François-Xavier Lalanne had always drawn, long before he became a sculptor.
Through the spontaneity and lightness inherent in these drawings, Lalanne translated ideas and concepts into two dimensions, frequently referencing the intrinsic structures of his sculptural pieces. He tended to zoom into the specific possibilities of the line, finding near-infinite potential in mark-making, for ideas,opportunities and new forms, to spring out of existing ones. Or in other cases, Lalanne's drawings served as an aide-memoire, a sketch of an idea captured in perpetuity.
Graphite pencil, ink, felt-tip pen - Lalanne used an entire artillery of tools in his drawings, to create lines that veered from a simple clarity to dynamic scribbles. We can also see his extraordinary control and precision in his use of cross-hatching, for example, defining contours and hinting at the exciting prospect of new sculptures to come.
While traces of pentimento,- erasing - are occasionally visible, leaving the final form undefined, François-Xavier Lalanne's drawings are most often linear. An elegant distribution of mass and voids harmonise perfectly into an object fixed upon paper. At other times, figuration - particularly animals, the main subject of his work - are quickly marked out for hypothetical future sculptures, engravings or ceramics.
Détrempe pastel, watercolour, stamped ink, coloured pencil - Lalanne worked with them all. His choices allowed him to define, first with colour placed over the fainter lines of pencil, charming animals in situations specific to each. For example, the repetitive stamping of a flock of sheep, splashes of watercolour for goldfish, or an airborne lightness of touch with watercolour pencils for birds, which were especially dear to him.
In these works, Lalanne's remarkable technical skills focus his approach onto his subject beautifully, each time. Thus, in this extraordinary détrempe, the result of a scene witnessed from the window of an airplane, in pencil, gouache and watercolour, Lalanne reaches for the heavens with these beautiful clouds, softly white, hovering serenely over the islands, far below.
The art of printmaking involves many different stages. From the initial preparation of the copper plate on which the drawing is engraved, to the final print on paper, it demands a much longer timeframe, compared to drawing. In the various stages of relief-printing (woodcuts), direct engraving (dry point, burin, mezzotint) and chemical processes (etching, aquatint, soft ground etching), François-Xavier Lalanne’s insatiable curiosity and experimentation shines through each of these works.
The work involved in the deceptively simple pieces is remarkable in its Inscribing the metal, drawing the varnish on to the plate and plunging it into acid, with meticulous timing to allow for the exact depth of grey markings. Polishing the plate, inking it in black or in colour according to whether it is to be a relief or intaglio printing. Finely adjusting the press, before printing. Selecting the paper to use. Each movement and decision profoundly affects the final outcome. François-Xavier's unique sense of touch and abillity to spin poetry from thin air, made each sculpture a breathtaking testament to his skill and talent.
Engraving gives permanence to a dream. La Mémoire du "Brochet", l’Orage, La Coccinelle, Le Vol Nocturne de "la Chauve-Souris" integrate a fascinating mirror effect, while the famous Tête habitable, executed as an etching on paper from the paper mill of Richard de Bas, presents an intriguing scale, using human figures. La Pleureuse makes ingenious use of the gap between the edge of the cuvette (the hollow on the paper, left by the engraving plate during printing). Lalanne plunges his Chevaux au Galop into the waters of the Camargue, in etching and aquatint.
In short, to explore the technical variations of engraving: directly on the metal with the dry point or on the copper by mixing various effects of the acid biting onto the varnished plate with dabber, roller, brush (etching, aquatint, sugar lift etching). In etching with a light inking for the background of La Sarigue et ses petits, and sometimes, highlighting the finished print with watercolour as in the magnificent Vache Paysage and keeping the smallest formats only for his travel prints, in colour or black and white.
As for Lalanne's lithographs, clearly distinct from engravings, they cover all the artist’s themes. From l’Oiseau Bleu in four colours, which took four runs through the press, to a beautiful Constellation on watermarked paper inspired by Les Bergers d’Arcadie (Et In Arcadia Ego) by Lalanne's favourite painter, Nicolas Poussin.