Claudie Laks, or the color that sculpts, Thierry Dufrêne

In 1934, Henri Focillon wrote in Vie des formes: A sign signifies, while a form signifies itself.


No one would want to limit to just a sign, much less an image, the squirming gesture that Claudie Laks inscribes in the space of the canvas. Even if I speak metaphorically of a mechanical spring, more or less (re)laks-ed, or of a cocoon, of a magic bean, or more abstractly of an obstinate form, of an insistent image, I would have said nothing except to delimit its meaning. Indeed I have no desire at all to isolate a “signified” which would mutilate the open approach, one that is always going beyond limits, the curved trajectory of the artist, in the detail or the amplitude of the free surface.


This dance that Claudie Laks accomplishes, single-mindedly, and this elementary opening to the conductors of the experience (lucid, carried away) that she has us share: to wit, space, light, the air around us, the echoes and the reflections of the atmosphere, I can form an image of this in the writing that has been scraped into and that travels through and through the canvas. Had I been there in my imagination, there is the birth of the image, its coming into being, as I know it must have been at another time in the artist’s studio. My audacity, encouraged by the fantasy that grows to include me just a bit, could lead me to dance this canvas with her, to enter into the dance which provoke its tempo, to suffuse me in its music, its timbre, to re-act to, and to re-act-ivate, its rhythmicity.


The painting of an artist is free of all bondage to a meaning. Let’s not go look for the mark of a semantic branding-iron. In Focillon’s terms, form signifies nothing: it signifies itself. It is not the self-portrait of the artist, it is not the projection onto the canvas of some aspect of the artist, it is not a composition or even something compounded out of the artist’s personality. Nor is it an appeal to the person looking at the painting to project moods and feelings of a moment, to use the accent, the ictus on the spatial form  to hook on those moods and feelings as one might in a gallery of perceptions and emotions, labels on the facets of a tour through the mind.


No, Claudie Laks’s is not a curve closing into a loop. It starts from her, but in the self-same gesture in which it begins, it slips out beyond and no longer belongs to her, it is her presence still, but separated. If a loop there is, it is not one that closes in her intimacy, her narcissism will last only a moment, just barely a fleeting glance at oneself which will quickly be followed by a quick, sideways jump, a disengagement, a relaxation of the individual reflexes, a slip towards the brim, things are happening everywhere, they pull us elsewhere. It throws the active (and the furtive) pleasure, again and again, the participatory pleasure of painting. It is an act of sharing.


I will speak of Claudie Laks’s sculptures. But listen to me well, as I have paid attention to her : in her work there is no separation putting painting on one side and sculpture on the other, no more than a drawing is separated from the colored. Those distinctions are from days gone by. Do we not see that Simon Hantaï sculpted his painting, drawing himself into it, crouching under the canvas and jumping out with all of his force in order to undo the bindings and spread out what had been held in reserve? Is Hantaï  not Antaeus, finding strength in contact with the earth ? Shall we say that Claude Viallat had the slightest desire for a something stamped that would hang  in the air, weightless, while if he takes out the painted tarpaulin from the grasp of the earth it is only to better render it when it bends and folds? If his painting were not already sculpted, would Sam Francis be satisfied with it, Sam who wanted to depict mysterious spaces where things become murky: the fluidity of the water, the transparency of the air and the heavy burden of the pieces of ice, like reflecting glass, many enamels, many piles, broken pieces that blend back in the gaze that is blended in? Was Ellsworth Kelly not the most two-dimensional of sculptors, and didn’t his folded, curved canvases generate the most convincing spatial presences?


Claudie Laks has dreamed the form of color like those who came before her. Would she  have chosen to paint without the tremendous impact of the painters of  colored abstraction? Sometimes she has the impatience of a Joan Mitchell, taking off from Monet’s Nymphéas in a garden that has become a bundle of wildflowers, then a jungle, then a thick gushing, imbued with a mystery in the Rousseau vein in which the shapes are gone but the naive brutality remains. I am struck by the metamorphosis of the garden which she contemplates daily and which emerges from the sweep of her arm, the garden with which she lives, as it turns into colorful fawns leaping gracefully, incessant twittering, in sudden births. Does she not divert all of the potential animality and active fecundity on the white canvas which is streaked by a spring-time lightning bolt?


I have written that the artist dreams the form of color.


First of all, in her painting, which, like that of Mitchell or Viallat, or better, that of Cy Twombly, oscillates and breathes between the extremes which at times are distant and at other times come close together: that of graffiti, the writing formed more from a claw than a hand (as I was just saying when I alluded to the historic exposition at the Saint-Etienne Museum where Bernard Ceysson went back to Giacometti, Wols, Fautrier, Dubuffet, and others) and that of a unique pictorial form—the famous whirlwind, the vibration that forms the cocoon that I referred to above, and which characterizes the artistic universe of Claudie Laks, repeated, expressing a primary stress otherwise modulated within a grating which sets the boundaries, built as it is by the limitless return of the same motif which leaves its spatial imprint.


