André Raffray

Galerie Baudoin Lebon

André Raffray makes reproductions of masterpieces. As a result, he occupies a marginal place in the contemporary art world, but he is well known to curators like Pontus Hulten, who exhibited him several times at the Centre Georges Pompidou. Little by little, Raffray has put his stamp on his methods of reproduction, which never yield straight copies of the original. This exhibition, entitled “L’Éloge des autres” (The praise of others), presented works from his retrospective last spring at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle in Bonn, a confirmation that he is now recognized as an artist in his own right. Raffray is completely self-taught, and started making his own art rather late, around the age of forty-five. Applying the skills he acquired while working at Gaumont, the French film studio where he made “fake” paintings for movie sets, he has given free rein in his work to his love of landscapes.

On view were the paintings that Raffray calls “paysages recommencés” (landscapes begun again), for which he located the exact point of view used by an artist in the making of a given work. In Le source du Lison de Gustave Courbet, 1979–80, for example, he reproduces the landscape in question in oil on canvas, working from a photograph he took of the same location, after much research on Courbet’s precise placement. This, of course, is an art of appropriation, but not in the sense of Sherrie Levine or Mike Bidlo, who are concerned with simulation and the notion of the author; here, there is a genuine sense of affection for the “other” and the site’s genius loci.

A series of diptychs brings together two graphite drawings, one reproducing a work on paper by a modernist master, the other representing the work’s original subject. L’Eglise de Domburg de Piet Mondrian, 1985, features a copy of a drawing by the Dutch artist placed next to a drawing of the church that Raffray made from a photo. Although he follows his photographic source closely, the “objectivity” of the photographic representation itself is called into question; seen in juxtaposition with the copy of the Mondrian, Raffray’s drawing from the photo seems no less a version of a version of the church. This problematic is also evoked in the works called “Déchirures” (Rips). One of these offers a view of Port-en-Bessin: The left half of the image is a photo of the port; the right side is a colored-pencil drawing that duplicates a detail of a work by Seurat. The two sides are linked perfectly, but between them is a visible dividing line, a fissure between the “reality” of today and an artistic vision of the past.

The remembrance of things past, lost, and recaptured through a mise en abîme of illusion is equally visible in Raffray’s final series, where the main subject of a painting is rendered in gouache on a photograph of a landscape. These works appear in the same scale and format as the masterpieces on which they are based, making it harder to discern that they have been executed in a different medium. The original dimensions are also respected in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon de Pablo Picasso, 1988, and La Musique d’Henri Matisse, 1989–91 (which took the artist some 1,078 hours to complete)—works transcribed in colored pencil on canvas which count among Raffray’s own “masterpieces.”

Anne Dagbert
Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.