SETAREH is proud to present the solo exhibition of the French painter Jean-Michel Atlan to take place in Germany since 1958. The artist, who died in 1960, left behind an expressive oeuvre that the SETAREH Gallery, with the help of the Fondation Jean-Michel Atlan and the Musée de la Moderne de la Ville de Paris, is making accessible to the public after a long time.
Jean-Michel Atlan (born 1913 in Constantine, Algeria) was an autodidact who did not attend art school. During the German occupation of Paris, he narrowly escaped death by being admitted to a psychiatric clinic during his imprisonment. The painful experiences of this period (1942–1944) allowed him to achieve a great power of poetic and pictorial expression. The SETAREH Gallery was also able to win two works from this formative period for the exhibition.
After his release, Atlan decided to devote himself entirely to painting, which, he said, 'reveals him better than verbal incantations'. The young Atlan quickly became an essential and unique element of the Parisian art scene, where he cultivated contacts with George Bataille and the surrealists André Masson, Oscar Dominguez, Camille Bryen and Taro Okamoto even before the war because of his particular interest in poetry, literature and philosophy. In December 1944, at his first solo exhibition in Paris, he met Jean Dubuffet, who saw him as an artist 'to be closely followed'.
Raphael Valensi described him in the daily La terre retrouvée as the 'Titan of modern art'. His networking qualities had a major influence on modern art in Paris. In November 1945 he exhibited together with Francis Picabia at the Salon des Surindépendants. During this time, Atlan and Picabia also organised their own salons at home and formed an important artistic and literary centre in the immediate post-war period.
Throughout his career, Atlan regularly exhibited with the group 'les abstraits', so named by the critic Michel Ragon. This group also included Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider, Serge Poliakoff and Nicolas de Staël. His closest friends were Taro Okamoto, Serge Poliakoff and Jacques Doucet, a French artist who later became part of the well-known CoBrA group.
Atlan not only became an important artist during his lifetime, but also an extremely popular personality due to his independence from the art market. Atlan's fame reached its peak in the 1950s. During this time he participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in France and abroad (e.g. Denmark, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Yugoslavia). Important collectors such as Gertrude Stein and Alexander Marguliès were followers of his art as early as 1944.
The exhibition Jean-Michel Atlan et la Nouvelle École de Paris shows Atlan's artistic expression from its beginnings in 1941 to his last paintings in 1959, which testify not only to his ability to use a variety of classical materials (ink, tempera, oil on canvas or pastel), but also to his mastery of light and colour and an outstanding expression between abstraction and object. The works do not want to be attributed to automatism, nor are they part of a preliminary drawing. From his early drawings, which recall the beginnings of Japanese calligraphy (Sumiye), to his abstract paintings and lyrical abstractions, Atlan always focused on one goal: to bring his forms to life.
'I mainly paint with my arms. I obey the same impulses as a dancer, I have to dispose freely of my picture surface, fight against the material, which must neither be too simple nor too cumbersome.' –Excerpt from a letter from Jean-Michel Atlan to Michel Ragon
In the adjoining SETAREH gallery space, the exhibition will be supplemented with works by Atlans' companions and the Nouvelle École de Paris or les abstraits and l'imaginaire. Works by Hans Hartung, Jean Dubuffet, Serge Poliakoff, André Lanskoy, Chu-Teh Chun, Hisao Domoto and Georges Mathieu are exhibited.
Press release courtesy SETAREH.