Lives of the Artists V

Nicolas de Staël was a man who gave up objects in favour of abstraction.

[He] edged his way into figuration by first training himself to respect the painting as a wall, then by learning how to create an overall represented space. The depiction of objects came third.

He said, ‘I do not contrast abstract painting with figurative painting.’

A conversation of January 1950, reported by Staël’s friend Pierre Lecuire, does something to attenuate, or at least to account for, the seemingly paradoxical character of Staël’s commitment to abstraction. ‘Look,’ he said, pointing to a glue-pot and an ashtray, ‘here are objects, and this is just what I don’t represent.’ Then, picking up a pencil, he made it pass backwards and forwards from the glue-pot to the ashtray. ‘Now, look, that’s painting. L’entre-deux, what lies between the two. Braque paints what is around the objects, then he represents the objects. As for myself, objects, they don’t interest me any longer. I no longer paint them.’ Pressed as to what was left of the object in his painting, Staël said: ‘Rapport. Rapport. Rapport.’ [1]

[1] Richard Wollheim, “Yellow Sky, Red Sea, Violet Sands“, London Review of Books, Vol. 25 No. 14 · 24 July 2003.

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