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Déformation de fonction variable convexe

Déformation de fonction variable convexe
titled 'Déformation de fonction variable convexe' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
97.1 x 162.2 cm. (38 ¼ x 63 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1957
Collection Betty Barman, Brussels.
Galerie Michel Couturier, Paris.
Dolf Selbach, Düsseldorf.
His sale, Grisebach GmbH, Berlin, 27 May 2011, lot 108.
Acquired at above sale by the present owner.
Brussels, Musée d’Ixelles, Lecole de Paris dans les coll. Belges, 1961, no. 110.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 50 Œuvres particulièrement choisies parmi les collections belges, 1963, no. 6a.
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Lot Essay

In Georges Mathieu’s formation de fonction variable convexe (1957), an expansive, monumental plane of deepest blue supports a frenetic patchwork of blood-red and cream motifs, overlapping, intertwining and writhing together with irresistible improvisatory rhythm. Faint traceries of lines, splatters and curvilinear geometries are juxtaposed by an impastoed riot of abstract form. The eye is drawn towards this dense and energised explosion of paint on the right-hand side of the piece, a tantalising indication of “tubism”, a term that Mathieu coined in the mid-1940s to denote the application of paint onto canvas directly from the tube. The overall impact of Mathieu’s process is one of urgent kineticism, a magnificent example of the performative painting that became a hallmark of postwar expressive abstraction on both sides of the Atlantic.

formation de fonction variable convexe , produced by Mathieu during a period of unprecedented international acclaim, resonates with the artist’s aesthetic development of European Lyrical Abstraction. For Mathieu, working with speed, risk and rebellion emancipated the very act of painting, manifesting a highly personalised and original response to abstraction, and in-turn freeing both artist and subject from traditional aesthetic sensibilities. Mathieu worked with a ferocious rapidity, often completing his vast canvases in little over an hour. ‘Speed therefore signifies the definitive abandonment of the artisanal methods in painting in favor of methods of pure creation’, Mathieu explained. ‘Now, is that not the mission of the artist: to create, not to recopy. Speed and improvisation are the reasons we are able to associate the creative forms of this painting with those of liberated and direct musical forms like Jazz or with Oriental calligraphy’ (G. Mathieu, in ‘De l’abstrait au possible – Jalons pour une exégese de l’art (From the Abstract to the Possible – Milestones for an exegesis of Western Art)’, Ed. Of the Contemporary Art Circle in Zurich , 1959, translated and reproduced by Édouard Lombard, [accessed 30July 2018]). It is surely no coincidence that the gestural patterns and geometries delineated in formation de fonction variable convexe are evocative of shodō; in 1957, the year of the work’s execution, Mathieu made a productive and creatively fruitful trip to Japan, invigorating his response to abstraction.

Additionally, in comparing his spontaneous, painterly act of creation to the jam sessions explored by contemporary bebop musicians, Mathieu has also emphasised the performative nature of his work. In the 1950s, Mathieu became renowned for painting in public, an antecedent to the happenings organised by Allan Kaprow several years later. Mathieu encouraged the onlooker to engage with the spectacle of painting, subverting traditional notions of artistry as a private act blanketed by care and time. Like Pollock, whose performative process was so evocatively captured by Hans Namuth in 1950, Mathieu transformed – with brilliant showmanship – the very act of painting into a captivating, theatrical display. It is with this sense of immediacy that formation de fonction variable convexe is given its ecstatic vitality.

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