On the Figure: Ever since I can remember, I was always preoccupied with the study of the human body, pencil or brush in hand. At school, I made caricatures of the teachers and I tried renderings of the other girls’ attitudes - all of which usually ended up confiscated, and destroyed, I suppose. After graduating from secondary school, it took me about two or three years of law studies before dedicating myself entirely to art and going to one or another academy five mornings a week to draw from the nude, with brush, pen, or pencil, from long sittings or ten minute stances for one posture to be grasped quickly. I strove to become familiar with the enigmas set by the human figures in front of me as I stood in front of a sheet of paper.
I did this from 1941 to 1946, first at the Julian Academy and then at the famous Paris School of Fine Arts. Drawings, drawings, and more drawings. I also started to use my memory as well as direct study to describe the knot of a posture or the elegant arabesque of a relaxed attitude. Wherever I went - in the subway, in the cafés of the railway station, in the streets or in the country side - I was trying to select the meaningful purpose of a gesture, the effort of a body in motion.
In my own studio, painting for me was an act of creation quite distinct from observing and drawing: no longer an analysis but a synthesis. Then I was concerned with the specific characters in relation to age and activities. As I had studied my grandmother, later I started to depict my children soon after their birth and throughout their childhood. Such was my main focus from 1947 to 1953.
When I came back to live in Paris in 1954, I decided to go back to the analysis of the human figure. The model I choose, Germaine, was a young ballet dancer, quite well proportioned (present in this exhibition as "Dancer in a White Tutu" and in "The Red Vest"). The great change is that I began to use the medium of colored pastels and oil pigments not only for studies but for compositions. 1955 and 1956 are the only two years when I painted directly from nature.
In 1956 I travelled to Tunisia and was quite moved by the street scenes, mostly Berber women and children and also Hamam scenes. In 1957 and 1958 I was inspired by the slight silhouette of my younger daughter Aurelia, and a friend Chantal. After 1959 for at least a decade I concentrated on abstract compositions, giving full power to my sense of color and also Mythological symbolism.
In the seventies my relationship to the human figure was expressed chiefly in my works on paper, many of which on the theme of Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." In 1976 I was invited to exhibit a series of paintings at the Gallier Hall in New Orleans for the celebrations of the Bicentennial of the United States. I selected to depict an equivalent of the festivities which, in France, surround the celebration of the Fourteenth of July, Bastille Day: traveling circuses, village dancers, lanterns, etc., of which one painting, “The Rehearsal,” is present in this exhibition.
In the eighties and onward, still very keen on abstraction, I also started to think about landscapes and still lifes, to make my scope more universal. In my imagination, the human figure is never far away, it comes and goes in and out of my compositions, and feeds the dance of my drawings which by definition are more intimate.
A Japanese Zen book says that a painter needs to have drawn 10,000 objects, animals, humans, landscapes, before pretending to any mastery in his art. I do agree that a consistent dialog with nature in all its aspects is a must for the painter, and for sure, no combinations of forms and rhythms can propose such elaborate labyrinths, such delightful knots to untie and leave us fulfilled by the expression of so much love and beauty.
−Françoise Gilot, March 25, 2011