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The art of reversible abstraction


 
 

Valentiner's artistic career began in the early 1960s in the French city of Tours. The twenty-two-year-old student at the Ecole Regionale des Beaux-Arts absorbed the impact of the abstract geometry of the "hard edge" and combined it with the tradition of the absurdist attitude of Surrealism, which was native to France. In 1967, he produced paintings with titles such as "Portrait of a Young Professional. All in the Tie ! " or " Monsieur X, 18 years old, 1 metre 65 ", recall the ironic Dadaist enigmatism of Man Ray or Francis Picabia. In both pictures there is a combination of the same formal elements - a square with an abstract geo-metric grid, a tie, a segment of a circle and finally a field screened with dots - which, even if they appear in a different motivic context each time, convey the character of variations of the same pattern. Already here, an important characteristic of Valentine's working method becomes visible: the creation of variations and mutations of a basic motif or some basic forms. This artistic "method" remains one of the most important factors in Peter Valentiner's artistic oeuvre later on.


The Paris May 1968, which was the peak of the student movement in Europe, and the attempts at liberalisation in the Soviet Union and China brought the French art scene into the maelstrom of politics. In the book "Art in France since 1966", Marie Louise Syring describes the situation at that time as follows: "Many artists and intellectuals, [ ... ] entered into dialogue again with Marxism and also with that of the PCP, in view of the destabilisation and the role played by the party in the Algerians' struggle for independence. But even more, the Cultural Revolution of 1966 in China contributed to the general politicisation of the scene." A large proportion of visual artists in France, in correspondence with the politicising attitude of French intellectuals, feel obliged to address the political in their paintings.


Peter Valentiner also abandons the generally ironic motifs and replaces them in his paintings with motifs of the "class struggle". Although he sees himself mentally close to the group "Supports/Surfaces", which strives to realise its pseudo-Marxist political attitude and the striving for a complete "de-ideologisation" of art in a decorative abstraction, his "Touristes a Moscow" (1969) and "The SaW Man, Detective" paintings (1969) show more of a formal affinity with the critical-realist painted "collages" of Gudmundur Erro.


In the painting "I'm a lonesome cowboy", made in 1969, Valentiner "collages" various images into a pictorial surface divided according to Mondrian's grid order. However, the grid is only adhered to in the orientation and distribution of the partial images, but not at its borders, so that the impression is created as if they were postcards pasted on top of and next to each other. The impression of postcards is further reinforced by the motifs and their formal, extremely striking reduction to mere silhouettes: the silhouette of a rodeo cowboy appearing on the back of a horse in front of the glowing circle of a rising sun, the silhouette of another cowboy driving a cow home at dusk, the silhouette of an American downtown and the image of a fluttering Korean flag. They all take on a politically critical content through the connection with the central figure of a Gis in full armour who - I'm a lonesome cowboy - loses himself as a lonely silhouette in a Far Eastern landscape, which springs from the contrasting juxtapositions of these advertising "idylls".




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