Calligraphy Rhapsody – Retrospective Exhibition of Georges Mathieu
Georges Mathieu was born to a family of bankers on January 27, 1921, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Northern France. He moved to Versailles at the age of 12 and studied Greek, Russian, and Spanish at the Lycée Hoche. In 1941, he studied English literature and law at the University of Lille. A self-taught painter, he began his artistic career in 1942, making mostly landscapes and portraits. Apart from being an artist, he taught English, served as interpreter for the U.S. Army and worked as professor of French at the Université Americaine, Biarritz, France.
In 1945, Mathieu executed his first abstract painting using his drip techniques, 2 years before Jackson Pollock introduced his drip painting. In 1947, Mathieu moved to Paris, where he worked as the head of public relations in the American shipping company United States Lines. In the same year, Mathieu initiated a newfound aesthetic termed “Lyrical Abstraction” to oppose the “cold” Geometric Abstraction. It highlighted the artists’ intuition, spontaneity and explosiveness, which liberated art from all the traditions. He organised exhibitions to promote lyrical abstraction, such as exhibition L'imaginaire (The imaginary) at Galerie du Luxembourg in 1947. He also worked closely with art critic Michel Tapié to curate exhibitions, such as H.W.P.S.M.T.B. at Galerie Allendy, Paris (1948), White and Black at Galerie des Deux Îles (1948), and Véhémences confrontées (Opposing forces) at Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris (1951), which visually pitted European Lyrical Abstraction artists against American Abstract Expressionists, marking Mathieu’s important role between the European and the American art scenes.
In 1950, Mathieu had the first solo exhibition at Galerie René Drouin in Paris, where André Malraux, French novelist and Minister of Culture, described him as “the first western calligrapher". In 1952, he had solo exhibition in Stable Gallery in New York. Since then, he began to exhibit internationally. In the 1950s, he travelled and painted in Japan, U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Middle East. Mathieu started to introduce the performative dimension to his paintings, executing large canvases before audiences while dressed in costume. It anticipated the performance art and Happenings of the 1960s. The manifesto of the Japanese Gutai movement in 1956 acknowledged their high regard for the techniques of Mathieu’s work. From 1953 to 1964, he served as the Editor-in-Chief for the United States Lines Paris Review, a bilingual journal for avant-garde theories in arts.
In 1960s to 1970s, Mathieu sought ways to bring his influence further from the elite to the public. He began to step into design, and established various collaborative projects, including tapestries created with the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins, a series of plates created with the Manufacture de Sèvres, a new 10 franc coin created with the Monnaie de Paris, and a series of posters created with the airline company Air France.
Georges Mathieu passed away on June 10, 2012, in Boulogne-Billancourt, France, at the age of 91. He had held over 170 solo exhibitions. He had major retrospective exhibitions at Musée de la Ville de Paris (1963), the Grand Palais (1978), Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris (2002). His works are collected by more than 90 important museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris; Kunstmuseum Basel; the Tate, London; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.