Obituary: Albert Flocon
Tuesday 25 October 1994
Albert Flocon was one of the most innovative and versatile engravers of the past half-century, an accomplished painter and a tireless experimenter in the theory and practice of perspective.
Born Albert Mentzel in Kopernick in 1909, he attended the Dessau Bauhaus from 1927 to 1930, taking the foundation courses directed by Albers, Klee and Kandinsky and joining Oscar Schlemmer's theatre workshop. In 1933 he left Nazi Germany for France where, from 1938, he worked under Victor Vasarely at 'La Technique Publicitaire'. After enlisting in the Foreign Legion in 1939, he joined the Resistance and was arrested in Toulouse by the Gestapo in 1944. At the end of the war he returned to Paris, adopting French nationality and the surname of a revolutionary French ancestor, Ferdinand Flocon.
His prison experience had led Flocon to meditate on the point de fuite - the vanishing point, but also 'no escape' - and it was in prison in Toulouse that he designed his first engraving, included in Perspectives (1948), the earliest of nearly a dozen books in which he explored the conceptual and technical properties of engraving and perspective.
From the outset, many of his paintings and engravings depicted utopias in which human figures work and play in futuristic cities that seem to reach out to infinity. These works can be seen to develop the ideals that inspired the Bauhaus, especially the belief that art has a crucial role to play in the radical transformation of society. Often, as in 'Le Petit Theatre' in Topo-Graphies (1961), they also seem to play on the relationships between art and life explored in the Schlemmer workshop, which Flocon was to depict, in an autobiographical essay and in brilliant1y dramatic linocuts, in Scenographies au Bauhaus (1987).
Each of the 10 magnificent engravings in Perspectives was 'illustrated' by a poem specially written by Paul Eluard, who anticipated the enthusiasm for the geometric beauty of Flocon's work expressed by Gaston Bachelard in his preface to Traite du burin (1952). Here Flocon elegantly discusses the scope of the medium of engraving, supporting his text with experiments in largely abstract forms which anticipate such later books of his as Entrelacs (1975), in which, again in words as well as in 30 exquisitely intricate plates, he explores the three-dimensional intertwinings of natural, mathematical and manufactured shapes that knot, knit and weave.
A founder member of two important groupings of engravers in post-war Paris - Graphies and the Atelier de l'Hermitage - Flocon was instrumental in introducing to the French public the work of his friend MC Escher. From 1954 he was Professor of Engraving at the Ecole Estienne before being appointed to the Chair of Perspective at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In Perspective curviligne, written with Andre Barre (1968), he expounded and illustrated the theory of an all-encompassing 360-degree perspective, the hallmark of his engravings and his paintings before and thereafter.
Flocon was a self-made savant, a witty and prolific wnter and a riveting conversationalist, a humanist for whom the arts and science - especially mathematics - still formed a continuum. He was also a lifelong socialist who maintained a wry, dogged faith in the possibility of progress despite having experienced the trauma of Nazism and come to terms with the failure of Soviet Communism. A handsome retrospective exhibition of his engravings runs until 6 November at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The first volume of his memoirs, entitled Point de fuite, came out on the day he died.
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