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Grande Coulée d'Automne

Grande Coulée d'Automne, 1983

Olivier Debré
  • Artist (1920 - 1999)

Hailing from the Tours region, to which he would return to spend much of his life, Oliver Debré (1920-1999) studied at the Paris School of Fine Arts. An impressionist to begin with, his painting became abstract in 1943, under the influence of  Picasso. After the Second World War, he met avant-garde painters like Poliakoff, de Staël and Soulages. He duly made the decision to use paint worked with a knife in thick layers, and a technique based on the construction of colours by planes, taking the form of large “figure-signs” (signes-personnages) in the first half of the 1950s. In about 1960, Oliver Debré’s work took a new direction. His art became clarified and settled, and veered towards a lighter paint which became more fluid, undoubtedly in the wake of his encounters in the United States with the masters of Abstract Expressionism (Kline, Rothko,Olitski). He subsequently developed a language based on the sign and its significance, but space became more open and the figures tended to disappear, replaced by “landscape-signs” (signes-paysages). After 1965, the formats became more elongated, suggesting both the sweeping vision of a limitless space and a plunge into quasi-monochromy. In 1967, he represented France in the foyer of the French pavilion at the Montreal World Fair. In the late 1970s, his works developed enormous proportions (more than 6 metres/20 feet for Rouge de Loire de Touraine,1983-1984).  Debré usually worked on the basis of an emotion felt in front of a natural landscape. He tried to express its intrinsic qualities of light and colour, by playing with the paint, and giving it a certain freedom, as is illustrated by the streaks and runs which give pace to the picture Grande Coulée d’automne. On fluid backgrounds he applied vigourous emphatic areas of paint which off-centre his compositions and imprint on the surface the trace of his action, just as the titles directly express the feelings experienced.

Between 1980 and 1985 he taught at the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris (the Advanced School of Fine Arts). By that time he was exhibiting his work all over the world and, in1995, a retrospective was held at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris.  In 1997, he worked with the choreographer Carolyn Carlson for whom he produced the sets and costumes for the ballet Signes, where the theme was his own painting, a ballet that was revived at the Opéra Bastille in 2000 and 2003.  He was close to the world of theatre, and painted several backdrops (at the Comédie Française in 1987, at the Hong Kong Opera in 1989, at the Théâtre des Abbesses in Paris, and at the new Shanghai Opera).  He also worked as a sculptor and illustrator.

Nadine Labedade