Rezvani, paintings

Serge Rezvani

Loo & Lou Gallery - Haut Marais
22.03 - 18.05.24

Painting the unspeakable under the radiant sunshine of the Mediterranean coast. Painting the unspeakable, by night, while humming, by day, Le Tourbillon de la vie, the song written for François Truffaut's Jules et Jim. "L'indicible" is how Serge Rezvani defines his visceral painting in the sunny pages of his autobiographical novel Beauté, j'écris ton nom. It's a novel that seeks to rediscover the source of the earthy, fiery pigments with which he has spent his entire life, digging into his thick jute canvases. Serge Rezvani, whose very life, with its wartime terrors, its Edenic lights and its extraordinary resonance with the unfolding of historical time, surpasses any narrative. Writer, musician, poet, but above all a painter, which is less well known.

From an early age, he scribbled in the short-lived petticoats of an extravagant and terribly ill mother, who finally abandoned him on the eve of the declaration of war in 1939, to die in the morbid solitude of the Warsaw ghetto. The infinite trauma of the eternally absent woman is embodied in his paintings in the form of a violent "abstraction" - even if he refutes the term - of a distant, unknown maternal death. In adolescence, the young man "went into painting" - as he put it - furiously, obsessively. A survivor's gesture. From the depths of scattered glimmers that seem to emerge from an underground world, he draws out the demons of an unattached, demolished, bruised childhood. His companions in misfortune were the painters Jacques Lanzmann and Pierre Dmitrienko, and the English sculptor Raymond Mason, with whom he shared a daily life of misery, first at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he found refuge, then in a vast bourgeois house with no heating, where the small group of artists dreamed of themselves as the new avant-garde of the immediate post-war period. They were the young abstract artists of the Ecole de Paris, also known as the "Les mains éblouies" collective, exhibited by Aimé Maeght. Around them gravitated Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, Modigliani, Picasso and even Paul Eluard, who entrusted the young Rezvani with the engraving illustration of one of his Apollonian poems.

For in the deep, dark mysteries of this era, with its taste of eschatological utopia, the dazzling pleasure of love and appeasement seep through. For Rezvani, it was Lula, the goddess of his life, whose daily life he shared for 50 years in a house tucked away in the Maures mountains. Their paradise. He painted tirelessly, sometimes tempted to destroy his canvases. Lula stopped him. In 1962, the year of the release of Jules et Jim, his Effigies appeared, dark, immobile, totemic heaps with sculptural angles, seeming visions of a lost ancestral femininity, imbued with this new labyrinthine, enigmatic abstraction that he seems to share with Serge Poliakoff and Nicolas de Staël, his elders. Playing with overlaps and dark projections sprouting from the painting's interiority, they seem to have emerged from distant sub-layers, as if from a secret straitjacket, an ebony chrysalis with primitive accents.

Rarely shown, some unpublished and dormant for years, these mute fetishes are here resurrected alongside Repentances, a series produced thirty years later, in more vibrant shades of blood-red and violet, evoking the slender nuances of Tintoretto. Set in complex compositions of occult windows and doors, these cloisonné-meshed canvases seem to trace the convoluted network of a spaceship hull or cryptic palace. They also evoke a resurgence-tribute to Rembrandt's Flayed Ox, and by correlation, in a pictorial lexicon closer to our painter, to that of Soutine. There's a palpitation that's contained, buried, that of the canvases created in the wake of the Effigies, which the artist has now undertaken to cover. The latter were full of abysses of flesh, tangles of viscera, mazes of weightless shreds. More tortured and cavernous, and even monstrous in some cases - in the sense that they revealed a buried and traumatized part of intimacy, like a bodily externality, an alienation, that only painting, this inexplicable incarnation of the artist's soul in the field of the world, has the power to reveal. Without words. Because words, just after the war, were no longer enough. Les Repentirs thus had the effect of appeasement, or repentance, when the painter's gesture was replayed. After them, Rezvani stopped painting for almost 30 years, with a few exceptions, to devote himself to writing. 

Yet while his writings exude tenderness and humor, though invariably marked by a radicalism that characterizes each of his artistic expressions, his paintings are the exact opposite. Driven by a quest for the unrepresentable. A quest that never ceases to haunt him, even in his later Blanches series (2000s), constructed like woodcuts. More hieroglyphic, seeming to unite the tachist tenderness of a Tapies and the scriptural reveries of a Chillida, they still dig the furrow of a motif partitioned by secret doors crossed by apparitions, behind which lies the unknown. The painting? That "palpable space of the painting as a support for the informable", as the artist's luminous pen puts it.

- Julie Chaizemartin, journalist and art critic