Staring at art from the Tate's collection and thinking about it

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

-12° - Alfred Manessier

Alfred Manessier, -12°, 1956, oil paint on canvas, 1143 x 1460 mm, Tate.

This work by Manessier is a prime example of what artists were up to in Paris after World War II once the centre of the art world had shifted to New York.  While the Abstract Expressionists were often explosive, splattering the canvasses with their very souls, the 'Lyrical Abstractionists' were elegant, calm, bordering on the polite.  If Pollock was bebop, then this is cocktail jazz.  It's what I think of as 'Set Design Art' - that is, the sort of paintings that Hollywood created for when a character in a light-hearted film wanted to splash out on an edgy, modern work to show how 'with it' they were.  Often with hilarious consequences.
   That's not to say it's bad at all.  Manessier also worked in stained glass, and he recreates the effect here, with blocks of colour gradually emerging out of the darkness of the forms.  The yellow is like sun falling on the snow-covered landscape the title evokes.  There's a pleasing harmony between the weight of the forms in the bottom right and the seeming weightlessness of the rising cone in the top left, with the right-angled central form acting as a hinge between the two.  The dark forms evoke wood in the snow, tents,shelters, a paddle?,  maybe even reindeer's antlers.  An enjoyably cold, silent painting.

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