Arts

The visual artist Louis Pons is dead

Born in Marseille on April 30, 1927, the visual artist Louis Pons died there at the age of 93 on January 12 after a long illness. His work, made up of thousands of drawings and hundreds of assemblies of found and transformed elements, escapes the usual definitions and categories: neither a “raw” artist in the sense that Jean Dubuffet gave to the adjective, nor a surrealist in spite of some fleeting affinities.

Only the term autodidact seems acceptable. Coming from a background far removed from art, Pons did not start by attending a fine arts school, but by multiplying the most diverse food activities. He is, more or less briefly, accountant, farm worker, grape picker, house painter or press designer. This Jack London youth came to an abrupt end when, in 1948, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After a year and a half of hospitalization in a sanatorium in Hauteville, in Bugey (Ain), he stayed to complete his cure in villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, in Simiane-la-Rotonde, Saint- Paul de Vence or Sillans-la-Cascade. He indulges in what is then essential as one of his two main activities, drawing, the other being reading. It reads the poet Joe Bousquet and the philosopher and physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg.

“To kill time”, He said later, he draws, with a steel pen Sergeant Major and ink: imaginary insects, humanized birds, humans in the process of plant metamorphosis. The usual distinctions between the different orders – animal, human, mineral and plant – are being abolished: are these interlacings ribs, arteries, nervous systems, rock faults? He then realizes, alone and without trying to join the group gathered around André Breton, the surrealist project of an automatic drawing subject to the dictation of the unconscious.

Passion and consistency

He also painted, and his first exhibition in the Alphonse Chave gallery in Vence in 1952 was devoted to his still lifes and figures: meetings of bottles, pots and knives, female and male nudities wrapped in thick fabrics. But it was less these canvases that soon distinguished him from his contemporaries than his assemblages, the oldest of which date from 1959. Pons uses everything that comes his way and can be manipulated without resorting to overly complex techniques. Also his predilection goes to fragments of furniture, spools of dressmakers, skittles, toys, dolls, mannequins for fashion shops, everything that can be picked up in the street or discovered at the flea markets. No doubt Pons, in 1959, was not the first to seize these materials, which Kurt Schwitters, Jean Arp and Max Ernst seized upon in Dada’s time, forty years earlier. But he devotes himself to it with his own passion and consistency.

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