Critical Figuration Art

My Critical Figuration journey

From my first sculptures, I considered myself as a sculptor who deliberately and completely subscribed to Critical Figuration.

These different figurative sculptures were created between 1982 and 1996. They start with a series of faces where the emphasis is on the characters of individual people. The mode of expression is critical, and often borders on caricature. This first series, I called it, with a touch of irony: “Lovely little faces“, ironic because the characters are sometimes sinister, and often antipathetic. The influence of Daumier‘s parliamentarians is obvious, but we can also think of the grinning expressions of a certain Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

[Bronze sculpture. Peasant. Worker. Worker.

The peasant]

All the series that followed are only successive researches to escape me (manage to free oneself) from this double and famous fatherhood.

Attempts will be made to change format with the Men bas-reliefs, or the Big Heads

or by adding a body, more or less well defined (The traveling companions), but trying to keep all the critical load on the faces

The series of “Men and Machines” will close this first period. The introduction of a context, with some absurd machines made with recovery materials, will be a decisive step in my sculptor’s evolution, and will allow me to slide my sculptures from figurative to “outsider” way.

All these figurative sculptures were made initially with clay modeling. The end result was left in a raw form or sometimes glazed terracotta. Some pieces have been treated by the Japanese technique of raku. Others were realized in bronze after lost wax process.

Two other series can be linked to this series of figurative sculptures: Eros and Thanatos (love and death)

Current goal

Expressionism conference at the Critical Figuration Salon of 2018
Françoise Monnin, Claude Duvauchelle et Ahmed Shahabuddin

Here is the definition given by its current President, Claude Duvauchelle, and which can be found in the official site on october 2018:

«The essential is not the subject but what emerges from the work itself, what it sends back to us, transmits to us… A work must shake us up, question us, move us, touch us and/or transport us before we even understand the meaning.

Such a work is, in my opinion, successful because “inhabited”, where one instinctively feels behind it an artist delivering us his vision of the world.»

Initial goal

For more informations on this artistic group, see tth officiel website of Figuration critique

And here is what the 2 founders wrote on September 18, 1978:

«The Critical Figuration Show was founded to free us. Because the current world, unpleasant and oppressive, does not make us happy and the Official Art, currently in force, does not please us!

We are pursuing the dream of a powerfully figurative art which would engage us in a progressively emancipatory struggle …

We have been trying to kept the way during these 40 years of presence and struggle against this new Official Art called ‘Contemporary Art’

Critical Figuration was created by Mirabelle Dors, Maurice Rapin and Yak Rivais. These are the founding members. The statutes of the association were deposited on July 4, 1978 (publication in the OJ N° 168 of July 20).

Maurice Rapin and Mirabelle Dors were very involved in the surrealist movement in the years 1952-1954, in the final phase of this movement. The quarrel with Breton occurred when he joined the declaration of “tachism”, developed by and defended in the group by Simon Hantai.

The first Critical Figuration Salon (Show/fair) was held at the Luxembourg’ Museum from 9 to 26 November 1978.

Mirabelle Dors was President from 1978 to 1994. Maurice Rapin held the role of Treasurer and Secretary

The most successful years of these shows were between 1986 and 1994, as can be seen in the catalogs of these years, which often include 200 to 300 artists. (see catalogs’photos reproduced below)

The first 3 years were very difficult from a financial point of view (the worst in my life said (after) Rapin). The major change came when the CRITICAL FIGURATION Show was able to exhibit at the Grand Palais, at the invitation of Mac A1voy, then President of the Autumn Salon. It was in 1983. At that time, the Autumn Salon was at the bottom of the Grand Palais, and the Critical Figuration Salon on the passageways upside. Each artist had the possibility of exhibiting 3 works, for the modest sum of 300F (ie ~ 50 € currently)”

Among the artists who have gone through Critical Figuration Salons, we can cite the most famous of them: Berszinski and Jean Rustin. But we could catch the names of many other artists who have made their way in galleries : Ceytaire, Schmetz, Taillandier, Yak Rivais, Duranel, Jean Luc Juhel, Jorg Hermlé, Kleinmann, Pouchous, Merlier, Brennnen, Fontferrier; Kai Yuen Chan… just to name a few, all of them quality artists

From the start, the Critical Figuration took on an international stature. Many foreign artists, residents in France or Francophiles, participated in these shows. It is thanks to them that many exhibitions have been organized abroad (see list below).

