If there is a secret to staying young then it’s in here somewhere. Martial Raysse is known as the primary exponent of French Pop Art through his neon and ‘fluo’ female figures in the 1950s and 1960s but that’s just the beginning of the narrative in this major retrospective of one of France’s greatest living artists. “Bad taste is the result of a beauty excessively desired”, he said, as he added a gaudy plastic accessory to a beach scene or an insect on the forehead of a beautiful face, masterfully playing against art history icons like Ingres or Tintoretto.
There is a before and after. Around the early 1970s something clicked. After a stay in California, where he labelled everything artificial, Raysse went in search of the real. Following a spell of communal living and guided meditation in Morocco, he retreated to the countryside.
His universe of imagery emerged in different media – painting, sculpture, film, and the use of spray paint or industrial materials that are “not only subversive in the iconography but also in the counter-application of the techniques that they were designed for”. This imaginarium is an assault to the senses, but after a while you start to feel as if you were on a trip to a foreign land, with vivid light and bold shapes in permanent transformation, accompanied by the soundtrack from his eerie videos.
A visitor was wearing a T-shirt with a Socrates’ quote, “An honest man is always a child”, and Raysse’s work fits this sentiment in the best possible way. Taking a step back from the ‘art market machine’ was his way of keeping the fountain unpolluted by compromise.
Tip: Even if they don’t make any sense to you, try to watch the films as they provide a peek into the artist’s mindscape.
Martial Raysse, Retrospective, Until September 22, Le Centre Pompidou, 19 rue Beaubourg, Paris 4th. Métro: Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville, Châtelet. Open daily 11am-10pm. Closed Tuesdays. Entry fee is €13. Tel: +33 1 44 78 12 33
From France Today magazine
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