70 x 90 cm. (279⁄16 x 357⁄16 in.)
Oil on panel.
Signed and dated lower left: "M. Delmotte 1966."
Also signed on verso and entitled, "Au seuil de l’ère nouvelle" (At the Dawn of a New Era)
· France, Private Collection.
Art is a wide awake dream. It is also magic realism.
Marcel Delmotte, 1969.
Son of a master glassmaker, who was a building painter in his youth particularly specialized in emulating veined marble, Marcel Delmotte never frequented any school of art theory, but remained profoundly committed to the technical perfection of his craft his entire life. An unclassifiable artist, he constructed an eminently significant poetic world, which was both imaginary and visionary, and revealed itself in devastated lunar landscapes, filled with ruins and dried out trees, and peopled by allegorical figures with oversized sculptural anatomies. Delmotte’s paintings questioned the harmony and mechanism of things, human destiny, progress, civilisation, and reason, even as they submitted the ensemble to a personal original aesthetic resolve, nourished by the heritage from Old Masters rather than from either emulations of contemporary surrealists or from metaphysics. In the artist’s hallucinatory landscapes, cranes, factories, and industrial constructions of his native mining country can be discerned or divined, as can volcanic caverns, Dantesque abysses, collapsed baroque palaces, antique columns, chasms emitting noxious vapors, inextricable labyrinths, tiled floors from the Golden Century, vegetal or human forms which overlap, interlock, and metamorphosize.
Delmotte’s original titles give no key to understanding the works, but contribute to creating a scenography, or to be more precise, a microcosm regulated by its own laws which render the viewer completely responsible for finding his own interpretation. Furthermore, the artist sometimes reused certain titles for radically different compositions. The picture which we present thus bears the same title as one painted three years later which was shown at the monographic exhibition, L’Humanité en marche (Humanity on the Move) at The Brachot Gallery (private Collection). Against a blood red background, a nude man sits at the edge of a precipice with his hand over his face, like a modern day Prometheus: “man asks where he is going, because science is a double-edged weapon” (Delmotte).
Much more complex and polysemic, our panel stands out from the marvellous colorism of Delmotte’s work by its assumed monochromatics which contrast even with his pictures where a single shade dominates, in line with the Abstract Composition of 1953 (ill. 1). Our work is like an immense India ink drawing, reminiscent of seascapes “in the manner of an engraving” after Willem Van de Velde, or else of a black and white photograph of a transfigured newspaper. The convex elastic space filled with figures and ductile forms with undefined contours which wrap around a chimerical creature with the angelic face of a young girl – the only face in the picture – whose back is tattooed with tangled bodies. Out of this rhythmical turmoil emerges a combat – if not a ballet – between light and shadows or obscurity, between beauty and ugliness of monsters worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, between curves and straight lines, between surface dullness and brilliance. Mountain peaks become waves, castles melt into the fog, lines which cross form electric poles here and sailboat masts there.
Memories of Picasso’s Guernica echo in the slow disappearance of the mining industry at Charleroi, in the progress of machines, the lack of equilibrium between unchecked material physical power and spiritual qualities, the turpitudes of the Cold War, while the rest is subject to an implacable formal order and invested with hope and humanism (even humanity) which constitutes the essence of Delmotte’s art. The painter places himself as a demiurge, who makes motifs surge out of the substance which he masters and subjects to a virtuoso use of glazes which gives the oil a polish, shine, and transparency of enamel or lacquer. Delmotte wrote that “Technique is linked to feeling. The tool is forged by it and, as soon as the artist touches it and completely reveals itself in the least parcel of his work, technique comes before reasoning, and opens horizons whose existence he had never suspected.” In order to render all the strength in this smooth, brilliant, shimmering brushstroke, the artist preferred monumental dimensions and hard supports such as the prepared wood here.