From the 1985 year, weekly meetings were set up, first in the premises of an MJC in the 4th district of Paris, then in a cafe near the Mutualité. These meetings allowed to exchange between the artists, to organize the next exhibitions and also to present his work to Mirabelle Dors and to the artists present, when someone wanted to join the group

There was not strictly speaking a Management Committee for the association. Mirabelle decided everything herself, and each time entrusted to a new sub-group the management of the exhibitions which were mounted here and there, at the Grand Palais, in the regions or in foreign countries.

a) Maurice Rapin (1924-2000)

  • With a scientific background, Maurice Rapin is considered a poet, theorist and painter
  • Born June 30, 1927 in a garage environment, Maurice Rapin has always felt a strong vocation as a painter, but to support himself, he went to the natural sciences. He is defending a thesis on “the metabolism of porphyrins observed using the fluorescence microscope”. At 20, he already graduated in science and obtained a scholarship at the Marine Biology laboratory in Roscoff, then he took up a position as professor of natural sciences at Lycée Carnot.
  • In 1952, he had 15 days free and created 12 paintings and exhibited in a gallery owned by André Breton who was called “A l’Etoile scellée”. He joined André Breton’s group and thereby received recognition that allowed him to start his career as a painter. In Breton’s group, he meets Mirabelle Dors. He married her in 1954. They both became angry with Breton when he joined the manifesto of “tachism” by abandoning the label “surreal”.
  • With Mirabelle Dors, Jacqueline and Jean-Pierre Duprey, Clovis Trouille and Magritte, he created the “Tendance Populaire Surréalistes” which was to lead, through publications and exhibitions, political combat and artistic activity (Mirabelle Dors and Rapin make surrealist publications and are joined by Magritte and Clovis Trouille.) There followed a long correspondence with Magritte for at least two years, as evidenced by the publication of the 42 letters.
  • In 1978, with Mirabelle Dors and Yak Rivais, he created the association “Figuration Critique” (Critical Figuration), for which he assumed the duties of Secretary and Treasurer, while Mirabelle Dors assumed the role of President. The first 3 years of Critical Figuration brought them terrifying difficulties. Rapin says they were the worst of his life. But the fair in 1992 was around 10,000 paying visitors, an extremely rare audience for a fair in those years. Following new financial difficulties in 1994, and after two years without exposure, the show was taken over by a new team. Mirabelle Dors died in 1999 and Maurice Rapin a year later in 2000
  • This text was established starting from a summary of texts of Lecointre Drouet, Etienne Ruhaud, and especially of the interview which Maurice Rapin granted to Jeanne Rivais in 1992 for the notebooks of painting n ° 268, and which are reported in the catalog of the Museum of Fine Arts of Mons, during an exhibition in 1992

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b) Mirabelle Dors (1913-1999)

  • born in 1913 (?) in Moldova into a French-speaking family, Mirabelle Dors entered the workshop of the sculptor Ludo at a very young age. She tries to animate surrealist groups in the East
  • In 1952, she came to France with her companion Ghérasim Luca (1913-1994), and she was welcomed by Breton
  • The presence in the Breton group is evidenced by a photo of the group of surrealists in the cafe in Place Blanche. See the photo below found on the site dedicated to André Breton
  • She met Maurice Rapin who in 1952 exhibited in the gallery “A l’Etoile Scellée”, owned by Breton’s wife
  • In 1954, she spoke out against the adhesion of surrealism to Charles Etienne’s “tachism”. It was in the same year 1954 that she married Rapin.
  • With Rapin and a few other artists of the group (including Clovis Trouille), she got closer to Magritte before founding the “Tendance populaire surréaliste”
  • The relationship with Magritte will last fifteen years, as evidenced by the book of their correspondence cited above
  • In 1977, she was President of the YOUNG PAINTING Salon for its 28th Salon. She will be excluded from this place following leftist political rivalries within the group.
  • In 1978, she founded with Rapin and Yak Rivais the Salon de Figuration Critique (Critical Figuration Salon), of which she was President from 1978 to 1994
  • “Enthusiastic and generous … rebellious and dissenting, she never accepted ready-made ideas, or dictates. For this reason, she separated very early from the surrealists whom she considered too sectarian. Of an immense culture, endowed with a flawless memory and a sharp intelligence, she created with Rapin a personal ethics and an esthetics to which she held all her life. She was a very convinced feminist activist ”. (Tribute from Jeanine Rivais in his blog, at the time of his death.)
  • Painter and sculptor, Mirabelle Dors brings out from her reliefs a profusion of shapes, faces or masks above all, which create a magical or nightmarish world. She also uses her reliefs, with Maurice Rapin, to generate -populations of images- “(General Dictionary of Surrealism and its surroundings. PUF, editor)

