Jacques Villeglé (1926)
Born in Quimper in Brittany in 1926, Jacques Villeglé (Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé) enrolled at the École de Beaux-Arts in Rennes, then in Nantes, from 1947 to 1949. Scarcity resulting from the war also affected books, which left Villeglé little informed of the art of his time, with the exception of Miró’s Love, a poem-painting (1926). He thus declared in 1928 the wish to ‘murder painting’. In August 1947 in Saint-Malo, Villeglé collected debris from the remnants of the Atlantic Wall, ‘a way of forming a vocabulary,’ he said. Starting with assembling steel wires with which he ‘drew in space’, he realised his first ‘finished’ work, which he considered to be a masterpiece: Fils d’acier, Chaussée des Corsaires, Saint-Malo.
He collaborated with his friend Raymond Hains, who developed the filming machine ‘hypnagogoscope’ to obtain disturbed images utilising fluted glasses superimposed on the objective, to create a visual poem, Hepérile éclaté: a phonetic text made of invented words inspired by the painter-poet Camille Bryen (1907-1977; co-founder of Art Informal with Wols), the work is dislocated in ‘ultra-letters’ and became what Bryen called ‘the first poem to be un-read’.
In February 1949, Villeglé and Hains embarked on a new adventure: collecting torn posters. They jointly realised a new ‘Bayeux Tapestry’ (2,60 x 0,60 m), working with a series of concert posters recovered on a palisade in Montparnasse. Ach Alma Manetro, composed of fragments of typography of Bach from Alma metro station, creates a verbal and visual game from which the viewer cannot withhold his or her regard. The result is a sort of Lettrist poem, probably under the influence of Isidore Isou, the founder of the concept, whom Villeglé and Hains frequented at the Café Moineau in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Posters lacerated by anonymous passers-by or weather-damaged became the artist’s preferred raw media, for whom ‘the life of an artist must begin with strolling’. He later became aware that his work was in many ways a memory of French society since the end of the war. ‘By taking the poster, I take history.’
Post-war painting in Paris is dominated by abstract, informal art in various forms, such as Fautrier and Dubuffet’s ‘matiérisme’, but Villeglé followed a different approach, to the point of later claiming (whilst smiling) the practice of non-action painting.
Always drawn to poetry, he met the Lettrist François Dufrêne (1930-1982) in 1954 who organised in 1959 an exhibition of the Tapis Maillot, posters on the ground advertising the movies of Porte Maillot cinema, the lacerations of which have yielded new distributions for new titles. For the first time, he baptised these posters Lacéré Anonyme.
Like Guy Debord (1931-1994), revolutionary and creator of the International Lettrist that he frequents at Saint-Germain, Villeglé wants to ‘un-sign’ his work to let speak the walls of the city, reflecting Catherine Francblin’s Comédie Urbaine, with echo to Balzac’s Comédie Humaine: ‘This notion of anonymity saved me, because if I had produced posters or paintings myself, I would have made a very calm one in the morning and then an expressionist one an hour later. As an artist, I needed to forget my identity and my moods. At the moment when the idea of Lacéré Anonyme appeared, I knew that I had found the general idea.’
Thus, what he retains is the date of the collection of the poster (not the date of his intervention). He would still sign his works at the time of sale in order to satisfy his customers’ desires.
Anonymity did not mean the negation of an author: he made a choice about the posters selected, took into consideration their formats, and of course the acts of framing, cutting, and composing. Until the mid-1960s, he framed by monochrome strips of paper before gluing the composition onto a canvas. Sometimes he gave a ‘little boost’, composing the poster from different pieces.
Contrary to the notion of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-made, the poster lacerated by strangers becomes an anti-object, a waste material. But this direct appropriation of reality, as worked by Villeglé, was shared by the Nouveau Realism movement, which he joined in October 1960.
Carrefour Sèvres-Montparnasse, juillet 1961 (3.19 x 8.10 m) marks the passage to posters featuring figures or objects. The catalogue raisonné that Villeglé himself prepared also includes the category of works ‘without letters, without figures’, such as Rue René Boulanger-Boulevard Saint-Martin, juin 1959. On 8th May 1965, he began a series of reproductions of works of art, continued until 1985, which he baptised ‘painting in non-painting’.
In 1971 Pierre Restany affirmed that the ‘extension of the formal repertoire of the lacerated poster is practically limitless. It goes from Expressionism to Tachism, from Matisse to Mathieu, and Mathieu to Mahe.’ Meanwhile Villeglé said he took advantage of the evolution of the genre of the poster in typography, colour, slogan, but also climatic vagaries: the posters lacerated by the rain took on, through a transparency of their layers, ‘an impressionist character closer to Monet’s Water Lilies and Van Gogh’s expressionism’.
In the metro, inspired by the tags of May 1968 and by a wall covered with political ideograms at the time of Nixon’s visit with De Gaulle on February 28, 1969, Villeglé in the manner of an historian defined an entire socio-political alphabet, a ‘heraldry of subversion’, which he painted with a spray on the synthetic canvas: L’Alphabet de la guérilla, octobre 1983.
Later, he expanded the symbols (money, religion) to create a series of 237 student writing slates, La mémoire insoluble, juin 1998-2008: traced via ineffaceable Pentex, the writing on the slates generates a memory that cannot be solved or dissolved; its childish character creates a double-layered poetry. Villeglé also utilised other media to create sorts of erudite graffiti, often employing humour.
The Parisian policy of cleaning facades and fighting the unauthorised posting of bills in the 1980s caused Villeglé to leave Paris. In Lille he began the Décentralisation series, before launching l’Atelier d’Aquitaine, a traveling team exploring the South of France in search of new works. La Genèse-Boulevard de la Liberté, Agen, 12 mai 1997 is a panel composed of concert and popular music posters, where henceforth, groups and musicians are no longer anonymous.
‘We pass’, said Villeglé, ‘from the realisation of works to their staging, from the management of institutional relations to the design and realisation of catalogues.’
His thematic field is expansive, from posters advertising shows to posters relating to the Algerian War or the presidential elections, with or without the graffiti of passers-by with spray or with marker.
If at first the ‘poster conveys the dominant cultural word’, once lacerated it becomes an ‘antidote to all propaganda’ and carries with it the doubt that can constitute the political vision of the work. As an archaeologist of modern urbanity, Villeglé sought to remain neutral, but could not help but see in his lacerated posters ‘wounded harlequins that “free the internal resonance of things and beings”, which unmask the emptiness of our society’.
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Art works from Jacques Villeglé
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