(article extracted from the Piasa Catalog; Collection Daniel Varenne, 2019)
After two years of training at the National School of Fine Arts in Architecture (1959-1961), Alain Jacquet came to painting. From that time, he became friends with Jean Tinguely, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Martial Raysse and Pierre Restany, who provided him with critical and theoretical support throughout his career. Jacquet’s canvases dating from 1961, with bright colors and an intense expressive charge, offer behind their abstract appearance variations on the green carpet and the arrows of the game of backgammon (homonymy with his name which is not haphazard ). With the series of “Images of Epinal” (1962) which he began in the process, Jacquet continued his interrogation on the border separating figuration and abstraction, disturbing the reading of these old popular images to give birth to very beautiful and enigmatic colorful interlacing, which borders on non-figuration without however fully engaging in it (Image by Épinal: The Union between France and Austria, February, 1962).
The famous series of “Camouflages” initiated the following year, includes masterpieces of art history (from Michelangelo to Matisse via Bronzino) that Jacquet associates with iconic forms from consumer society, popular culture or advertising: a petrol pump is painted on the replica of Botticelli’s Venus, a traffic sign covers the Leda. Jacquet, with Camouflage Michel Ange, Sistine Chapel, The Temptation of Eve, 1962-1963, mixes with fragments of classical motifs those of the Statue of Liberty. These incongruous and humorous connections are delivered to the spectator in all subtlety through the games of camouflage, superposition, overlapping of images, playing on the collision of several registers of meaning. The same is true of Camouflage Walt Disney, 1963, which is not limited to a simple recovery of imagery but is the result of complex montages, elaborate quotation systems. With the “Camouflages” Alain Jacquet benefits from exhibitions at the Breteau gallery (1961-1962) in Paris then at Robert Fraser’s in London in 1963. This date corresponds to the end of the period of this series, when Jacquet draws up the following observation : “Little by little, the images became sharper, then they mingled, camouflaged one inside the other like the passion of chameleons; it was getting too complex. Three colors were enough if I gave up the juxtaposition; by superimposing, all the colors appeared vibrant. ” This reflectionon additive color synthesis directs him to woven works through which he will explore the infinite possibilities of this motif and question the laws of visual perception.
In 1964, Jacquet painted his first half-tone painting, Déjeuner sur l’herbe from the famous eponymous painting by Manet. This is his first work Mec’Art (Mechanical Art), a term coined by Pierre Restany to designate an art produced mechanically, without manual intervention. Under the aegis of the latter, Jacquet takes part in the Mec’Art group which notably brings together Bertini, Bury, Rotella, Kessanlis and with whom he will participate in the exhibition “Homage to Nicéphore Niepce” at Galerie J. which will mark the consecration of this movement.Another very emblematic work of Jac’s Mec’Art, Gabrielle d’Estrées, 1965, taken from the anonymous painting by the Fontainebleau school of Gabrielle d’Estrées and the Duchess of Villars (1595). Jacquet does not limit himself to reproducing the original, he poses models which he photographs, provoking powerful anachronisms reinforced by the modernity of certain details: the bathtub and its fittings, the hairstyle with the curlers of a poseur. It also empties the historical picture of its symbolic and political character by obliterating the legendary pinch of nipple. He sets up a new imagery approaching that conveyed by the mass media, thus questioning the modalities of production and perception of the image, here become the critical place of a critical look. Let us cite as another woven work by Jacquet la Source, after Ingres, 1965-2002, taken from the painting by Ingres where a jerrycan of petrol appears as an ancient amphora. This work, which he will first perform on an inflatable support, will be followed by a “remake”, a large serigraph on canvas in 2003. As for The tub, 1965, inspired by the series of “Women in the tub” by Degas, the artist’s reinterpretation is no less trivial: he shows us a young naked woman, seen from the back, who examines her sex through a mirror. What Jacquet’s table shows is therefore rather this inverted image of a “butt”, a term which literally means “ass” in English and which is the inversion of the title “tub” 1.n another register, the process of abstraction of the weft, allowing Jacquet to pass from the infinitely large to the infinitely small, also acts in a very effective way with industrial or mechanical objects as evidenced by the DS Engine series, 1967 and Estafette Renault, 1969.
