- Martial Raysse
- oil, acrylic, paper collage, plastic, wood, straw hat, plastic bird, enlarged photograph, and mixed media on canvas with neon lettering
- 215 by 130 by 19.5cm.
- 84 5/8 by 51 1/4 by 7 3/4 in.
- Executed in 1964.
Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1970
Los Angeles, Dwan Gallery, Martial Raysse, 1967
Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Sammlung Helga und Walther Lauffs - Amerikanische und europäische Kunst der sechziger und siebziger Jahre, 1983-84, p. 53, no. 283, illustrated
Karin Thomas, Bis Heute - Stilgeschichte der bildenden Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, Cologne 1971, no. 63, illustrated
José Pierre, DuMont's kleines Lexikon der Pop-Art, Cologne 1978, p. 120, illustrated in colour (illustration reversed)
Horst Richter, Malerei der sechziger Jahre, Cologne 1990, p. 117, no. 26, illustrated in colour
Exhibition Catalogue, Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Martial Raysse, 1993, p. 105, illustrated as part of an installation view
Dating from Martial Raysse's most fertile period, Snack crystallises the moment when Nouveau Réalisme, one of the most important European movements of the Twentieth Century, met American Pop art head on. Like his contemporaries among the Nouveaux Réalistes, including Arman, Yves Klein and Jean Tinguely, Raysse was engaged in a youthful revolt against the prevailing painterly aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism and European Informel painting. It was his work that spoke most clearly across the Atlantic, to Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol; embracing popular culture and the materials of consumer society, their impulses were of accord. Raysse harnessed the energy of popular culture whilst turning a biting commentary on concerns such as mass-reproduction and the sexualisation of commerce. Snack is a fantastically tasty example of Raysse's attack on 'good taste'.
Raysse playfully mixes up new consumer items with photographs and gaudy colouring derived from advertising. Incorporated into the body of the piece is a plastic canary, a straw hat casting a real shadow, a branch of a tree and plastic bags. This use of found objects and prefabricated materials was an archetypal Nouveau Réaliste approach, but at the same time his decision to show items in their own right, undisguised and unfiltered by notions of 'taste', can be seen as a nod to Warhol's Brillo Boxes of 1964. Gone is the subtlety of the artist's touch. With energetic insouciance, Raysse deconstructs the viewer's expectations by fracturing the picture plane. The three figures are fragmented by composite colouring: part emerald green, part Mediterranean tan, a raspberry forearm bursts forward, while the faces fade into obscurity. Red neon tubing casts the word 'snack' in diner-style copperplate writing. Playing with the new visual language of urban existence – from fast-food outlets to shop signs and night clubs – it thrust the picture into a street life dimension. Surrounded by a halo of pink light, a sort of nuclear cloud that hovers inescapably on the scene, it also insists on the artificiality of the artwork, and by implication, the artificiality of the modern world endowed with a bubblegum sweetness. While Klein adopted models as 'living paintbrushes', neons were Raysse's 'living colours', and they came to be a defining feature of his work, on a par with the American masters of fluorescence, Dan Flavin and Bruce Nauman, but with an entirely different agenda.
Having been showing regularly in America since the group show The Art of Assemblage held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1961, by 1964 Raysse was a major voice in the dialogue between American Pop and its European relatives. In his solo show at the Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, in May 1964, Raysse threw a punch at conventional ideas of beauty by showing a series of 'awful pictures' under the title 'Made in Japan...Tableau horrible...Tableau de mauvais gout'. Knowingly provocative, he took arms against 'good taste', standing shoulder to shoulder with Lichtenstein: 'It is necessary to define each of our perspectives – without looking to compare or put them in rivalry – I would say that Lichtenstein looks and restructures advertising with the eyes of Seurat or of Léger. Me, I look and restructure life, or reproductions of Ingres, from advertising' (Martial Raysse, in Exhibition Catalogue, Paris, Galleries de Jeu de Paume, Martial Raysse, 1993, p.61).
Snack exemplifies Raysse's more intricate compositions that collapse the divide between advertising and high art. Raysse adopts a roughness of execution in deliberate comparison to the finesse of the Old Masters, playing off their finesse against the harsh aesthetic of advertising. Here, the three babes in swimsuits bring to mind Raphael's The Three Graces (c.1501-5), whose soft pearly bodies contrast wonderfully with the brash figures of modern life in Snack. Raysse has darkened the blacks of the photographic sources while filling in blocks of garish colour, as if it were a colouring-in book. He is particularly interested in bringing out the shine of the swimsuits, and adding a floral patch onto an otherwise matt, generalised background. The result is more than a witty example of high-art-lite: it offers a disarming, other-worldly vision of everyday life.
As fun and irreverent in its unorthodox combination of flavours and textures as a midnight feast in a diner, Snack is a beacon for the sixties: it shows Raysse as an arbiter of consumer culture and a chronicler of his age, levelling the ground between high and low art forms with a uniquely sexy panache.