Friday, 5 February 2016


Timothy Taylor’s survey (to 5 March) of Simon Hantaï’s Pliage ('Folding') works, 1960-82, mysteriously under-seen in the UK, is definitely a winner. All feature the Paris-based Hungarian exile’s signature approach of painting a crumpled, folded, or knotted canvas that is then straightened out and stretched. Hantaï (1922 - 2008) said his aim was to combine 'Matisse's scissors and Pollock's stick' -  the former's cutting into colour in the late work, and the latter's use of an uncentred composition. All the same, I’d have liked to see the sub-methods by which the various series were made spelled out in full. So here you are - I reckon there are nine main series, five of which are represented in the Timothy Taylor exhibition:

Mariales, 1960 - at TT

The Mariales or 'Cloaks of the Virgin' (1960-62) are inspired by the Virgin Mary opening her cloak to humanity. The canvas is creased edge to edge, the exposed parts painted, the canvas unfolded (but not fully flattened out) and the blank spaces painted, yielding colour pretty much all-over.
Catamurons, 1963 - at TT
The Catamurons (1963-64) are named from the house he stayed in at Varengeville with his family each summer. The folded canvas is painted, then covered with a layer of white paint; afterwards, the four edges are folded in, and the square that remains is again crumpled and painted several times.

Panse, 1985 - not at TT
The Panses ('Paunches' or 'Bellies' - 1964-65) knotted canvas at the four angles, scrunching into a bag-like form, before painting and unfolding several times to make one shape floating in space. 
Meun, 1968 - at TT

The Meuns (1967-68), painted after Hantaï moved to village of Meun, are made from pieces of canvas folded on both sides to resemble sacks with large knots at the corners and a string at the centre. They are is painted in one colour on white before the unfolding.

Etude, 1989 - not at TT

The Études (1968–69) are creased edge to edge, and are the first series in which Hantaïi switched from oil to acrylic, painting a single colour to contrast with the canvas's residual whiite 

Untitled, 1971 - not at TT

In the Aquarelles (1970–73) Hantaï used watercolour on thorough creasing in a smaller-scale tondo format.

Tabula (Terre Rose), 1975
The large series of Tabulas (1972-82) achieve an almost geometric composition by systematically knotting the canvas in strategically chosen spots, unfolding it into a large number of small squares or rectangles to make a grid offset by the irregular penetration of the white. Each square becomes a pliage of its own.

Tabula (rouge/noir), 1981 - at TT
Although not strictly a separate series, the effect is rather different when the square elements are simplified down to one or two elements only.

Blanc, 1973 - not at TT
The Blancs (1973-74) are irregularly folded, then painted with multipliple colors so that after unfolding, the unpainted white areas react diffirently with the various colours. They ask whether the unpainted area will become more active here than in the Etudes.
Tabula lilas, 1982 - not at TT

The Tabulas lilas (1982), made after a three year hiatus of not painting, employ white paint over white canvas. 

There was also a chance to see Hantaï in action - via a screening of Jeanne Michel Meurice's documentary film of Hantai at 55 - what was most striking was how hands-on and \9he didn't seem in the best of health) exhausting the process of making the big Tabula was, with scenes of the tying up of canvas, use of a lawn roller to flatten the folds in place, emphsison the non-mechanical in the painting ('you have to feel the canvas', he said), and scenes of Hantai diving under the canvas to straighten it out...  Bach and Cezanne ('colour is the place where brain and universe meet' was themost memorable Cezanne quote) emerged as his biggest inspirations.

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.