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Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55

A painting for me is far more than an attractive object. It is the terrain where the artist tries to resolve the tumult within himself, to overcome his deficiencies and to indicate his position in the outside world in the face of oppression. It is a question of transcending the absurd contradiction that his certainty of dying opposes to his love of living. Of releasing himself from the prejudices that trammel him. Of creating a space around himself. Of finding happiness. Also, of satisfying the uncontrollable need to communicate that torments him.

But all these reasons, all these forces, all these rebellions that preoccupy the artist are so confused, so entangled, so contradictory inside him that the only way he can grasp them is by incarnating them.

Incarnation. This is indeed the heart of the matter. The point on which no one can either help or be helped. Examples from the past

are useless. Symbols never outlive one generation. Living symbols can only be found in oneself.

From 'Reponse a une enquete' by Jean Helion in Esprit (Paris) No. 168, June 1950. Translated by Barbara Wright.

Paris Post War: Art and Existentialism 1945-55 at the Tate Gallery until 5 September. Sponsored by the Independent and supported by the French Embassy in London.

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