Yves Clerc

Yves Clerc : Artistic position

Detached Figuration and the Magic Curtain

Over time, I began to realise that the pleasure to be had in painting derived from the subtle interplay between that which a painting depicts and what it really means to say. So I abandoned the abstract in favour of the figurative, favouring the realism of the corporeal to the abstraction of the purely cerebral. Conscious of the importance of the conceptual in today’s artistic environment and that my own first steps in the art world were distinctly abstract – influenced in large part by Albers – I was not tempted to go down the realist road when it came to the figurative. To be frank, what I sought was a paradox: I was seeking something that was figurative, but at the same time other than figurative, something that was offbeat and entirely new; something that was realistic, but at the same time anything but real. In order to dampen what I saw as a tendency towards an excess of narration in the figurative, I chose to break the subject up and to rupture the image and the meaning’s continuity with the use of graphical elements and coloured infills, black hats and the like that in my view allows the viewer to appreciate better the painting’s intrinsic qualities: the materials used, the colours employed, its composition. The approach is deliberately poetical. So as to avoid all hint of a narrative element to the work, from the outset all paintings have been numbered rather than named.

This ‘numeric title’ is situated in precisely the same place in all of my work: on a five centimetre black band incorporated into the frame underneath the painting. It has the same effect as Magritte’s famous ‘This is not a Pipe’, it accentuates the difficulty and the ambiguity of our relationship with the figurative and goes to create a distance with the work’s narrative, in the process contributing to its objectification.

Freed from these constraints, I have been able to work – in my own way, and following a very personal path – on a series of themes dealing with appearance and how appearance is presented, and in doing so, to some extent bring the idea of the figurative full circle. The characters are only present in the way they are represented by their baroque costumes and their statuesque-like posture, their look to be guessed at rather than shown, their faces resolutely neutral. The origins of this may lie in my flirtations with the fashion industry or from the sort of artifice that comes from the world of theatre and dance. But they are more surely influenced by, and to some extent derived from – though in no way intended to detract from – much older works such as the Florentine Mannerists or the Baroque paintings of the Cuzco School, as well as from a more recent period works by Albers, which are figurative in the sense that they are representations of works which exist already, as opposed to a new set of superimposed squares.

At this stage of my artistic development, I consider each of my paintings to be “the magic curtain woven from legends that covers the face of the physical,” as Milan Kundera puts it in his essay, ‘The Curtain’. The number underneath each work tears this magic curtain in the same way Cervantes did, according to Kundera, and in doing so objectifies the painting and what it tells us. It is the premise behind my latest series of paintings in which the narrative becomes the subject and in which it is torn implicitly by the number and explicitly by the image.

Adrien GOETZ has written: “From theatre, Clerc has retained not only the exuberant costumes and the exaggerated perspective of the décor, but also Brecht’s celebrated notion of the ‘distancing’ or ‘alienating’ effect. The real only has a place in his paintings in as much as they are represented by the inclusion of earlier works – either by him or others – in his paintings and in doing so he succeeds in placing a distance between the viewer and the objects represented. Which is why the tangible is always at least two degrees removed from how it is represented in the painting. He does not paint Girodet, but rather a white marble bust of Girodet; no representation of a face but in its place an image of a photograph. Clerc likes to work with a set pose, with the trappings of artifice, with the make up that Baudelaire affected, the acrobatic constructions of the Italian Mannerists and the heroines dear to Guido Reni, Lucretia or Cleopatra. His work is directly influenced by that to be found in museums.”

Bruno FOUCART: “Yves Clerc is constantly reminding us that his biggest fear is the subject, always the subject. “This is not a pipe”, said Magritte; this painting by Yves Clerc is not a dialogue between a woman and a monkey (…) this is a number, numbers 18, 22, 25 or 27. These are numbered objects, painterly objects. The numbers fixed by Yves Clerc under his paintings, stencilled on as they are in letters and numerals, signifies that the works should be considered less for what they evoke or say to us as for how they succeed in transmutating images into subjects that are painted so as to be better objectified (…)”

Tim WILLOCKS: “These days, we think too much, and thinking prevents us from seeing, from feeling, from knowing (…) In these dreamlike scenarios, men and women live in a time that has no boundaries (…) between the timeless and nowhere, between the conspicuous and the obscure. In Yves Clerc’s paintings, no matter how long they took to create, I see the same process at work, one in which that which was hidden becomes, in an indefinable way, visible. None of these paintings are what they appear to be, says Yves. All you have seen is paint.”

*Bruno Foucart : Professor at the Sorbonne University and at the Fine Arts Academy, author, curator and art historian *Adrien Goetz : Lecturer at Paris 4-Sorbonne University, author of several novels centred on the history of art *Tim Willocks : British screenwriter and author of several books including the historical novel ‘The Religion’