It seems to me entirely appropriate to compare her approach to that of Jean-Pierre Pincemin, who was her friend, with whom she shared her views, whom she admired: in Pincemin’s work, plane  pictorial  »objects » resolving in a spatial order as totemic figures: sculpture is at the very end of the line.  Shouldn’t the circular colored planes bloom and blossom in every direction? So too with Claudie Laks’s work, where the circular vibration, the whirlwind should give birth to an inspiring vortex, in both senses of the word.


And now taking off from painting. There is indeed inside the painting something like  a maelstrom coming from the artist an expanding germ, a centrifugal force that must necessarily flow out and take form, as if in distancing itself from the igneous centre of its birth, it must cool down and become solid, like molten metal emerging from a furnace taking form. To be sure, the danger can be a lowering of the tension of the attractive mode/modality that the spectrum of colors and gestures composed within the eruptive and captivating picturality.


To say that Claudie Laks makes a painter’s scupture is relevant only if we add immediately that in her work, it is color that does the cutting out. That is to say, I wish to compare her work explicitly with Matisse’s paper cut-outs. We know that he insisted on cutting out directly in color.  Claudie Laks calls the painting to generate the division of the sculpture into pieces, to prolong her own animation in giving them a reality, indeed a three-dimensional shadow, a spatial echo, a concrete figure. The geometric forms built like a fence or a folding screen are there simply to throw into relief the breaking-through of the obsessive color, the active lines (cross-hatching, dashes, furious little flames) that set it going, the trigger of the desire of form.


The dialectic of order and disorder, of the thrown and the grasped, of the conceived and the deceived  pulls the forms into the movement of life, between simple dispersion and bringing back to order. There is less form than there is formation. There is no process but processing. The great power of Matisse and his cut-outs and the liturgy of signs which give up being symbols, to call the on-lookers to take form, to feel and experience, to be put to the very test of the form, is still pouring its heart out. And did not Jan Voss, who she loves so much, push to its ultimate extreme this art of thwarting the apparent contraction of the painted surface, of the gesture, of the rhythmic framing and the careful placement in living space of the world of color?



Sometimes we see something anthropomorphic. For example in Silhouette d’Outremer, where the intensity of the blue justifies the title—an allusion to Yves Klein? The color reminds the art historian of some of Jacques Lipchitz’s sculptures from the 1915-1916 period. Elsewhere some woven openwork acts as a double hull to the light that is swallowed up before it scurries off under the watchful eye of the onlooker who walks around  the work. Like mashrabiya, the sculpture becomes the shutter, the place of the secret and then the effects of transparency and colored perspective. We find here an attraction towards the Mediterranean where the artist remembers the countries of the South. In the white architecture of Mzab or medinas of the Maghreb, is it not the light which makes the forms that in turn gives the light its special quality and that makes it tangible and alive to the gaze?



I will end with Venus. Venus is a sculpture. Venus is a challenge. It  brings out in sculpture the challenge of the intensity of colored form. Unlike the Silhouette d’Outremer, it is more or less horizontal. We may guess that if it had been figurative, it would have been a woman lying down: Venus, the goddess of love. This mythological aspect in the title calls up the memory of Cy Twombly, but the spatial lay-out of the colored planes is closer to the great and serious complex blended  paradoxically  from the most playful accidents as we find in the fused assemblages of a Berto Lardera.


From Venus’s glorious nudity, her abstract version had, at first, only kept pure color, the brilliant hue of a set of flat tints set out in the sun. In the mirror of the luminous wave, Venus is reflecting, without a veil, hairless, without a groan. A mute dullness.


Venus is one of the most inspiring of Claudie Laks’s scuptures. I said that her metal cut-outs could set her alongside the spatialized blades of the constructivist tradition, like Gabo, Calder, Lardera, David Smith and Pevsner. But the pictorial references are not to be excluded either : most notably Matisse’s L’Escargot (1952), with its rolled up colored forms in a gouache that has been cut out: a collage that spatializes color. If François Rouan had been a sculptor, would he not have woven sharp leaves like this oriented in various ways?


If we look for a similar effort to create a sculptural thickness out of a spatial orchestration of two intersecting planes, each seeming to pull on the other magnetically—we would have to turn to Joel Shapiro, the American sculptor. According to MacLuhan, bidimensionality is more dynamic, more energetic than the third dimension.


On the other side of the folded plane that is Venus, Claudie Laks has made some alterations.  These alterations are interesting because they are justified by the stimulating dialectic of painting and sculpture that has never so well presented itself in the œuvre of the artist as it does here. The painting has indeed the power to perturb the reading of the forms as one passes into the other, creating continuities of fire like the flames which, by jumping from one side to the other of a road, unite the landscape (which may well be different) in a single vision of a  fire, dissolving both limits and materials. It clouds the reading of the geometric forms as it plays its game of masking, of recovery, of running over, of  rescaling.


Thus the artist comes back to the undisciplined character of her painting, holds back her seduction, the magic that dissolves as it goes back over, just touching up, the forms that had been formed through her chaotic method, consolidating their cut-outs. This time, the painting that had the power to mask everything beneath Gaia’s veil, the magician’s veil which hides all the signposts, the love that is giddy from color, the troubling métis of the spiral, abandons itself, no doubt with some cunning subtlety, to the tactile truth of sculpture.



                                                                      Thierry Dufrêne