Geneviève Claisse’s first steps in art in the latter half of the 1950s took her into geometric abstraction, exploring its most elementary possibilities over the course of her career. Her rigorous approach involved considering the surface of the canvas as a given space where tension was generated by the arrangement of simple geometric shapes in bold colours. The paint was laid thinly and evenly on the canvas, with the expanses of colour and the relationship between them as the sole vector of an artistic utterance striving for balance. Claisse’s pictorial experiments drew on the periodical Art d’aujourd’hui (1949– 54), and her friendship with the artist and art theorist Auguste Herbin. Herbin likewise influenced many other artists such as Victor Vasarely who lent abstract and kinetic art such vibrancy in post-war France.
This painting is one of a series dating from 1965–6, forming a sharp contrast with the busier paintings of Claisse’s earlier period. The earlier profusion has been stripped back entirely, with large, irregular geometric shapes floating on the canvas, covering much of its surface. In some cases, though not here, black lines connect the shapes to a network. The colours are not necessarily bright, but add to the playfulness of Claisse’s abstraction. While abstract painting might seek to distance itself from direct depictions of nature, that does not preclude any reference to it. Here, the work can be read as a landscape, taking the ‘sun’ of the title as the red polygon towards the top of the canvas and the ‘waters’ as the blue polygon whose slanting sides create the illusion of depth of field. In a similarly titled smaller watercolour from 1965, the star is green, suggesting an element of symbolism. In both cases, the eye is immediately drawn by the two elements that seem to quiver imperceptibly, foreshadowing the dynamic energy of Claisse’s later works.
Serge Fauchereau and Patrick Deparpe, Geneviève Claisse. Écolière, j’étais déjà abstraite/As a student, I was already abstract, exh. cat. Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Musée Matisse, Paris, Hermann Éditeurs, 2015.
Arnauld Pierre, Geneviève Claisse. Réalités 65, exh. cat. Paris, Galerie Artisyou, Paris, Bernard Chauveau, 2013: 27.
Serge Fauchereau and Dominique Szmusiak, Geneviève Claisse. Parcours 1960-1989, exh. cat Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Musée Matisse, 1989.