m.c. 7 is without a doubt one of the most powerful and mysterious works Simon Hantaï ever created.
As he tried many artistic paths from his arrival in Paris to the beginning of the 50s and the discovery of folding at the beginning of the 60s, Hantaï first drew inspiration from the Italian primitives before looking on the side of surrealism and developing an interest for Georges Mathieu's dynamic abstraction, and even more so for Jackson Pollock's he discovered in 1951 at the Etoile scellée gallery. Starting in 1958-59, the years he made Peinture (Écriture rose) and A Galla Placidia, Hantaï definitely parted from his contemporaries and started his own revolution. Through these two major paintings simultaneously executed, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, with letters and signs that refer to religious and philosophical texts from his spiritual environment of the time, Hantaï emancipated and became more radical. From that time on, he was an inch away from the "folding method" revelation, which took shape the following year with the dazzling Mariales, and unfolded up until 1982 with the eight successive series corresponding to eight different processes, which all contributed to the great history of art.
The Mariales series consists of 27 paintings organized in four groups: 8 m.a., 6 m.b., 9 m.c. and 4 m.d, 7 of which are already in museum collections. The a series corresponds to frequently folded canvases; the b series to monochromes; the d series to previously splattered painting; and the c series -the one we are interested in here- to paintings also previously splattered with black paint but different from the other one as each work is folded twice, which creates bigger flat tints of color that strikingly echoed the negative space.
In this constellation, m.c. 7 holds a unique place, as Dominique Fourcade suggests on page 97 of the catalogue published for the Simon Hantaï retrospective exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, "the surface of the painting seems torn apart, even shredded – (...) as if worked by the most refined of vandals". The folding process of large overlapping canvas portions here reached perfection as the positive and negative spaces wildly interact. At the center of this both very luminous and raw composition, which somehow recalls Burri's or Klein's combustions, the formal network reveals not only the artist's antagonistic passions but also the tremendous freedom of his work. To bring it to light, Hantaï however accepted to work "blind", leaving chance interfere in his creative process thus escaping the conventions that defined traditional painting.
With its cobalt and sapphire blue hues giving a rare density to the negative spaces, m.c.7 reminds us better than no other Mariale how appropriate the title of the series is. Which other colors could better evoke the rendering of the protective coat of the Virgin Mary of the Italian primitives Hantaï discovered in Ravenna, along with the poignant electric blue draperies of El Greco, pulled between earth and sky in a swirling suspension? At all times, draperies have been key iconographic motifs translating sometimes silky, shiny or tormented fabrics. But in m.c.7, they allow us to tackle Art in its paradigmatic nudity. Wildly developed by the artist in an almost mechanical way, drapery here takes an almost mystical and metaphysical dimension.
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