi­cial even if I ac­ce­le­rate it with acid. The bars aren’t des­troyed; rust is part of their pro­cess of be­co­ming and their im­ma­nent na­ture. You’ve al­so used ve­ry thin plas­tic film; which seems fra­gile com­pa­red to the hea­vy, ag­gres­sive steel gir­ders you place on it. That was just chance. To make some pieces of me­tal rust I coa­ted them with an acid so­lu­tion, pa­cked them in Sa­ran wrap and left them like that. Af­ter 48 hours, I dis­co­ve­red that an im­print had been left on the plas­tic film. I de­ci­ded to make use of this pro­cess, and I’m even going to make stai­ned glass win­dows with it. The conser­va­tor at the Mu­sée Hen­ri-Mar­tin in Ca­hors plans to re­no­vate the mu­seum, in­clu­ding a cha­pel, and he as­ked me if I could handle the stai­ned glass. I would ve­ry much like to make them using this film va­cuum­pa­cked bet­ween two sheets of glass. You use the same ob­jects as part of your sculp­tures and as tools for wor­king on pa­per, like steel bars and wire mesh. Since I’ve of­ten used steel bars in my sculp­tures, it was na­tu­ral to use them in dra­wing, al­though it took some trial and er­ror. For my ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­sée Pi­cas­so, the par­ti­cu­lar space com­pel­led me to use large for­mat pa­per, which I’d ne­ver done be­fore. I so­me­times put wire mesh in a sculp­ture, but ne­ver the same piece I’ve used for a dra­wing. No­thing is ever used twice. The tools ap­pear and di­sap­pear at va­rious points in time. The me­tal is from dis­car­ded re­bar cross­ties. If I put a bunch of them to­ge­ther, that pro­duces a th­ree-di­men­sio­nal ob­ject that looks like a dra­wing in space. But I can al­so use them one at a time to print, using a press. There is a constant back and forth bet­ween the ma­king of sculp­ture and dra­wing.

Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff (1) J. Lepage (1909-2002 was a poet and art and li­te­ra­ture cri­tic. He played a cen­tral role in the Nice School. (2) “Des­si­ner, re­des­si­ner,” in­ter­view with Xa­vier Gi­rard, ex­hi­bi­tion catalogue, Ber­nard Pa­gès, Des­sins

et Sculp­tures, 1960-1992, Mu­sée De­nys Puech, 1992.

Ber­nard Pa­gès

Né en / born 1940. Vit et tra­vaille à / lives in Nice Ex­po­si­tions ré­centes / Recent shows: 2006 Mamac, Nice 2008 Mé­dia­thèque mu­ni­ci­pale, Contes ; La Wi­ne­ry, car­re­four des Ven­dan­geurs, Ar­sac en Mé­doc Ga­le­rie Ham­bur­sin-Boi­san­té, Mont­pel­lier 2009 Ber­nard Pa­gès. Par­cours de sculp­tures, Aix-en-Pro­vence et ab­baye de Sil­va­cane 2010 Mé­dia­thèque mu­ni­ci­pale, Mouans-Sar­toux Jar­din des Tui­le­ries, Ga­le­rie Ber­nard Ceys­son, Pa­ris 2011 Ga­le­rie des Ponchettes, Nice Ga­le­rie Ca­the­rine Issert, Saint-Paul-de-Vence 2012 Car­ré Sainte-Anne, Mont­pel­lier, OEuvres

ré­centes, Ga­le­rie Ber­nard Ceys­son, Luxem­bourg 2013 Ga­le­rie Ber­nard Ceys­son, Pa­ris Port du Gros-Caillou, Pa­ris 2014 Acro­bates et autres sculp­tures, Châ­teau Sainte-Ro­se­line / gal. C. Issert, Les Arcs-sur-Ar­gens 2015 Mu­sée Pi­cas­so, An­tibes (jus­qu’au 21 juin)

De haut en bas / from top: Sans titre. 2010. Centre de re­cherche L’Oréal, Saint-Ouen. Trois pou­trelles HEA de 300 mm ef­fi­lées, tor­sa­dées et peintes. Pa­ve­ment de briques sur­di­men­sion­nées bor­dé de pierres se­lon un tri­angle de 700 cm de cô­té. Hau­teur : 1200 cm. “Un­tit­led.” Th­ree HEA beams, twis­ted and pain­ted

Ci-contre / right: « Le mur d'An­tibes ». 2014 En­tailles sur pein­tures. 287 x 260,5 cm Mu­sée Pi­cas­so, An­tibes. (Ph. F. Fer­nan­dez).

“The Wall of An­tibes.” Notches in paint

Ber­nard Pa­gès dans son en­tre­pôt. Au sol : Em­preintes de huit barres d'acier oxy­dé sur film blanc. 2014. 550 x 50 cm. The ar­tist in his store room

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