Fondation Clément presents Raymond Medelice’s exhibition De formidables machines à rêver. Curated by Dominique Brebion , the exhibition runs from June 22 to August 15 , 2018 at La Nef. Fondation Clément is located at Domaine de l’Acajou, Le François in Martinique.
We are sometimes amazed by a painter’s work. We discover a reality that we hadn’t been able to see before out of a lack of sustained attention. That is how painting sometimes teaches us how to see the world.
« It is true that the world is what we see, and yet we have to learn how to see it. (1) »
What reality, what world do Raymond Médélice’s paintings give us to behold? Why do they amaze us and sometimes seem enigmatic to us?
Raymond Médélice paints what he has deep down in the bottom of his heart. He is not interested in painting for painting’s sake. He paints to communicate. « Personally, when contemplating a painting I seek a real encounter (2). »
His paintings always contain a story. Much more than a story, a reflection on life. Because his paintings work like the pages of a diary in which he shares his concerns, his thoughts, his worldview. « After all, it’s just a little paint on a canvas, but they are petrified dreams that should be viewed as wonderful dream machines » (2). And yet there remains something elusive, as the artist often establishes unexpected connections. Deciphering them becomes one of the pleasure when visiting the exhibition.
For this recent series exhibited in the Nave at the Fondation Clément, a close observation of the context in Martinique inspired the artist with a metaphor of human fate with universal value: We are always undertaking things, sometimes unsuccessfully. That is the story told in these painting inhabited by unfinished buildings, abandoned scrap metal. But, in keeping with his own personal, sometimes disjointed logic, more poetic than Cartesian, these skyscrapers also speak of the opacity of inhuman cities where we shape the future of the world, political plots, the destruction of Syria, American power.
The sources of inspiration are eclectic. Today, the Martinican landscape and its unfinished constructions, but previously the Bible for the Marriage at Cana, history for Le repentir de Gilles de Rais. Or the tales and beliefs or emblematic characters from Martinique such as the Dorliss or Evrard Suffrin. Not to mention current affairs for La Vache Folle (Mad Cow), a song by Jacques Higelin, « Alertez les bébés » (Warn the Babies), old newspapers, Japanese poetry, the genius of painting, Van Gogh, Basquiat, Toulouse Lautrec.
The emergence of a series is born of the intermingling and the maturation of several impulses, TV newscasts, history books, songs. As it is impossible to capture an entire subject on a single canvas, exploring it through a series of works provides the artist with an opportunity to experiment and analyse.
These recent works appear less frenetic. The artist’s palette has brightened. The composition is purer. Everything has become calm. The fewer components there are, said Raymond Médélice, the more demanding the painting’s structure. The proliferation of graphics, the aesthetics of escalation and redundancy, the flamboyance of pure fluorescent colours in the pictorial series such as Rêve de café, La poursuite des chimères, Le premier matin du premier jour de la fin du monde, Mess ti manmaille, Le repentir de Gilles de Rais, Le Dorliss were followed by a lack of ornamentation, distinctive shapes and light backgrounds. The limited number of hues and nuances stand out vigorously, as if on a blank page.
We find neither the aggressive invasion of surfaces nor the obsessive recurrence of certain motifs: revolvers, playing cards, coins, funeral wreaths, decapitated heads with tongues hanging out, broken hearts sewn back together. The use of graphic gestures encrusted to the point of saturating the pictorial surface is diminished.
The pictorial technique, however, remains the same. A knife and… a comb – a special tool designed and produced by the artist – are used to scarify the successive layers of still-moist pigments in a quest for that special vibration in the background. Swirls and scrolls inscribed in the drying pictorial matter bring the painting’s surface to life in a virtual movement.
The combination of graphics and paint, along with inserting writing into the painting, remain two constant aspects of Raymond Médélice’s singular, surprising, inimitable artistic approach.
