Who is Pierre Alechinsky?

Jun 26, 2018 8:58AM

Clue: A French artist chosen by the First Lady Mme Macron to be installed in the Élysée Palace, the official presidential residence. Born in Brussels in 1927, Pierre Alechinsky from an early age displayed a great interest in graphic technology, folk art, and medieval illuminations. From 1944 to 1948, he studied art at the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture et des arts décoratifs in Brussels. Alechinsky was a member of the Jeune Peinture Belge group 1945–48. During a visit to Paris in 1948, the works of Jean Dubuffet and Max Ernst made a great impression on him, and his attraction to early Art Brut became increasingly obvious. In 1949, Alechinsky visited an exhibition featuring artists from the Cobra group, which had been formed the year before at Séminaire des Arts. This encounter would come to have a lasting impact on his life. The group consisted of artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, and its members were united by their bold, expressive compositions, which were inspired by folk art and art made by children.

Around 1958, his art took an increasingly imaginative turn, and he began using bright acrylics to create anthropomorphic creatures. This step to creating these imaginary monsters is actually equally inspired by medieval illuminations, which can seem every bit as surreal as anything else that was out there in the mid-20th century. Just think of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel! This painting from 1973 radiates humour and playfulness. The intense blue colour serves as a backdrop for two underwater creatures, which seem to be engaged in a conversation.

One of them impatiently snakes its way around the entire canvas, while the other seems highly sceptical.Alechinsky made this painting during a visit to his Chinese artist friend Walasse Ting, who he had first met back in his COBRA days, towards the end of the 1940s. Ting had been living in New York since 1957. There, he was influenced by Pop art and abstract expressionism, but he also retained much of the influences he’d received from the likes of Alechinsky. Perhaps this is a double portrait of these two artist friends?

From 1983 to 1987, Alechinsky taught painting at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. His works have been included in group exhibitions at places like the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1958); The Venice biennale (1960, 1972); Pittsburgh International (now known as the Carnegie International, 1961, 1977); the Paulo biennale (1963, 1989); and the Guggenheim Museum (2009). He has also had international solo exhibitions at institutions such as Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1955, 1969); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1963); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1967); Musée national d'art modern Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1975, 2004); the Guggenheim Museum (1987); Taipei Fine Arts Museum (1992); and Jeu de Paume, Paris (1998, 2003). Musees royaux de beaux-arts de Belgique in Brussels produced a big retrospective show in 2007. Alechinsky lives and works in Paris.