22 rue du Bac, 75007, + 33 1 42 97 44 00
January 23, March 7, 2020

Galerie Jean Fournier is delighted to be presenting its first exhibition by Hélène Valentin (1927–2012). Hélène Valentin, New York, 1973–1978 comprises ten works – two of them monumental – emblematic of the high point of her career. This is a tribute to a French woman artist, a virtuoso of the acrylic glaze, who deservedly found recognition in the United States.

French artist Hélène Valentin was heir to several cultures. In France she trained at the Écoles des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, Bourges and Paris. Her Morocco years – she lived there from 1949 to 1959 – were an aesthetic jolt that marked her for life; yet although she travelled widely there, soaking up the light and the saturated colours of the south, her pictures of that period – oils impastoed with a palette knife, shapes outlined in black – speak more of her studies than of the world around her. In 1963 she moved to New York, the city that « stole the Idea of Modern Art », to cite from the title of Serge Guibault’s memorable book. There she found fertile ground for her work in an especially dynamic context.

The early 1970s saw Valentin turn to acrylics and enhance her glazing technique. She developed a nuanced palette that played on « inter-tones », and worked with her big canvases spread on the floor: « The paint – pure pigment mixed with acrylics – is laid on with big brushes . . . The liquid mix concentrates or disperses the pigments in shifting ways. »

Her 1973 exhibition at Max Hutchinson’s SoHo gallery was a notable critical and commercial success, and the two worked together – eight solo shows in all – until the gallery closed in 1984. In the course of this prolifically creative period she also worked with pastel and and honed her acrylic technique. Interested in dance, music, and the performances that were thriving at the time. she even tried her hand at an outdoor performance-action as part of New York’s Artpark project.

Her works are uncompromisingly abstract in the philosophical sense: they transcribe a sensory phenomenon drawn from the real world but having no physical, concrete reality. « The result, » she says, « is an object. Something immobile, permanent, fixed, rendered vibrant only by its fine, translucent overlays. The eye receives its light rays in fluctuating waves that vanish and reappear in time with the eye’s perception. » These waves conjure up impermanence, transcendence, changeability.

Also detectable in her work are signs of spiritual sensitivity and a close personal relationship with nature. Often invoked in descriptions of her paintings, these signs notably include water, a symbol of change with which Valentin has a particular affinity: « My ultimate dream is a substance that’s impermanent, volatile, impossible to rein in. Water, maybe? The water I use for painting… »

After the Max Hutchinson Gallery in New-York closed in 1984, Hélène Valentin had several exhibitions in Australia. A new period had begun in her work, in the form of small oils whose dominant themes were mountains and volcanoes. At the same time she was pursuing her Nomadics: a project for unstretched, readily transportable canvases ongoing since 1972. In 1988 she made a definitive return to France, where she divided her time between Paris and the Drôme département, and took part in group shows in Provence.

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