Art "brut" & "Primitive" arts

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At the time when Picasso took an interest in african art, "primitive arts" were not current. The vocabulary evolves with our vision of the world. Primitive art, african oceanian or inuit art, savage art, traditional art... How identify the huge production of non european art from the art of the others?

In 1945 Jean Dubuffet considered "art brut" as an art released from esthetic conventions. For him it is a fact that mad people stood out of society conventions. Modern psychiatry might be fuller of nuances and, after visiting the Lausanne museum , how maintain that the productions of mad people stand out of the current academicism?
Everything evolves.

Is it legitimate to bring closer "art brut" and "primitive art"? a complex question victor hugo


African art as an example : We shall easily distinguish a "traditional" african art from a "modern" and even "contemporary" or "avant garde" african art. Likewise the paintings of le Louvres belong to a multitude of ages and styles, african art objects couldn't all be called "primitive". One admires Picasso for having been inspired by "negro" art; how could we blame Ousmane Sow for beeing influenced when he sculpts his Victor Hugo?

victor hugo

Art "brut" as well as primitive art must be authentic and that arouses uneasiness. The art critic, Michel Ragon remarks :
"The art of mentally ill people reached its upmost degree of expressiveness when the population of psychiatric hospitals was most suppressed (...) From the moment psychiatrists hijack that expression, "savage", to use it as one of the datas of their therapy, the artistic vein in the mental hospitals was dried up.

Unless something else comes out of it...which remains to be discovered.

Art of the origins, "authentic" art : the word is quoted about primitive arts by Mr Ilia Malichine, an esteemed art dealer in his interview by Angelika Schindler on Arte channel, on july 9th 2004.

"Picasso was sensitive to the richness of african art, to its magic, but to its authencity too. I keep on trying to define art with the help of this concept. As far as I am concerned, art, far from any imposture, any bragging, is the son of authencity".

The monster is unleashed. Authencity, this cliché of the terrible 1920 to 45  years surfaces again with this famous dealer who continues :

"Finding an antique and authentic work represents a difficulty, a european has no idea of. Yesterday for instance, I had a phone call from Africa. For five years I've been willing to acquire a wooden sculpture, an older woman carries tied up on her back.
According to my inside source, it's a splendid work of art, dating from several generations. The old woman wants to be buried with it. In the meantime, even the spiritual chief of the village considers it would be of help if she sold it to me for the village needs money. To find a way out, we had a new object carved which will be buried with the woman when she dies. Afterwards, the family will sell me the sculpture. After all it went up in value. One doesn't leave such a piece to termits!"

This tends to prove that in authencity terms nobody is perfect, regardless respect of others' beliefs. Before talking about others let us wonder circumstances in which western art repudiated academicism.

After the successive victories of impressionism, conceptual art, passing through cubism, here we are, imprinted with anti academic values, to the point that the question about the origins of present western art - the question of "primitive" modern art - is concealed, the evolution standing so much to reason. 

The totalitarisms of the twenties - nazis and communists unanimously - rose up against decadent art. What did bite these decadent artists? Actually the flies proliferated on the charniers of the 14 -18 war. The revolt against mechanical and chemical atrocities , a distrastrous result of nationalisms and xenophobia, first spread out with the Dadaist artists. They vomited the industrial destruction added to the traditional horrors of wars. Comby's father was a participant of these horrors in spite of himself. Horrors, the most horrible of which, was to show peoples other peoples' subjection as the supreme good.

We didn't listen to the decadent artists and we did it again. In worse. As soon as 1941 we use gases but, against civilians and, in 1945 the first atomic bombs are launched on civilians rather than on soliders. For reasons close to those of the Dada movement, once the war is finished, Dubuffet searches an elsewhere. Something that wouldn't be distorted, polluted, calibrated, mortified by the industrial society, which has turned into an untamable monster, the logic of which has become inhuman. He hopes he will find  among those society has rejected, if not an elsewhere, at least a sign from this elswhere. If reasonable people exterminate grand mothers and children with gas, napalm or particle, the loonies aren't they wiser than we think?

No wonder if, prompted by the same powerful reasons, Comby will also try, during the seventies, in the Pierrefeu hospital, to create bonds with these "different" people; this process is in complete consistency with all his work. The same catastrophic events following each other through generations, create similar reactions of defence for sensitive artists who internalize horror.


According to his tendency, the art critic, will classify Comby  in the box he will fell like assigning him. It is to be feared that the classification should turn to an impossible mission.

No doubt that, for his students, Comby's work should be in their personal primitive arts. At the beginning of their artists lives, Comby's caustic strength relieved them from their timidities

 For others, Comby would rather be an artist on the fringe - or in the middle ? - of primitive art, not to say brutal art because of his obsession for the scream, for death and warlike violence. Poles apart from conceptual art, this is a heavily material sculpture, a powerful one that weighs as much on earth as it marks imagination. Comby? an artist at the antipodes of good taste.

I can imagine, Comby knows he is anything but naive. He knows he is an artist and takes pleasure in creating, in enjoying beeing fully an artist.May be he also feels like a sorcerer? he finds in his work the very simple magic of creation. As an answer to Mr Malichine, I dream of Comby getting caught in his own propitiatory witchcraft.

The abolished charms, become primitive arts, are beeing exchanged under the neon tubes of Drouot, as the magic of Comby's work strives to ward off  the Apocalypse beast from us.

                                                                                             Alain Le Boucher July 2006












Article de Die Welt sur la galerie Ilia Malichine. (en allemand) : Seit 30 Jahren Handel mit afrikanischer Kunst: Die Galerie Malichin in Baden Baden - Kontrastprogramm mit Zeitgenossen

revue GAZOGÈNE 108 Rue Jean-baptiste Delpech 46000 Cahors.
Gazogène likes to be the magazine of peculiar creations, of primitive art, popular art, in their humblest expressions as in their out of standard realizations. It is perfectly beautiful and mal.

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