With His Pliage Technique, Simon Hantaï Found New Power in Canvas

Though Simon Hantaï had built a successful career with his forceful abstract paintings, he withdrew from the art world in the early 1980s and fell into relative obscurity. Since then, various galleries and museums have brought the late artist’s works back into the light, most recently in London at Timothy Taylor, which offers a welcome celebration of the artist’s novel approach to canvas.

Briefly associated with the Surrealists and figurative work, Hantaï left both behind in 1955 to explore abstraction. Five years of experimentation, coupled with inspiration from Jackson Pollock and Henri Matisse, ultimately led the Hungarian-born artist to “pliage,” the method for which he is best known. 

For pliage, rather than beginning with a primed and stretched canvas, Hantaï knotted and folded large swaths of the fabric into almost sculptural forms. These crumpled canvases served as the unpredictable grounds for his paintings. He would cover them with large areas of color, then unknot, unfold, and flatten his canvases once again, only then revealing the completed painting to himself and to viewers. The resulting compositions garnered Hantaï acclaim and a coveted place representing France in the 1982 Venice Biennale. It was then he withdrew from the art world.

A generous array of Hantaï’s pliage paintings are on display at Timothy Taylor. Blue dots tumble across Sans titre (1972), while wind-whipped autumn leaves come to mind in Meun (1968), an imposing piece that, like many of Hantaï’s works, is of considerable size. Tabula (1980) features a gridded arrangement of brightly hued squares interrupted by thick white lines—indications of where, in a previous life, the now-unfurled canvas had been folded and creased.

 

Karen Kedmey

 

Simon Hantaï” is on view at Timothy Taylor, London, Jan. 22–Mar. 5, 2016.

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