This work is listed in the inventory of the work of Martial Raysse
'At the core of the Nouveau Réliste vocabulary was the product par excellence of industrialised society, the mass-produced object... the only artist to make deliberate use of the brand-new object, straight out of the shop window, was Martial Raysse, in pursuit of what he called his "hygiene of vision". This approach resembled, and anticipated, that of American Pop Art" (A. Pacquement, Pop Art, exh. cat., London 1991, p. 217).
Substantially larger than life and bounding from the page with extraordinary vitality and beauty, yet tinged with a subtle sense of sadness and pathos, L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique) is one of Martial Raysse's most important works. Dating from 1962, it represents the moment when the ground-breaking European art movement which he helped to pioneer in 1960, Nouveau Réalisme, met head on with the very dawn of the Pop Art movement which it foreshadowed in America. For it was during this year that Raysse exhibited with some of his Nouveau Réalistes colleagues and the likes of Robert Rauschenberg at the exhibition Dylaby (Dynamic Labyrinth) at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and during July of this year Andy Warhol also had his first, now legendary, exhibition at Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles featuring his first fully realised series of Pop images of Campbells soup cans. In the following year Raysse had his first solo show at Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles entitled Mirrors and Portraits which featured the present work amongst other now celebrated paintings. For his show at the Stedelijk, Raysse constructed his renowned assemblage Raysse Beach, in which he created a beach scene using female mannequins, large photographs of women and plastic beach toys. The installation pointed to the synthetically glamorous modern ideal of happiness and soon after this he began to produce his first paintings on this theme, including the present work. A classic example of his amalgamation of medium and method with invasive social comment, the treatment here of the beautiful female face, probably taken from a fashion magazine, spray-painted in bright synthetic colours with her eyes and eyelashes retouched as if to beatify the image, makes an ironic reference to modern standards of taste.
Sadly 1962 was also the year that Yves Klein died. As Raysse's fellow pioneer along with Arman, César and Niki de Saint Phalle, Klein had helped to inspire arguably one of the most important European art movements of the Twentieth Century. The Nouveaux Réalistes, like their British contemporaries, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney, served as precursors of Pop, working in parallel to the so-called Neo-Dada of Jasper Johns and of Robert Rauschenberg, whom Raysse met in Paris the year before he painted L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique). Their use of the world around them as raw subject matter, taking and transforming elements from the flux of contemporary life in the forms of cars, machine parts or naked women, marked an important precedent that the Pop artists ran with. So too did their focus on the process of artistic transformation, by which the elements of our everyday existence shift from the realm of practical existence to the realm of art. In Raysse's case, this was evident in his presentation of collage objects which often juxtaposed various consumer products with special focus on the beauty industry, placing them in a new order that granted them new meaning.
Of grand, almost billboard scale L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique), co-opts the language of advertising but rather than merely taking objects from the world around him, Raysse has been able to create an incredibly current and striking image that critiques the idea of received notions of beauty. Raysse saw the world of cosmetics as a parallel to that of artistic creation. That industry's ads imposed concepts of beauty and taste, just as the art world did. On top of the bold red and green that dominate the canvas, Raysse has covered the image of the woman in layers of paint that appear like discordant graffiti. The thick impasto around the eye of the woman becomes a form of make-up disaster, while the flower in her hair recalls street art, not least in its partially sprayed appearance. Crucially, there is also an element of collage, recalling the artist's earlier works, with a frame applied to the surface of the picture, near the girl's mouth, containing the pad with its lipstick kiss, an echo of his old installations and a visceral link to reality.
For his Mirrors and Portraits show at Virginia Dwan's highly influential gallery in Los Angeles in 1963, L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique) hung alongside a group of other works from this seminal year in Raysse's career. These works all had self-referential titles, like L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique): other works featured were Seventeen (titre journalistique) and Rites of Spring (titre emprunté); in case of L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique), the exoticism referred to in the title may be due to its apparent reference to Alain Resnais' artistic masterpiece movie, L'année dernière à Marienbad, scripted by Alain Robbe-Grillet.
Looking at L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique), Raysse's Pop credentials are clear to see: the picture's scale, its vivid colours reminiscent of industrial printing techniques and the found subject matter of a chic girl, seemingly appropriated from an advert of some sort, all align this picture with the works from exactly the same period by his contemporaries in the United States, for instance Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, who both created their Marilyn pictures the same year, as well as Tom Wesselmann with his early Great American Nudes; indeed, it predates Roy Lichtenstein's iconic paintings of girls, many of the most famous of them dating from 1963. Raysse not only had his finger on the Pop pulse: he was at its beating heart.
Raysse's work had gained increasing attention in the States, where it had featured in group shows at various galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, where he had featured in The Art of Assemblage; meanwhile, Raysse Beach was granted a dedicated show at the gallery of Alexandre Iolas in 1962. During the course of 1962, when L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique) was painted, Raysse spent a great amount of time in New York, staying in the legendary Chelsea Hotel. He was thus present, and indeed influential, at the birth of Pop Art. In his earlier epic installations relating to his Hygiène de la Vision, a mock shop window-like display of 1960, and Raysse Beach of 1962, Raysse introduced the human figure to an increasing degree in his work, especially in the form of the cardboard cut-outs who peopled the latter installation.
This trend became increasingly apparent, and saw Raysse drift further from Nouveau Réalisme; instead, he was increasingly involved with the events and developments in the United States that were taking place parallel to his work in France.
Raysse used this relationship to striking effect, taking found images from magazines or from the Old Masters and presenting them with a great equivalency, defying the arbiters of taste by showing them in new incarnations. He was influenced in part by the fact that, growing up in the South of France, he had seen many of the supposed masterpieces of the past only in reproduction, in images of similar quality to that of ads. Indeed, he claimed that on seeing some of those works in the flesh he was disappointed. Thus he tapped into the link between these
different beauty industries, cosmetics and art, incorporating beauty products in all the works in his Mirrors and Portraits show, such as the lipstick-bearing pad here, to make this relationship more explicit, to encourage people to reconsider the entire nature of aesthetics and taste. The slightly forlorn look of the girl in this picture may be an indication of the pressures of that world. At the same time, the sheer fun and energy of L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique), of its bright colours and gestural application of paint, is exuberant, revealing the degree to which this picture is a celebration of beauty, of artifice, of superficiality, tapping into the artist's own love for his native South of France. 'I wanted to exalt the modern world, optimism and sunshine,' he explained. 'To paint sadness can only be a snobbish game of a sickly unconsciousness!' (Raysse, quoted in Martial Raysse, exh. cat., Paris, 1992, p. 47).
Raysse's own comments on his relationship with his American contemporaries reveals some of the similar territory that he was occupying, but also the difference between his work and theirs: 'If it is necessary to define each of our perspectives - without seeing to compare them or put them in rivalry with each other - I would say that Lichtenstein observes and restructures adverts through the eyes of Seurat or Léger,' he explained. 'Myself, I observe and restructure life, or the reproductions of Ingres, from advertising' (Raysse, quoted in ibid., p. 61). While L'année dernière à Capri (titre exotique)" has the striking intensity reminiscent of American Pop, of the vivid colours of Warhol's Marilyns, say, the legacy of Nouveau Ralisme is clear in the process with which this picture has been created, and his intellectual programme is also clear, his desire to capture aspects of everyday life through the contemporary language of ads that had become so endemic.