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Hervé Télémaque

”Le droit chemin”

Sold for 1.800.000 SEK at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale 7-10 June 2017.

491. Hervé Télémaque (France born 1937).
”Le droit chemin”.
Signed and dated télémaque 64 on reverse. Oil on canvas, 195 x 130 cm.

Hervé Télémaque was born in Haiti but left his hometown for the great city of New York in the late 1950’s. Compared to many historical European cities, New York had only recently been evolving into an art metropolis. Several new movements occurred including pop art and the abstract expressionism, which were dominating the art scene by the time Télémaque settled down in America. Contemporary American artists influenced his artistry to a great extent and he was simultaneously inspired by surrealism, reinterpreted by the American artists and particularly under the influence of Arshile Gorky, and the abstract expressionism. Apart from these two fields within modernism and contemporary art, it was pop art that caught his interest and in which area he truly developed as an artist and found his path. Even though Paris was loosing its reputation as the main art capital in the world to the larger and more adventurous city of New York, Télémaque decided to leave for the French capital in 1961. “Paris attracted me in 1961, whereas New York, a city imbued with racism, disappointed me. Confronted with the lack of a critical view of society by American painters from the pop art generation, aside from James Rosenquist, I decided to leave New York and move permanently to Paris.”

Télémaque’s well-composed and joyful images are the expression of his own visual vocabulary. The elements included in his paintings are familiar and easy to identify but not always depicted in the most logical way, on the contrary they often tell a story that has never been told before about ordinary subjects. The monumental painting ”Le droit chemin”, or ”The straight way”, was painted in 1964 during his period in France, at a time when he completely devoted himself to painting and truly flourished as an artist. Without being personally involved in the movement of surrealism, he was introduced to the main surrealistic representatives in France and his scenery evolved under the influence of advertisements, commercial packages, comic books, daily street life and news paper layouts which is clearly expressed in the vivid painting included in this sale. The Belgian cartoonist known by his nickname Hergé was undoubtedly the greatest source of inspiration for Hervé Télémaque when creating this wonderful composition in the mid 1960’s. Thirty-five years earlier, Hergé had created one of the most popular European comics series of the 20th century, “The adventures of Tintin”, and in his painting Télémaque formed a carefully balanced scenery with the use of the head figure in the iconic comic series. The artist was deeply impressed by the fine lines of drawing that were used to create Tintin and followed Hergés example when depicting the legendary figure in his composition. The first comic books about the reporter Tintin showed a courageous young man who spoke his meaning and went looking for adventurous opportunities, whilst the later published books portrayed a more passive character far from the outspoken previous version. Considering this and Télémaques continuous interest in politics and on-going current discussions, the lack of a mouth on the Tintin figure depicted in his painting might be a subtle but clear reaction to a noticeable restrained political climate. The swimming fish underneath Tintin is depicted in the same manner, with the mouth barely visible as a statement. In contrast and portrayed next in line is a nearly bold man who is laughing out loud.

The presences of symbols and objects usually seen in ordinary situations are typical for works of art by Télémaque. In “Le droit chemin”, several items are to be found painted in bold and energetic colours such as a paintbrush held by a hand and a scale. The painting “Exercise 1,2,3”, also included in the present sale was executed the same year as “Le droit chemin”. It depicts a presumably high-ranked but unknown person caught beneath a formation of the number 1. The words “voir mad”, translated to “see madness”, is written over the fallen number. Perhaps intended to picture a fallen star due to endless striving for a glorified career, or even a nod to the racism and restraints that Télémaque experienced during his years in New York.

In the mid and late 1960’s, he emptied out his canvases so that the isolated objects could float against white or coloured backgrounds. The same year as the artist painted “Le droit chemin” and in collaboration with the art critic Gérald Gassiot-Talabot and the painter Rancillac, he organized the exhibition “Mythologies quotidiennes” at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. The show presented an alternative to abstract art but most importantly, it emphasized a critical perspective on consumer society particularly recognizable in the America he had left behind him. His paintings are often insisting on a closer look rather than being looked at in a glance, consisting of numerous hidden messages and references to historical moments. As a leading figure of “the Narrative Figuration movement” together with Rancillac and the American painter Peter Saul, he retained a way of always improvising his paintings yet remained a social and political commentator through his works and throughout his artistic career.

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