Martin Barré

Galerie Jean Chauvelin and Galerie Gillespie, Laage, Salomon

Two joint exhibits presented the recent work of Martin Barré. In fact, these two exhibitions formed a whole; Barré considers each stage of his work to be a coherent, autonomous, foreclosed unity, even if this unity comprises only a moment in the general history of his art.

Barré’s canvases are linked organically within each series. One could say that they form a “system,” if using that word did not run the risk of implying a mechanical or serial conception of his work; but it is true that for Barré all the paintings of a group constitute a single opus. In this regard Jean Clay speaks of the “myth of the primary wall,” and he adds: “The painting, according to this myth, is a fragment of a whole which persists in absentia . . . which carries with it the properties of a symbolic ‘murality.’” The interdependence of the canvases is related to another given which Barré sums up in the formula, “One painting produces another.” This general principle explains why Barré’s works are defined by a precise spatial formation. His canvases are of varying dimension, but they address the same problems through a number of formal or chromatic variations.

The pieces shown at Galerie Jean Chauvelin testify to Barré’s concerns during the years 1979 and 1980. They demonstrate clear correlations between fragmentary vertical and horizontal bands; balancing the extreme rigor of these formations are, on the one hand, the sensitivity of their application, and on the other, the palette of colors. Here, a quasi-mathematical conception (having Piet Mondrian as its model) involves the introduction of a contradiction in its pictorial execution: Barré has said, “Does there not exist, here and there, an entire marvelous game of possibilities between a very controlled gesture and a geometry that tries to make us forget its own rigor? . . . Without contradictions, without paradoxes, would there be an evolution of painting, and without evolution would there be a painting?”

In the canvases at Galerie Gillespie, Laage, Salomon, Barré pushes paradox and contradiction even further. He purifies his formal content by eliminating the crayon tracings, the points of reference, and the gray strips that underline the colored bands, but he complicates his syntax. The chromatic scale is broader and the bands adopt extremely diverse configurations. The resultant effect is itself paradoxical: economy of means, stylistic sobriety, and renunciation of any metaphoric or symbolic allusion (the works are not even titled) are accompanied by an enlargement of pictorial intrigue. The apparent coldness of these geometric compositions is contradicted by the tension they establish and by the emotional charge they contain and condense, not without a certain violence.

If there is something excessively secret, excessively discreet and self-effacing, in Barré’s approach, his recent canvases demonstrate that these qualities aid the painter in penetrating even further into the mental territory where language fails and where rules invented during the “perpetual retreat of all images in the world” (in Jean Louis Schefer’s phrase) triumph. These rules are made in order to recover the contour, tint, value, meaning, and intensity of these afigural figures.

Gerard Georges Lemaire

Translated from the French by Jamey Gambrell.