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Peter Valentiner: An average run

Press - Un parcours moyen
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I wanted to write that the artist whose portrait I paint every month has an exemplary significance for his itinerary and for his aesthetic positions. The word exemplary bothers me. Let's say typical. A certain way of linking the stylistic personality and the aesthetic questions raised by the time. This is true of Peter Valentiner, whose history is tense between gestural expression and formal problems, between freedom and constraint.

I met Valentiner in 1975. His paintings were an explosion of elements whose chaotic aspect contrasted curiously with the rigidity of the frame, the coldness of the colour, a kind of static hardness. Valentiner was reaching a turning point and I was curious to know what would happen next. Chaos, even when mastered, introduced randomness. Little by little, Valentiner's painting, rather than being filled with a large number of elements, concentrates on two or three forms, giving priority to colour. Paradoxically, the painting becomes more flexible and sensitive. The paradox has an explanation: the painting, rather than taking its unity from an external mastery, finds it in itself. It gains in simplicity and real rhythm.

Valentiner was born in Copenhagen in 1941 and has lived in France since 1949. He divides his time between Paris and Berlin and teaches at the Sommer Academy in Trier (Germany).

He started painting at the age of 18, when he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Tours because he found there an opportunity to work regularly and to receive instruction. He became fascinated by Pollock, Nicolas de Staël and Hartung, discovering afterwards in them his childhood love for Van Gogh.

At the age of 21, he went to live in Madrid for a while, where he met the Argentinian painter Alberto Greco, who was famous for his happenings. He was influenced by Cobra and Saura. Between 1963 and 1967, he discovered abstract painting and pop artists, especially Warhol and Raysse. Pop painting enabled him to understand the American technique of "caches", the "hard edge", i.e. the "hard edges" cut out without emotion, which was the complete opposite of expressionism. Pop art also led him to pure colours and flat tints, again in contrast to the "dirty" colours of expressionism.

In 1969, he created the Environs exhibition in Tours, which brought together provincial painters who were still little known at the time, such as Viallat, Pages, Bioulès and Clement. He painted "targets" and "detectives", characters treated in the manner of pop iconography. From 1971 onwards, he used camouflage, a work on deception in painting: painting does not only show, it hides, it deceives. He was then very close to Support/Surface, to the reflections of the moment on subversion and the materiality of pictorial work.

In 1973-74, he began to create grids that could receive variations in colour. This grid functions as a constraint, it constitutes the subject of the painting. He defines his painting of this period as "a mixture of Vasarely and Morris Louis". The grid led to large formats. Then in 1975, the grid was gone, disorder, chaos. The chaos that evolved into his current painting, whose latest works I saw in Cologne: large, ample, chromatic, free.

This is how Valentiner gained freedom and how today he understands that the great questions posed by the avant-gardes and cubism are already, in his opinion, dealt with by Raphael for example. Ah well!

Richard Creviez


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