For the first time, Perrotin is organizing a monographic exhibition of Yves Laloy (Rennes, 1920–Cancale, 1999) with some fifty works across two of its spaces, on avenue Matignon and rue de Turenne. The artist has not had a major exhibition since a 2004 retrospective at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes. Two emblematic works by Laloy from the Museum's collections are presented on this occasion, as well as a number of private loans.
Yves Laloy began his career as an architect before shifting definitively to painting in 1950. From the beginning, he exhibited in the surrealist galleries in Paris where his puns and irony found a particular resonance. In 1958, André Breton organized an exhibition for him at the Galerie La Cour d'Ingres and wrote a laudatory text for the preface to the catalogue. A few years later, Breton chose Les Petits pois sont verts, les petits poissons rouges... (1959) to illustrate the cover of his book Le Surréalisme et la peinture. Laloy himself never joined the Surrealist movement; he developed his work around a multifaceted formal vocabulary, ranging from studied geometric compositions to images of undulating and cosmogonic worlds. His works have been shown in Paris, Milan and Basel, and in exhibitions dedicated to surrealism, including the one organized in 1991 at the Centre Pompidou in homage to André Breton. Laloy’s independent nature and the rarity of his work have given him the status of a fairly discreet artist, known mainly to lovers of surrealist art. The polyphony of this unclassifiable oeuvre and the unconventional curiosity of the artist invite us to look at these paintings—full of the mysteries of the cosmos, the sea and the unconscious—in a different light today.
Laloy's training as an architect had a great influence on his technique. Even before using paints and brushes, the artist traced the slightest shape and outline of his compositions with a pencil directly on the canvas laid flat, using a T-square and with the help of rulers, compasses and triangles. Then, mechanically, he applied a light and precise pictorial layer, often without modeling and shadows. The color palette is highly vivid, a play on contrasts and often an expression of violence or passion.
"My painting is based on linear drawing: these are lines that compose a labyrinth traversed by Ariadne's thread, which is the thread of thought. In this labyrinth, I get lost and I escape. Starting from a point, it is through a series of points that I return to the same point: thus, what I paint in a sense does not advance me towards anything. I depicted a closed circuit, [...] what I depicted is a cycle, a step."
"My vocation as a sailor has fallen by the wayside!
I am not sunk, however!
The sea is beautiful, it is great!
It was a dream of solitude.
Staying on land: never!
Better to have your head in the clouds and pretend to be an artist.”
Catalogue raisonné: Yves Laloy (Skira, 2014), p. 21
The sea is a central element in the life and work of Yves Laloy. With Cancale in Brittany as his home port, he was known for his miraculous fishing catches even with rudimentary means. The sea was also the subject of his first compositions (from the late 1940's until the early 1950's): he was interested in both the light on the waves and the small fishing boats moored near the beaches. A few years later, the sea was still present in part of his work composed of a broader repertoire of forms. Described as biomorphic, it is a world of organic and underwater forms, of half-real and half-imaginary creatures in which, in certain series, purely geometric elements come together.
Already in 1958, André Breton alluded to this iconography: "The kind of ultra-world that Yves Laloy’s geometric paintings reveal sometimes gives way, in other paintings, to an infra-world, no less his own and that would not be any less precious than the previous, in so much as it reveals to us the other pole of the accumulator. In this infra-world hybrid beings gravitate, essentially members of the cephalopods and hurried in a series of waves in which you’d think all the swells of Gavr’inis come to life."
Although Laloy deals with subjects which are universal—the sea, man, fauna or faith—he approaches them in a surprising way, through strange and unusual or magical representations. When he depicts a human or animal body, aquatic creatures appear which sometimes replace the main features of a face, for example in Les petits pois sont verts... les petits poissons rouges (1959). In Monstrum in animo (c. 1955), Laloy places a jellyfish in the body of the majestic bird with plumage composed of geometric shapes and an ensemble of formal artifices. This pictorial sophistication, just like the humor and the plays on words, were particularly appreciated by André Breton and the surrealist artists.
"The eye and vision, the eye and sex, the eye, and more precisely the gaze, have fascinated Yves Laloy. This attraction to vision is of great importance in nearly all his works that one can consider figurative. In this way, he joins in the preoccupations of the surrealists, who confer to the eye and to vision quasi magical properties."
Suzanne Nouhaud-Duco, Catalogue raisonné: Yves Laloy (Skira, 2014), p. 49
"André Breton's homage to Laloy in Le Surréalisme et la Peinture resonates with the first sentence of the book, which has become famous: "The eye exists in a wild state..." In this praise of vision, Breton expresses his admiration for Laloy and the painters who "see beyond the visible." This quality is essential for him, as much in a poet as in a painter. Laloy paid particular attention to the gaze. Even in the paintings featuring underwater flora and fauna, the jellyfish and crustaceans are personified and their eyes are bulging. The human faces, however, surprise us with the omnipresence of their gazes. In the painting Homme âge à Dante, which also contains multiple themes, Laloy gives each character an expressive look, with fluorescent colors: pain, astonishment, malice or terror are expressed with force. The unreal and unstructured bodies melt into a dark magma of brown and black tones, but what is striking in this painting is first of all the liveliness of the horrified eyes, evidence of the violence of the punishments inflicted on the damned. The face and the eyes, stylized to the extreme, are surprisingly expressive.”
Suzanne Nouhaud-Duco, Catalogue raisonné: Yves Laloy (Skira, 2014), p. 49–50
“To tell the truth, when I look at my paintings, I wonder what I was thinking when I made them. … Those things are from the realm of the unconscious”
Born in 1920 in Rennes, France
Died in 1999 in Cancale, France
After an education as an architect, Yves Laloy turned to painting in 1950 and stared to be exhibited in the surrealist galleries in Paris. His work is characterized by a multiple plastic vocabulary through geometric compositions of great pictorial audacity and figurative paintings borrowing themes from Surrealism. André Breton discovered his work and supported the artist with admiration from 1958 until the end of his life. He chose a work by Laloy to illustrate the cover of his famous book Le Surréalisme et la Peinture, which he republished in 1965. The artist was particularly influenced by non-Western art, especially that of the Navajo in America. He let himself be guided by forms that multiplied and that led him on a personal quest that was above all spiritual. Writing, in the form of calembours, is sometimes included in the composition of his paintings and drawings. In 2004, Yves Laloy was the subject of a major monographic exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, France.