Winter has been coming, and you’re putting your defenses up to fend off the common cold. Likewise, the Gallery Anne Barrault, under the curatorship of Pacôme Thiellement, wants to keep your soul warm and safe. That’s the proposal of “Suspended Citadels”: build bulwarks against the cruelty of images, by bringing together artworks by some of the most distinguished artists in their field. They stem from the underground press, the comic strips scene; they are the children of the era of Hara Kiri, the irreverencious monthly magazine.
Thiellement, who has written an essay about Hara-Kiri in 2012 (“Tous les chevaliers sauvages”, published by Philippe Rey), says that this movement was the largest event of art in France in the second half of the 20th century. Hara Kiri was not only a satirical paper, started in 1960 by François Cavanna and Georges “Professeur Choron” Bernier. It was an avant-garde, leading a steady charge against violence, injustice, mediocrity; using as their primary weapon a boundless laughter. They left us quite a legacy: thanks to them, we are better prepared to look straight at the harshness and cruelty weaving our world.
Below the surface of those pictures, there is more than initially meets the eye. For Suhrawardi, Iranian philosopher of the 12th century and spiritual guide of Thiellement, our souls are bound to live in a “world of forms”. This world of forms is also a world of images and pictures. That’s why the works of great cartoonists and their aesthetics is so important: they will populate this world, where our souls will rest forever after we are gone. They will be our citadels in the land of the souls, and they better be sound and secure.
Let’s enter one of those citadels. This one was imagined by Georges “Gébé” Blondeaux, who was Hara-Kiri’s Editor In Chief since 1969. The ink on paper, titled “Les dangers de ne pas partir en week-end en voiture” (“The dangers of not taking your car for a week-end vacation”) is the centerpiece of the exhibition. The drawing includes a commentary, looking like a stage direction: “Suddenly, he’s given wings by listening to an extatic music, and crashes into the ceiling”. Frustration is dramatized, taken to the extremes. The human figure has been distorted to large, grotesque extents, taking almost nigthmarish propotions. Such loss of physical integrity, probably caused by self-imprisonement and alienation by a consumerist society, leads us to believe that we’re not far from mystisicm. Destroying oneself in order to end psychic pain, and re-emerging as a new force, seems to be the message carried by this eschatological vision.
As a general rule dictated by the artists displayed, drawing is a shelter for the soul, intended to purify and refresh our outlook. The function of art is about depicting awful things in a beautiful way. This transfiguration might be what consoles and saves us. This can take the form of a gaily-coloured hallucination, like in artworks by Captain Cavern and Olivia Clavel, both coming from the graphzine community. The metaphysical aspect is also convened through Killoffer’s singular universe or the late Roland Topor’s illustrations. They create a smooth and discreet world in appearance, which is actually a frightening dictatorship whereby humans don’t have any choice. Painting and collage have not been left behind with Scott Batty, from Manchester; the only one foreign artist represented.
(Suspended Citadels is @ Gallery Anne Barrault until February 23rd)