FOG Design + Art Spotlight: Martial Raysse
2018 marks Lévy Gorvy’s second year participating in FOG Design + Art in San Francisco. The physicality inherent to our artists’ practices is evident in nearly each work included in the booth, from Enrico Castellani’s shaped canvases to Robert Ryman’s dense impastos. A wide variety of media comprises many of the works presented, ranging from the stained limestone and corrugated steel of Terry Adkins’ sculptures, to the taxidermy glass eye and flayed rubber tires of Carol Rama’s assemblage paintings. Uniting this diverse presentation is the prerogative each artist undertakes to engage a visual language rooted in the material concerns of their practice, resulting in a rich exhibition of innovative techniques and unique voices.
Martial Raysse emerged as an artist in the late 1950s in Nice, where he counted Arman, Yves Klein, and Ben Vautier as close friends and collaborators. In 1960, at Klein’s apartment in Paris, he became one of the founding members of Nouveau Réalisme, a term which critic Pierre Restany had coined earlier that year to describe work that broke with the Informel styles then dominant on the Parisian art scene. Declaring their commitment to “new perceptions of the real,” the nine artists present incorporated found objects and quotidian actions into their work in an attempt to blur the distinction between art and everyday life.
Enjoy this spotlight on Raysse’s Audrey (2015), on view at Lévy Gorvy’s presentation at FOG Design + Art, Booth 305.
With Audrey, Martial Raysse continues his over six-decade-long engagement with the genre of portraiture. Intimate in scale, Audrey depicts its titular sitter straight on and close up against a nondescript sky-blue ground. Frontally posed, her gaze extends directly out from the canvas, creating a sense of psychological connection between her and the viewer. Appearing sensitive and shy, she sports a blunt bob that pushes her face to the foreground of the canvas’s space. Although so seemingly close, she also appears strangely distant. Try as one might to penetrate beneath the surface of her gaze, its subtle misalignment—her right pupil is raised slightly above her left—creates a sense of disjuncture. The viewer is left to linger at the surface of her visage, causing it to appear as a sort of mask: less a natural expression of her inner self than a form of concealment and disguise.
This treatment of the face, particularly the female face, as a mask is a timeworn trope within the history of Western art, extending from the portraits of Renaissance and Baroque masters such as Jan van Eyck and Caravaggio to those of Pablo Picasso: famously, his 1906 portrait of Gertrude Stein and his seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon, completed the year following, whose sharp-edged, splintered contours were inspired by African masks. Although seemingly simple, Aubrey thus reflects both Raysse’s deep engagement with the conventions of the Western painting and his abiding fascination with the line between beauty and artifice.
Departing from the exuberant colors for which he is best known, Audrey’s subdued, true-to-life tones express Raysse’s feeling of affection for his sitter. “Above all, art is a story and a practice. It’s about being able to translate a deep human poetic emotion into volume and color,” he has explained. Enigmatic and disquieting, Aubrey exudes a pathos that accomplishes just that, establishing an “equilibrium between the classical and the modern, between that which remains exemplary and that which suits the present,” as he has elsewhere stated.
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