The mid-1960s corresponded to Jacquet’s period of creative effervescence. He moved to the Chelsea Hotel in New York for a few months, meeting Alexander Iolas who exhibited a retrospective of his “Camouflages” in his Manhattan gallery in 1964: a photo of Leo Castelli and Roy Lichtensteinposing with Alain Jacquet in a camouflaged suit, this memorable vernissage continues. He also meets Andy Warhol with whom he shares a taste for photomechanical reporting and screen printing. It is not trivial that Alain Jacquet, who settled more permanently in New York from 1965 to 1967, felt an affinity with American Pop art. Guy Scarpetta, in a study on the artist, reminds us that Pierre Restany had noted that his work is situated on the side of reproduction and not of the real object, of “representation”, and not of “presentation” 2. Nevertheless, Jacquet clearly distinguished himself from the artists of American Pop Art by refusing the direct and immediate character of their works to prefer a complex pictorial system, based on polysemy and the mutation of images.At the end of the 1960s, Jacquet, who began working with gallery owner Daniel Varenne, explored new artistic territories by creating very radical works, more in the nature of conceptual art (he was the only French to be exhibited by Harald Szeemann in his famous exhibition “When Attitude Becomes Form” at the Kunsthalle in Bern in 1969). Thus, he is interested in the expansion of the mesh of a burlap, he studies the screen printing transposition of floors (Plancher no 7, 1969), that of corrugated iron on a flat surface, he uses transparent Plexiglas plates to create different color sequences normally gathered by the principle of the frame (Landmark). It was also the time when Jacquet indulged in free interpretations of Marcel Duchamp, by producing “Ready-made” which are only the extension of his citational art and the affirmation of his desire to put an end to the idolatry of the original and fascination with the creative act (Arrosoir, 1972). Jacquet is interested in other transcription codes than frames and, initiating himself into esoteric thought, he studies systems like writing in Braille, digital transfers, the combinatorics of the hexagrams of the Yi-King (Mandala, 1972). Iconic work of this period, the sculpture-installation La Baratte, 1971-1975 which he will present at the Venice Biennale of 1976, consisting of sixty-four superimposed discs each carrying the sixty-four signs of Braille, has the particularity of presenting almost unlimited combinatorial possibilities.In the 1970s, Jacquet continued his work of decomposing the image of the frames from images of the Earth taken by the astronauts during the Apollo space mission and carried them out on canvas by concentric frame as shown by First Breakfast, 1972. The iconic image of the terrestrial globe will give rise to an infinite number of variations in the configuration and superposition of continents, oceans, and clouds, in the manner of camouflage.
In 1978, thanks to the computer, Jacquet discovered a new formal freedom in his work of image reworking which led to “Vision paintings” (1978-1988). Cliches of the terrestrial globe engage inmetamorphoses in which planets become characters (Charlotte and Caroline, 1987), the artist projects his own interior visions (Promotheus, 1985) and fantasies. Jacquet here affirms his taste for provocation and visual disorientation which will find its full fulfillment in the series showing “Sausages” and “Donuts” floating in space alone or mated.
A major French artist, Alain Jacquet is difficult to classify, as Catherine Millet, one of his main exegetes, has pointed out.3 Lying between Pop art and conceptual art, he has given painting a new lease of life. the era of mechanical reproduction. Thanks to the diversity of techniques and supports used, by his scholarly, humorous or frivolous references to the history of art, Jacquet had fun making the invisible visible and vice versa. The images he gives us, polysemous, require a permanent visual and intellectual development following a process perfectly described by Guy Scarpetta: the image in Jacquet “is only the temporary stopping point of a double process: from the spectator to figuration (or to its passing out); and figuration towards its degree of definition at the end of which the artist decided to freeze its consistency “4.