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The Liberation of painting

The Art of the Gesture and the Sign

In their desire to reinvent painting, artists no longer sought to represent the tangible reality of the beings and things around them. 

Rather they aspired to make art a constantly evolving adventure. Without a predefined plan, the place accorded to gesture and chance in their work became crucial. For artists like Simon Hantaï and Jean Degottex, the gesture was no longer a mark of artistic subjectivity. Instead, they sought to develop a language using new signs. Interested in cal- ligraphy and the relationship his art could have with certain types of writing, Degottex explored the way in which his gestures could be understood as pictorial signs. Certain works by Hantaï may also be compared to Far Eastern calligraphy where the gesture is the expression of a vital force. For Georges Mathieu, art was a language and the sign, the key element of its vocabulary. He even claimed that the effectiveness of his gestural painting was born of the sign and not of the signified. This revolutionary premise removed any last barriers hindering the gestural Art Informel in its quest for solutions to paint reality, without having recourse to traditional codes of representation. 

Non-figurative artists wanted to free the gesture so that it did not respond to any need, other than being the product of their expression. The violence of painting at this time reflects a feeling of insecurity, associated with the urgent need for self-expression. Scratches, scrapings and lacerations, similar to the use of monumental formats in the art of Degottex and Emilio Vedova (see p. 132-133), allowed artists to explore new means and forms of expression. Antonio Saura’s oftentimes rapid and violent gestures transformed the material into a living organism. Hantaï’s works demonstrate a discipline of gesture based on movements that were both rapid and controlled, where the traces and signs inscribed in the material are sufficient in themselves. The speed, spontaneity, unpredictability and energy of the gesture is central to the work of the artists presented in this chapter, reflecting their need for absolute freedom. 


Peinture, 1957
Huile et poudre de pigments sur toile 
88,3 x 80,3 cm

Inv. FGA-BA-HANTA-0001 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© ADAGP, Paris, 2020


Hommage à la mort, 1950
Huile sur panneau de contreplaqué
160 x 119,5 cm

Inv. FGA-BA-MATHI-0025 © Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : André Morin
© ADAGP, Paris, 2020


L'Adret, Novembre 1959
Huile sur toile
201 x 367,8 cm

inv. FGA-BA-DEGOT-0003 ​ ©  Fondation Gandur pour l’Art, Genève. Photographe : Sandra Pointet
© Adagp, Paris, 2020