Artwork Analysis > To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

Jean Hélion, « Pissotière » 1977, crayon, pastels and ink on paper, 30 x 42.5 cm


This drawing was done after the painting “La Ville est un Songe” (The city is a dream), where the central element is a round metallic “pissotière” (public urinal) of the kind that still existed in 1977.

This mythical object of Parisian streets, the “Vespasienne” becomes under Hélion’s crayon, one of those figures of a Paris that was little by little disappearing.  The painter reinvents a painting of everyday life, with this simple example which he enrichens and validates.

The painter dreams around this architecture which could just as well evoke a medieval construction with a watch tower, or a space vehicle in a spinning movement.

He summarizes his structure by simple geometric forms that he sees “constitute fresh and energetic means to define life and the world”:  the roof a triangle, the central corps a rectangle, the sides as trapezes with rounded edges, the straight vertical lines for the metallic pillars, a circle to mark the cement slab.  The whole gives the impression of lightness, that could be broken down like a construction game.

Shadow and light are suggested by solid colors.  The green square under the roof could indicate the light source.  The sky blue rectangle on the ground in the prolongation of the tower’s deeper blue forms, a shadowy carpet that gives an impression of depth.  The black recalls the metal the “Vespasienne” is made of.

Two men, one with a joyful pace, who enters, and the other, seen only by his lower legs, doing his business, are stylized in brown pastel.

The simplicity of the silhouettes seems to reduce the human to an object to express the inside and outside of the building.

But without them and without the puddles of water of various blues on the ground, would this building portray “the world’s daily song “?

N.B. The citations are taken from “Journal d’un Peintre” by Jean Hélion, Edited by Maeght.