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Honoré de Balzac, Traité des excitants modernes

©François Lauginie

Honoré de Balzac, Traité des excitants modernes, 1989

Pierre Alechinsky
  • Artist (1927)

Born in 1927 in Brussels, Pierre Alechinsky is a painter and writer who has been involved in many formal experiences (and experiments): lithography, ceramics, illustration, decoration, posters, and the like. He first took classes at the Brussels School of Decorative Arts (La Cambre) in book illustration and typography, and struck up friendships with artists, writers and poets. A book illustrator from the age of 21, in that same period he produced his first lithographs and etchings. For him, creation resides in an inseparable relation between writing and painting. In 1949, he joined the CoBrA Movement, which he left in 1951, when he settled in Paris and studied engraving, a technique through which he became aware of the right hand/left hand relation in his work. In 1955, after his first large exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts in Brussels, Alechinsky made a trip to Japan to study calligraphy, during which he made the film Calligraphie japonaise. Since the 1960s, numerous mythical signs and figures have been repeated and made to confront one another in all his canvases composed from a central image painted on paper (then backed on canvas), which he surrounds with “marginal observations” resembling a comic strip. In the 1980s, the construction of the canvases was reversed: the colour occupying the edges defined a central black and grey image, made using ink for wash drawing. In 1989, Alechinsky visited the Balzac house and museum in Pars and there discovered both the writer’s personal things and his Traité des Excitants Modernes, published in 1839. Alechinsky’s work accompanies Balzac’s text in fourteen vignettes cut directly in linoleum, and two series of etchings, one of seven works in black and white, and one of eight in colour. For this project akin to illustration, Alechinsky based his work on the metaphors of language without ever trying to compete with the text. The ever richer scrolls of his engravings remind us that stimulants kill as much as they tempt, that life and art are in search of powerful emotions. The work also includes a postface by Michel Butor, titled “Scènes de la vie excitantes”. A professor at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 1980s, Pierre Alechinsky has published many books including Titres et pains perdus, Baluchon et ricochets and Des deux mains (2004). His career has been staked out by a very large number of exhibitions ever since 1955: in 1977, a retrospective at the Carnegie Institute, in Pittsburgh; in 1987 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; in 1998 at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, and, in 2007, at the Musées Royaux in Brussels for a retrospective.

Nadine Labedade