Born in Hungary in 1922, Hantaï studied at the Budapest School of Fine Art, traveled through Italy by foot and moved to France in 1948. The founder of the surrealist movement, Andre Breton, wrote the preface to his first exhibition catalogue in Paris.
“In this distressing and all-pervading noise of cow-bells into which today’s art increasingly settles— at last the sounding of a gong! In turn the hammer hits… the infallible rhythm announcing true creation; it is Simon Hantaï.” Andre Breton, 1953
Simon Hantaï became known for his grand abstract canvasses of powerful and dense color, inspired by Jackson Pollock’s gestural abstractions. Hantaï strove to produce a new language of painting that would redefine the role of the artist and the canvas. Hantaï devoted himself to developing new techniques that slowed down or automated the painterly gesture—an idea resonant with Surrealist, Abstract Expressionist, and Matisse’s cut-outs. In 1960, Hantaï developed his technique of “pliage” : the canvas is folded and crushed, then infused with colour, as it unfolds, leaving blank sections of the canvas interrupted by vibrant strokes of color. He stated: “The pliage developed out of nothing. It was necessary to simply put myself in the place of someone who had seen nothing… in the place of the canvas”.
The bold direction of the placement of color, the quality of its tone, the simplicity and flexibility of the brush work, gave his work a sense of scale and feeling of plenitude, contributing to his triumphed career.
The Centre Pompidou brings together for the first time the repertoire of one of the greatest abstract painters, Simon Hantaï.
“Best known for what the artist called «folding as method» initiated in 1960, Hantaï’s work takes place in successive moments of astonishing diversity. The exhibition opens on the first years of creation that followed his arrival in France and offers a chronological reading of his artistic journey from the 1950s: surrealistic paintings, such as Femelle Miroir, 1953, to gestural paintings, such as Sexe-Prime, Hommage à Jean-Pierre Brisset, 1955, sign paintings such as Souvenir de l’Avenir, 1957, to those consisting of small brush strokes: that period ends with paintings of writing. This first phase, largely unknown, culminates with two masterpieces from 1958-59 brought together for the first time: Écriture Rose and À Galla Placidia”.
“From 1960, with the follow-up to Mariales, Hantaï painted a previously folded surface ‘blind’ by covering it with colours: «This time colour is the principal means… Light seems to come into the colour from behind, in the way of a stained glass window. In truth, colour is light» (Dominique Fourcade). From then on each series of paintings made use of this method in very different ways: Catamurons, 1963, Panses, 1964-1965, Meuns, 1967-1968, Études, 1969, Blancs, 1973-1974, Tabulas, 1973-1982 finally enabled Hantaï to develop and renew formal and original compositions, often of large size. It is then that he confirmed his position as as one of the greatest colourists of his time”. Source : Centre Pompidou