Pierre Alechinsky’s Sous la conduite de bleu, Sous la tutelle du rouge and Sous la domination du violet are a triptych of fantastical shape and colour. Each panel, dominated by its titular hue, towers over six feet in height; each is internally divided further into three by irregular, patterned borders, which enclose the artist’s free-flowing effusions of biomorphic life, bursting with movement and colour like illuminated medieval manuscripts. Combining the childlike experimental freedom of the 1950s CoBrA movement – in which Alechinsky had played a pivotal role – with the artist’s longstanding fascination with the art of Japanese calligraphy, these works create a pyrotechnic display of figuration and abstraction, order and disorder.
In 1965 Alechinsky had made the move from oil paint to the freer medium of acrylic. ‘Finally,’ he said, ‘I can paint the way I draw; I have always been better at drawing than at painting.’ He also switched canvas for paper. ‘I was freed from the fear that would grab me by my throat, whenever I was walking towards a stretched canvas the way it was propped up against a painter’s easel, the easel that it so similar to the guillotine’ (P. Alechinsky, quoted in F. de Vree, Alechinsky, Antwerp 1976, p. 7). This change in his working process allowed Alechinsky a supreme degree of fluidity to match the calligraphic paintings of the Japanese masters he so admired. He saw in the gestural brushstrokes of Oriental art a method that would give free rein to his inner vision – a near-mystical surrender to form and to colour, as the titles of these works imply. Placing large paper sheets on the floor, he would draw his imagery like a calligraphist in short bursts of concentrated energy, as Leon Arkus describes: ‘Alechinsky leans over the painting on the studio floor, his long Japanese brush poised in his left hand. Suddenly his meditative stance is broken by a rapid act of painting. A copious flow of pigment spreads over his paper – it knows with certainty where it is going. Alechinsky pauses. And once again channels his impulses in a sequence of strokes that spawn bold arabesques and fantastic creatures. There is seemingly no end to his improvisation’ (L. Arkus, ‘Foreword,’ Pierre Alechinsky: Paintings and Writings, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh 1987, p. 7). The resulting tableaux are delightful not only in their vivid colours but also in the freewheeling imagination evident in their teeming forms: bird-like bodies tangle with human limbs and masked faces in the blue panel; botanic tendrils flame across the volcanic red composition; the violet work breathes with the dancing palms and shadows of the jungle. The kaleidoscopic creatures recall the works of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel – old Master painters whom Alechinsky admired, and to whom he often paid homage in his paintings – but enliven a dream that is entirely his own. Glowing with joyous energy, these three works encapsulate the lyrical and distinctive pictorial language that is the essence of Alechinsky.