N.B. This brieve biography is a summary of the informations I was able to glean here and there in:

  • the very documented blog of Jeanine Rivais, who was for a time Secretary of the Critical Figuration group and who was very close to the couple. She did several direct interviews with one or the other, leaving us with first-hand information: jeaninerivais.fr
  • the literary blog of the writer Etienne Ruhaud
  • Last but not least, this big monograph dedicated to the couple (probably published in 1992), where one can find, in addition to the works of the two artists, a wealth of various information, and a very detailed autobiography of the life of Maurice Rapin.

c) Yak Rivais

  • Yak Rivais (pseudonym of Yannick Rivais) was born in Fougère in 1939
  • He is considered a writer who is mainly devoted to children’s literature
  • We can attribute to him no less than 76 novels and 12 essays
  • Although mainly known for his work as a writer, Yak Rivais was also a painter until 1982, a teacher until 1994, and again a painter since that date until now.
  • As an author, he began publishing books for adults as early as 1966. In 1984, Yak Rivais began writing for young people. His career then took off and he became a writer specialized in writing games. He received around 30 awards for his children’s books
  • His writings are essentially anchored on fantasy, storytelling in particular, and on word games.
  • He was President until 2007 of the Black Humor Awards
  • For artists who appreciate him and frequent him in Parisian art fairs, and whatever he can say on this subject, he is and will remain the founder of Critical Figuration with Maurice Rapin and Mirabelle Dors. Must we say (with humor) that he was there in the wrong place and at the wrong time. In any case, he is the one who will go with Rapin to file the statutes of the association at the Prefecture. In fact, he will only exhibit a few years at the very beginning of the salon …

1978-1994

We can distinguish three main periods in the evolution of Critical Figuration. The period from 1978 to 1994 was that of Mirabelle Dors as President and Rapin as Secretary and Treasurer. The exhibitions take place at the Grand Palais. It was the closure of the Grand Palace in 1994 that brought disorder to the group. The subsidies having disappeared, it is an important financial debt which freezes the continuation of the exposures during 2 years…

The period from 1988 to 1994 is the richest and most intense period. The number of exhibitors varies from 250 to 300. All the artists who marked this period and who could later be found in the main national galleries went through Figuration. We can cite among the most famous: Berszinski, Jean Rustin, but we could add the names of Ceytaire, Schmetz, Taillandier, Yak Rivais, Duranel, Jean Luc Juhel, Kleinmann, Pouchous, Merlier, Brennnen, Fontferrier, Kai Yuen Chan… and others.

1996-2014

This period was especially marked by the need to find an exhibition space in Paris, both large enough and not too expensive. The free Grand Palais is sorely lacking. And the main goal will be to balance the accounts of the Association, so that the exhibiting artists do not have too much money to spend. From 250/300 artists, the staff will gradually fall to stabilize around the sixties. A few exhibitions at the top of the Arche de la Défense will bring a happy transition, alas short-lived. We will soon have to make do with an exhibition space, either an old ginguette (Faubourg Saint Denis), or a fairly small cultural center (L’espace Kiron), until the Salon comes to install in the magnificent Design Bastille Center building, an old hardware store, still in its original form, with wooden pavers on the ground floor and in the basement, lockers and furniture dating from the 19th, and a magnificent mezzanine under a glass roof. The presidents who led this period (Jane Toussaint, Pascale Simonet and Alain Campello) had the extremely difficult task of constantly seeking new places, and managing to balance the accounts without compromising too much on quality.