He is a compulsive, curious reader: old newspapers, philosophy or Asian poetry. He pens stories and poems. He records his thoughts in his notebooks. Not only does he take inspiration from his notes when creating his works, but he also incorporates his writing into his paintings. The written and figurative elements are inextricably linked. In one space, Médélice materially brings together two ways of expressing artistic thought, through an artistic vocabulary and through a literary vocabulary, both of which enter into the visible register.
Through his series, we discover the various methods he uses to insert writing into his paintings. In the 1990s, the letters were etched around the image like a frame, or inscribed along the edge of the canvas. Both a decorative component and a message. They were difficult to decipher. They also sometimes materialised the Dorliss’s flowing words as in a comic strip. They sometimes followed the edges of a hopscotch game. In a tip of the hat to Magritte The word is not the thing, letters filled all the space on the canvas and replaced the image. The text was now positioned below the paintings, on separate canvases, like captions. The back and forth between writing and image expands the viewer’s reflection, although the text, with no direct connection with the image, often remains obscure or seems to be in conflict with what is on the canvas. Its role is to put the imagination to work and to pave the way for new interpretations.
Art history teaches us that letters and words have always had a presence in painting, inserted into the pictorial space: the artist’s signature, Biblical phrases or the donor’s name. Set aside by modernity from Courbet to Matisse, they took back their place of honour on the canvas with Raoul Dufy and Picasso. But painting and writing do not inhabit space in the same way and do not call upon the same time frame. For each artist, the use of writing finds an original, personal justification.
Writing is another sign-component capable of providing orientation and enrichment, Hervé Télémaque pointed out.
I thought, if we added a little text, people would have to stop and spend a little time to read it and therefore delve more deeply into the work and admirer it, said Cheri Samba.
I prefer an obscure or difficult meaning, but which is unique, so long as it blocks the polysemy of the image. Not opening the meaning up to all those possible but rather closing it up on something unique. Text and image complement each other while contradicting one another, producing this circularity that does not stop with the explanation, said Jean Le Gac.
Raymond Médélice himself recognises the influence of religious paintings accompanied by Bible verses in the churches of his childhood, the initial site where he discovered art. The use of text is also a kind of tribute to Evrard Suffrin. Illuminated according to some, installer and performer before his time for others, an original figure, he laid out around his « case » on the Lamentin road, many salvaged objects and signs covered with writing along the lines of Ben, the artist-agitator famous for his aphorisms on art. Evrard Suffrin also marched through the streets during Carnival, transformed into a human billboard to broadcast the dogmas of his religious philosophy. Today, Raymond Médélice adopts and transcribes his Sibylline texts from the 1960s in his creations: « Safety. Safety. Providing information is forbidden. Are we seized, found or abandoned children »(6)
In Médélice’s works, concrete signs, letters and drawings refer to an abstract idea. When he evokes Gille de Rais or the Mad Cow, he seeks to denounce impunity even if, in the end, Gilles de Rais’ punishment finally caught up with him. The boats in the Hommage à Suffrin series evoke contemporary migrations. The abandoned buildings in Inter-prehendere, the risk of the disappearance of the entrepreneurial spirit.
Analysing them in depth provides the key to the enigma of his often ambiguous paintings. Just as studying the migration of icons also helps: the fish skeleton or Pandora’s boxes that wander from Repentir de Gilles de Rais or La Poursuite des chimères to Enchayzaret.
The density and wealth of Raymond Médélice’s work open up an infinite space for exploration.
Be sure to take up this invitation to dream you own stories under the influence of these polysemous paintings in which the eye and the mind endlessly travel from surprise to discovery.
Chairwoman of Aica Caraïbe du Sud (Southern Caribbean International Art Critics Association)
(1) Merleau Ponty The Visible and Invisible
(2) Raymond Médélice 1991-1995 Catalogue Paintings and texts La poursuite des chimères
(3) Hervé Télémaque 1984 Exhibition Catalogue
(4) Chéri Samba Beaux-arts No. 236 – January 2004
(5) Jean Le Gac, Paysages Croisés catalogue – January 2004
(6) Evrard Suffrin