Alain Jacquet

Centre Georges Pompidou; Galerie Beaubourg

Alain Jacquet’s paintings from the past ten years or so have aroused a lot of curiosity, chiefly because a number of them (executed in his New York studio) provoke the viewer with their “excessive” realism. This series of “Terres” (Worlds, 1972–93), or “Peintures de visions” (Paintings of visions) was inspired by photographs of Earth taken from space by NASA. The series, particularly in the initial pieces, comes from one original work, The First Breakfast, 1972–78, a serigraph transfer on canvas, repainted in oil, of an image of the earth taken by the Apollo space mission in 1969.

The vision of the continents, their deformation and their elongation as seen in The First Breakfast, haunted Jacquet until he finally decided, six years later, to express the phantasmatic figures that it reflected at him. Painted in oil on a projection of the space image, women’s faces, ample breasts, and bared genitals appear in the clouds and in the interstices of topographical configurations. The crystal ball of La dentellière (The lacemaker, 1978–80), surrounded by “classical” landscapes and still lifes, encloses these hallucinatory figures. Is this a return of the repressed after years devoted to the study of the dot (working in braille-points) and of the screen, particularly in the famous series, “Déjeuner stir l’herbe” (Luncheon on the grass, 1964)? As Jacquet puts it, “The ‘Visions’ are an elongation of the ‘Camouflages’ (paintings done in 1963–64, during his Pop art and Mec art period, taken from other artists’ works, such as Camouflage Lichtenstein, and Hot Dog); they reveal a camouflage of another sort. . . . It is what I have lived, the way I fashioned myself, that reappears.”

In the large work Hot Dog, 1982, a rather monstrous poodle licks a human skull, the top of which recalls the crystal ball and the orbits of the dots that mark (both literally and figuratively) his earlier work; but the orbits are empty by definition. As in anamorphosis, the forms generate other forms, and the objects, once designated, generate other objects through associations of ideas and wordgames, as in the process of a dream. On account of his patronymic, “Jacquet,” a very common one in France, the artist frequently uses homonyms—the most obvious being the game of jacquet, or backgammon, which appears in his earliest works.

Jacquet’s playfulness, associated with what Pierre Restany calls an “effusive vitalism,” is spectacularly apparent in the gigantic canvas La verité sortant du puits (The truth coming out of a well, 1983), a kind of allegory of the truth of the artist, and which some might judge to he pornographic. A 180-degree shift from The First Breakfast, it depicts a hermaphrodite whose feminine sex is located in the site of the pyramid at Cheops, beside an erect penis. Between other figures, a dove—of peace or of the Holy Spirit—brings to this exaltation of sexuality a dimension that is, so to speak, metaphysical, in which Jacquet’s syncretism extols (as in Tantric doctrine) accession to spirituality through sexual practice.

The later paintings, realized entirely with an airbrush—Space Ship, 1988, or Donut Factory, 1990, a sequence of torus-shapes flying into space—abandon the phantasmatic images to produce a calm, cosmic vision, whose symbolics can be understood as a fascinated homage to nature.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.