Guggenheim

According to his own words, Henri Michaux (b. 1899, Namur, Belgium; d. 1984, Paris) wrote and painted to “find himself.” His poetic and artistic production holds an exceptional place in European culture and is profoundly related to the desire for self-discovery. He delves into the mechanisms of consciousness, and like a dowser, traces out the elements beyond its reach. Michaux alternated between poetry and painting, although becoming increasingly inclined towards the latter until finally coming to consider it his main practice. An unflagging experimenter and traveler, Michaux entered the art world thanks to Paul Klee, the works of whom he discovered in the 1920s, and whose influence ultimately brought him to definitively dedicate himself to the graphic arts. His early materials were a writer’s tools, ink and paper, although he quickly developed the techniques considered characteristic of his work today, such as black backgrounds, frottage, watercolor and ink on multiple mediums, combined with oil on paper and acrylic, which he also used singularly in later years. In his words, Michaux always painted “to surprise himself.” He never believed in predefined results, but rather sought to provoke undefinable events in the material, triggering the appearance of unexpected figures, signs, and landscapes animated almost in a shaman-like fashion. Untitled (1981) is an important example of this later period of his work, and is part of the long tradition of Michaux’s imaginary portraits. In them, the characters appear to sprout forth from the infinite depth of the paper towards the surface, emerging from a chaotic amalgamation of stains. The faces “happen” in their encounter with those gazing at them. Untitled (1981) was shown at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao as a part of Henri Michaux: The Other Side, now considered the most important retrospective on the artist of the past decades.