There’s nothing I enjoy more than wandering around an empty museum or gallery, particularly to see an exhibition of an artist with whom I am not familiar. So, after a fine Sunday lunch at quite possibly my favourite restaurant, I popped into the nearby Fondation Maeght to check out their exhibition of Jacques Monory.
Now, I had to do some research on the relatively recently deceased Monsieur Monory (1924-2018) who was a fully paid-up Narrative Figuration (Pop Art) painter. The enigmatic scenes that he painted and juxtaposed form the haunted diary of a painter who regularly questioned the world’s reality. The shade of blue he used made him famous and his signature Monory blue is now a specific colour produced by Marin Beaux-Arts.
Monory’s work was first shown to the public when he was 40 in 1964. The artist was a contributor to the Mythologies quotidiennes exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (Paris). The exhibition marked the birth of a new French artistic movement, Narrative Figuration, in which Monory was one of its most active members.
In 1968, a first series of paintings revealed the singularity of his talent. It was a series of ‘Murder’ paintings, reflecting an obsession with death and a passion for the underworld. The early major works from this ensemble are the most sought after by collectors.
Monory was passionately interested in the spectacular world, with its fictions and its incessant flow of lurid news. His romanesque world was largely composed of existing images and photos he took himself, after having worked for 10 years with Robert Delpire, a publisher specialising in photography. With his keen eye, he amassed a whole repertoire of images, particularly during his travels in the United States.
Monory’s paintings have that frozen-action look… fictions on canvas inspired by Hollywood films, comics and noir fiction. The artist developed an iconography with acknowledged references, similar to the principal players in the Pop Art movement at the same time, but in another vein. His work was a reflection of his era and its major influences, of interest in everyday life and its flow of images, but also a reaction against the Abstract art (which Monory himself tried in his early days before destroying his works) that dominated the art scene in the 1950s and 60s. The artist’s favourite themes also reflect an acute awareness of the world’s violence.
The painter questions himself and he questions us: how do we live in a violent, unreasonable, illogical, surprising and often fake world? This exhibition pays homage to Monory and his work where the scenes he depicts appear to be “narrative” and the composition is said to be “cinematographic.“
The paintings, drawn from photographs, form a collage. The artist explains how and why he manipulates images:
The principle is to take two images, to put them together and to mentally create a third.
I am not seeking painting for the sake of painting, or painting that wants to become crazy about photographic realism. I think that it’s the interaction that interests me.
He elaborates that his use of the colour blue:
When I paint in blue, I enjoy it. It’s blue, it takes me away from what I’m doing. It’s like covering myself in a blue veil. Behind the blue window, a massacre is taking place, and I’m bulletproof. For me, blue is not the colour of fear. It’s the colour of dreams.
All the works in the exhibition are based on photographs taken by the artist though he never considered himself one as such and it was only late in his career, and somewhat reluctantly, that he agreed to an exhibition and a book of his photographs in 2011. He used photography almost instinctively and saw himself more as a painter-filmmaker with a strong penchant for producing situations.
It was a thought provoking exhibition but I’m still undecided as to whether i’d hang one of his works on my living room wall – always the acid test.