2015-2018

With the arrival of Claude Duvauchelle to the Presidency, a particular effort is put on the quality of recruitment, thanks to his acute vigilance. Another effort is focused on the quality of communication thanks to the computer graphics work of Claude Lieber. Finally, another effort is focused on the organization of conferences, and tributes to prestigious artists of the past, under the leadership of Milo Dias. A new impetus is thus brought to the Fair thanks to this collective work, within the framework of a particularly warm and combative Committee of a dozen members, all determined to make the Fair of Critical Figuration a place of reference in the national artistic landscape, and even international, since the show regularly includes Spanish, Belgian, English and Russian artists, who come to join the group.

1) Internationally

  • Brussels (1979)
  • San Francisco (USA-1985)
  • Antwerpen (Belgium-1986)
  • Seoul (South Korea-1986)
  • Pisa (Italy-1989)
  • Moscow (Russia-1991)
  • Saint Petersburg (Russia-1991)
  • Santilla del Mar (Spain-1991 and 1993)
  • Copenhagen (Denmark-1991)
  • Mons (1992)
  • Poo-Pyong (South Korea- 1994)
  • Obidos (Portugal-1994)
  • Sintra (Portugal 1998)
  • Essen (Germany 2010 )

2) French regions

  • Nice (1988)
  • Bordeaux (1988)
  • Biarritz (1992)
  • Saint Malo (2003 and 2005)
  • Lyon (2007 and 2008)
  • La Baule (2013)

-1978-

  • Musée du Luxembourg (from 9 to 26 November 1978) – Paris- France

-1979-

  • Ranelagh Theater (June 1, 1979) – Paris – France

-1980-

  • Cultural center of rue du Louvre (06/16 to 07/14/80) – Paris-France

-1981-

  • Joinville-le-Pont (from October 3 to 24, 1981) – France

-1982-

  • Left Bank Art Center (April 20-May 10, 1982) – Paris – France

-1983-

  • Grand Palais (opening from 8 to 12 January 1983) – Paris – France

-1984-

  • Grand Palais (from 12/01 to 5/2/84) – Paris – France

-1985-

  • Grand Palais (from 6 to 26 January 1985) – Paris – France
  • Vorpal Gallery (November 10, 1985) – San Francisco – USA

-1986-

  • Grand Palais (from June 4 to 30, 1986) – Paris – France
  • Antwerp- Hessenhuis- (August 5 to 24, 1986) – Belgium
  • Woo Jung Art Gallery – Seoul – South Korea (August 14-25, 1986)

-1987-

  • Grand Palais (from September 5 to 21, 1987) – Paris – France

-1988-

  • Acropolis – Nice – France
  • Grand Palais (from 5 to 29 September 1988) – Paris – France
  • Bordeaux – Galerie des Beaux-Arts (from November 21 to 30, 1988)

-1989-

  • Grand Palais (from September 5 to 25, 1989) – Paris – France
  • Pisa- Palazzo Lanfranchi – (November 1989) – Italy

-1990-

  • Grand Palais (from September 5 to 25, 1990) – Paris – France

-1991-

  • Moscow – Museum of Contemporary Art (January 29 to Feb. 28) – USSR
  • Exhibition Porte de Versailles (from February 14 to 17) Paris-Leningrad-hall of the Union of Artists (March 19 to April 10)- USSR
  • Santilla del Mar (May 11 to June 16, 1991) – Spain
  • Grand Palais (from September 16 to 30, 1991) – Paris – France
  • Copenhagen – Bibliotek Rundetarn (October 6 to 30, 1991) – Denmark
Page de couverture du catalogue de Figuration Critique de l'année 1989.
Figuration Critique 1989

-1992-

  • Mons- Museum of Fine Arts (from February 22 to March 22)- Belgium
  • Grand Palais (from 6 to 20 September 1992) – Paris – France
  • Biarritz- Palais des Festivals (from Sept. 1 to October 15)- France

