Simon HantaïPanse
Oil on canvas
Monogrammed and dated on the bottom right
29.92 x 20.87 in ( 76 x 53 cm )
Inquiry - Panse, 1965


Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris

Artwork's description

"The series of 'Panses' by Simon Hantaï embodies a period of profound artistic introspection, where the act of creation is explored in its most elemental form, through a symbiosis of color, form, and the process of folding.

Inspired by the evocative words of Henri Michaux, Hantaï embarks on a visual quest that delves into the intricacies of creation, exploring the very foundations of life through a singular artistic approach. Each canvas in the series presents itself as an abstract landscape, where organic forms emerge from multiple folds and layered colors. Like a painterly alchemist, Hantaï manipulates matter to create compositions where voids and solids blend into a complex harmony, evoking the dynamics of artistic gestation. Each fold, each layer of paint seems to reflect a stage of development, a step in the creative process, thus suggesting the evolutionary progression of form and color.

The analogy with the matrix cell, the starting point of all life, reinforces the idea of an artistic genesis in perpetual evolution. Like dividing cells, Hantaï's 'Panses' seem to multiply, metamorphose, thus revealing the richness and complexity of creation. Each work then becomes a testament to a moment frozen in time, capturing the artist's creative momentum and transforming it into an immutable work of art.

Over the years, the series of 'Panses' reveals the evolution of an aesthetic unique to Hantaï. Gradually, the white of the canvas invades the space, thus marking a break with the dense and colorful forms of the beginnings. This trend towards simplicity seems to testify to a desire to return to the very essence of creation, while retaining the richness and complexity inherent in each fold, each layer of paint. Thus, the series of 'Panses' becomes a reflection of an artistic exploration in perpetual mutation, where color, form, and the creative process blend into a visually evolving symphony."

Artist's biography

Simon Hantaï, a prominent figure in gestural abstraction and pictorial folding, is an essential reference in the 20th-century art landscape. Born in 1922 in Bia, Hungary, his artistic journey was shaped by a relentless quest for new forms of expression, influenced by his studies at the Budapest School of Fine Arts and his subsequent move to Paris in 1948.

In the French capital, Hantaï immersed himself in the vibrant artistic scene of the time, drawing inspiration from the Surrealists and renowned gestural artists. In December 1952, on the cusp of his 30th birthday, Simon Hantaï anonymously left a painting at André Breton's doorstep with the inscription: "Look into my eyes. I am searching for you. Do not chase me away." Shortly afterward, he discovered that Breton had opened his gallery, l'Étoile scellée, where his work was displayed alongside a print of Marcel Duchamp's female fig leaf.

When Breton inquired about his identity, Hantaï simply replied, "I am the author of the painting I left at your door." This serendipitous encounter sparked a friendship between the two men and propelled Hantaï into the heart of the Parisian Surrealist circle, where he experimented with various techniques such as collage, scratching, and cutting. His explorations led to the creation of striking works, populated by hybrid bodies and strange forms, each element carrying deep, even esoteric significance. However, tensions soon arose between Hantaï and the Surrealist group. In 1954, Hantaï expressed that automatic painting, as practiced by Pollock and the Americans, was the true novelty, unlike the "trompe-l'œil fixation of dream images." Breton and the Surrealists disagreed with this view.

By the time Hantaï respectfully ended his relationship with Breton in a letter dated March 11, 1955, his painting had already taken him far from Surrealism with remarkable decisiveness. The year 1960 marked a pivotal point in Hantaï's career with the introduction of "folding as a method." This innovation, which became emblematic of his work, transcended the limits of traditional painting by giving the canvas a unique sculptural dimension. It involved crumpling the canvas randomly before applying paint only to the accessible parts. The unfolding then revealed unexpected reliefs and hollows, with unpainted areas increasingly taking on an "active" role in the canvases of various series he developed throughout his life.

Through folding, Hantaï allowed chance to guide his creative process, unveiling compositions of striking beauty and unexpected depth. His first series, titled "Mariales and Manteaux de la Vierge," paid homage to representations of the Madonna in majesty, notably Giotto's famous "Maestà di Ognissanti," which Hantaï discovered in Florence in 1948 and whose intense blue-black mantle profoundly influenced his artistic vision.

Over the years, Hantaï applied his method across several emblematic series. The "Catamurons," named after a vacation home in Varengeville-sur-Mer, featured dark compositions set within light squares, creating a striking contrast. The "Panses," initially titled "Maman! Maman! Dits: la Saucisse," in reference to a text by Michaux, demonstrated the artist's humor and subversion, exploring the form of cells while questioning the boundaries between painting and sculpture. The "Études," initiated in 1968, marked a radical turn in his work with all-over folding and monochrome painting applied edge to edge, breaking from the previous folding logic centered on a motif. The "Aquarelles" and the "Blancs" offered more experimental explorations of medium and technique, while the iconic "Tabulas" series played with rhythms and spaces to create a dynamic interplay between full and empty spaces, offering a profound reflection on the materiality of painting.

As Daniel Buren, who met Hantaï in 1961, noted, he folded and painted "blindly," deliberately allowing chance to take its course. "He never knows, after manipulating his folded canvas, what will emerge upon unfolding." It is this unpredictable and fascinating dimension that gives Hantaï's work its uniqueness and beauty.

Simon Hantaï's work has been widely celebrated through significant retrospectives, notably at the Centre Pompidou in 2013 and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in 2022, marking the centenary of his birth. Throughout his life, Simon Hantaï was supported by Jean Fournier and his eponymous gallery. Since 2019, the American gallery Gagosian has represented his estate and organized numerous exhibitions in honor of the painter, notably in Paris, New York, and Rome.