Yves Michaud, “Metaphysique de Hantai”, in Simon Hantai, Venice Biennale, Paris, AFAA, 1982, p.14
While he had just completed two prodigious paintings Ecriture Rose (1958-1959) and A Galla Placidia (1958-1959), kept today in the Pompidou Centre and the Musee d’art moderne de la ville de Paris, Simon Hantai continued to question the legitimacy of his art. One issue haunted him; “How to beat the aesthetic privilege of talent, of art, etc?” How to render the exceptional banal? How to become exceptionally banal?”
Hantai was convinced that the artist must entirely erase himself in favour of the artwork. Hantai gave this disappearance, also attempted by Jackson Pollock a few years earlier, a whole other dimension by inventing the method of folding in 1960. Because, as he explained with precision “folding comes from nothing. You simply have to place yourself in the position of someone who has not seen anything; to place yourself inside the canvas. You can fill the folded canvas without knowing where the edges are. You no longer know where it stops. You can even (...) paint with your eyes closed.”
From the Mariales to the Laissees, via the Catamurons, the Panses, the Menus, the Etudes, the Blancs and the Tabulas, Simon Hantai demonstrated his talent and produced his greatest work, forever leaving his mark upon the history of 20th century art. The Tabulas series, the longest of his career, fully occupied him for over ten years, from the end of 1973 to 1982. It includes two important phases: the years 1974-1976 during which Hantai explored a tightly woven grid, and the years 1980-82 of more voluminous form as the artist chose to gradually reduce the number of forms by increasing their size. As Dominique Fourcade explains in his text on the retrospective exhibition of Hantai at the Centre Pompidou in 2013, the Tabulas can be analysed as studies of rhythms imposed by the size of the squares, their colour and spacing. Tabula 1975 with its network of squares in scarlet tones , makes light vibrate across the canvas with extraordinary force. In the continuation of his research on the proliferation of forms that drove Hantai’s work for several years, the elements multiply over the canvas in the spirit of all-over painting. And yet, if we look closely, each of the elements can be seen as a work in itself, an autonomous work within the work. Both expressionist by the irregular contours of each element described above, and minimal, because it explores a unique motif, which as it covers this monumental canvas in an all-over technique, forms a grid which can be found in many of the works of his contemporaries, Tabula, 1975 brings together contradictory art currents in prodigious fashion.
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