-1993-

  • Santillana del Mar (April / May 1993) – Spain
  • Grand Palais (from September 11 to 28) – Paris – France

-1994-

  • Espace Eiffel/ Branly (from 4 to 13 November 1994) – Paris – France
  • Dong-Ah Gallery – Seoul / Pu-Pyung and Pusan ​​- South Korea
  • Solar Da Praca De Santa Maria (1/27 November)- Obidos (Portugal)

-1996-

  • Royan- Palais des Congrès (from July 6 to 26, 1996) – France
  • Besançon- Fort de Chaudanne (from 01 to 27 September 1996) – France

-1997-

  • Roof of the Grande Arche (February and October) – Paris/La Défense
  • Espace Eiffel-Branly- Paris – France

-1998-

  • Roof of the Grande Arche (Oct. 22 /November 15) Paris/La Défense

[This catalog is the one produced in Portuguese for the Critical Figuration exhibition in Sintra, Portugal. Critical Figuration 1999]

-1999-

  • Sintra- Quintas das cruzadas (March / April 1999_ Portugal
  • Roof of the Grande Arche – Paris / La Défense – France
  • Sintra- Quintas das cruzadas (Dec 99 / January 2000) – – Portugal

-2000-

  • Roof of the Grande Arche – Paris / La Défense – France

-2002-

  • Calvados and Manche traveling exhibition (Gouville, Régnéville)

-2003-

  • Saint-Malo- Château de la Briantais –France

-2004-

  • Espace Saint-Martin – Paris – France

-2005-

  • Saint-Malo Château de la Briantais (from July 30 to August 21)
  • Espace Saint-Martin (from October 19 to 30, 2005) – Paris – France

-2006-

  • 15th century town hall (from June 29 to July 9) – Paris – France

-2007-

  • Lyon- Palais Bondy (from June 22 to July 2) – France

-2008-

  • Palais Bondy (May 7-18, 2008) – Lyon – France
  • The Factory in Zabu- St Germain des Angles (June 14 / September 21,

-2009-

  • Espace Kiron (from 25 to 30 June 2009) – Paris – France
  • Center Maurice Ravel (from December 7 to 18, 2009) – Paris 19th

-2010-

  • Espace Kiron (from June 10 to 15, 2010) – Paris – France
  • Essen- Forum Kunst und Architektur (March 14 / April 11) – Germany
  • Espace Kiron (from December 2 to 7, 2010) – Paris – France

-2011-

  • Espace Kiron (from June 16 to 20, 2011) – Paris 11e – France

-2012-

  • Bastille Design Center (May 1-5) – Paris – France

-2013-

  • La Baule/Le Pouliguen- Espace Rex (from March 29 to April 30)
  • Bastille Design Center (September 10-14) – Paris – France

-2014-

  • Bastille Design Center (September 16-20) – Paris – France

-2015-

  • Bastille Design Center (September 16-20) – Paris – France

-2016-

  • Bastille Design Center (September 14-18) – Paris – France

-2017-

  • Bastille Design Center (October 11-15) – Paris – France

-2018-

  • Bastille Design Center (October 10-14) – Paris – France

-2019-

  • Bastille Design Center (October 9-13) – Paris – France

We cannot speak of movement, in the sense that all the currents of figuration are represented there. It is an aspiration that was established very clearly by its founders in 1978. Currently, especially since 2015, this wish continues, since it is less the form than the substance that is decisive. Of course the quality requirement remains as strong and essential as in the beginning in 1978. That said, the most predominant currents currently are:

societal criticism artists:

expressionist or neo-expressionist artists

outsider art artists

If Critical Figuration is not a movement, we can nevertheless say that there is a Critical Figuration spirit. And this spirit is always part of the defense of figuration, in a context where it is always rejected and despised by official state bodies. On this point, alas, nothing has changed since 1978!

I thing it is possible to say that in the actual situation of Art, The Critical Figuration is the best representative of what could be called the Post-Contemporary art. We are definitively out of this tremendous financial speculation, which is alone to say what is valuable or not in Art. What we want is that meaning, feeling and sensibility become again the chief subject of this formidable way of communication between humans which is true Art !!!