Martial Raysse was born on February 12, 1936 in Vallauris, France, to a family of ceramicists. His parents’ involvement in the French Resistance against the occupation of the Nazis had a profound impact on his childhood. As Raysse stated in 2000, “I know what it is like to be torn from my bed at 3 o’clock in the morning by the Gestapo.” His first creative experiences in poetry and fine art began at the age of 12. He went on to study literature at the University of Nice and attended the School of Decorative Arts run by François Bret, co-founder of the Peintre de Vingt Ans group, in the same city. In 1955, he met Ben Vautier and Arman in Nice at the Club des jeunes, an informal salon held in the basement of a brasserie. Introduced to Yves Klein through Arman, he began to pursue painting in earnest and had his first solo exhibition in 1958 at Galerie Vieil-Olivier on the Côte d’Azur. In 1960, at Klein’s apartment in Paris, he became one of the founding members of Nouveau Réalisme, a collective of artists led by critic Pierre Restany. Breaking with the lyrical, abstract styles then dominant in Paris, the nine artists present declared their commitment to “new perceptions of the real,” incorporating found objects and quotidian materials into their work in an attempt to blur the distinction between art and everyday life.Read More
In 1962, Raysse traveled to New York, where he joined the bohemian artistic circle around the Chelsea Hotel, whose regulars included Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg. That year, alongside environments by Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and others, he debuted Raysse Beach at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Consisting of an inflatable pool, artificial palm trees, mannequins, radiant heat lamps, and sand, this immersive installation simulated an idyllic scene from the artist’s native French Riviera. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Los Angeles, where he lived and worked until 1968. Inspired by the city’s combination of sunshine and consumerist excess, his aesthetic gradually tended toward that of American Pop, whose embrace of new materials, media, and techniques, such as plastic, silkscreening, and filmic projection, paralleled his own. Declaring his commitment to a “hygiene of vision,” he filled his work with store-bought items, glamorous women, and bucolic landscapes: symbols of purity that engaged the period’s fascination with novelty and surface appearance.
Galvanized by the events of May 1968, a period marked by civil unrest and protests in France, Raysse returned to Paris to join the student-led demonstrations. Discouraged by the movement’s failure to enact revolutionary change, he declared his rupture with the official art world in 1970. Joining an artists’ commune, he experimented with collective forms of production and psychedelic themes, developing a series of small sculptures and assemblages titled after a hallucinogenic mushroom. In the late 1970s, he returned to painting in earnest, producing visionary tableaux that drew on a plethora of literary, pictorial, and cinematic references. His pursuit of large-scale formats grew over time, structured, all the while, by his fascination with artifice and his eclectic store of allusions. Increasingly drawn to sculpture, he executed multiple large-scale commissions for public spaces in France, including the Place du Marché in Nîmes and the Bibliothèque national de France in Paris. Exploring the comic, the cosmic, and the beautiful in equal measure, his works maintain a strong critical edge that calls both artistic conventions and established orders into question.
Raysse’s work is included in numerous important public collections, including Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate, London; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Musée d’arts de Nantes; and Museum Ludwig, Cologne. He participated in the Venice Biennales of 1966, 1976, and 1982. In 2014, he was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale for Painting by the Japan Art Association. The first retrospective of his work was held at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, in 1965. Since then, major surveys of his work have been organized at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, in 1992; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 2014; and the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, in 2015.