Pierre Klossowski

Studio Marconi

Theater is the space for anthropometric art par excellence, the place where the pure expression of literary text is translated into reality. The work of artist/writer Pierre Klossowski is somewhat like that of a playwright and a theatrical director; he condenses and “represents” his novels, not on the stage but in enormous drawings.

Although he has always sought to distinguish his work as a writer, begun in the ’30s in Paris alongside André Gide and Rainer Maria Rilke, from his work as an artist, which began in 1953 with his illustrations for his novel Roberta Stasera, one cannot deny that his plastic imagery is clearly a projection of his writing. Similarly, Klossowski’s novels are pure stage design, pictorial sequences that comprise a visual language. Thus painting and writing become two interchangeable expressive codes. However, this double filter greatly distances his protagonists from reality. The obsessionally recurrent character of Roberte (for example, in the drawing Roberte folle de son corps [Roberte crazy about her body, 1983]) is no more than a diaphanous phantasm, and the young Charmide (in Charmide se soumettant à l’incantation de Socrate [Charmide falls under the spell of Socrates, 1985]) is a tenuous memory of an indistinct past.

Klossowski’s materials are limited; he uses only graphite or colored pencils on large sheets of paper, and his figures (which he calls “grandes machines”) are realized at full scale. Because of the themes and scale of his drawings, the artist is considered one of the grand contemporary interpreters of the erotic. But his transparent and often imperfectly proportioned victims and his clumsy persecutors (usually dressed as Swiss guards, masked thieves, fauns, or priests), captured and absorbed in their perverse liaisons, initially provoke neither voyeuristic yearnings nor pleasure of any kind. These phantasms—simulacra of memories—possess neither skin nor flesh; the light trace of the pencil, the slender rudimental figures, engage the imagination in a discreet fashion, only occasionally succeeding in entrancing the observer. Yet, like Alice passing through the looking glass, the observer rather easily penetrates the veil of the drawing, and in the upside-down viewpoint that results, eroticism and perversion are transformed into grace and elegance, violence becomes an innocuous habit, and one’s fear of chains and wounds is undone by the perennial smiles of both victims and persecutors.

Ultimately, Klossowski’s drawing/mirror inverts the anguish of sin and the remorse of the forbidden, turning them into pure pleasure. The spectator, no longer a passive victim of what he or she observes, dares to look and to be tempted; objectivity is lost, and the work’s morbidity is overlooked.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.