Artwork Analysis > To the discovery of a work by Michel Macréau

To the discovery of a work by Michel Macréau

Michel Macréau, « The Mask », 1963, India ink on paper, 31.5 x 24 cm


A serene looking face takes up almost all of the picture’s surface. The eyes look directly at the spectator. One is almond shaped, the other round, almost globular.  Long lashes dress up the eye-lids.  The nose almost looks accidental, while the thick lips are almost shut.

The subject is well dressed. Coquettish.  She wears a big hat with feathers, and a lace collar covers her neck. Her shirt is elegantly decorated.  We also notice that she wears a medallion with a cross.  It could be a lady in her Sunday best.

The forms that compose the face are sinuous, curved.  The picture seems to move under our eyes like an apparition, a sort of hallucination.

India ink permits alternating between deep blacks and light backgrounds giving rhythm to the composition.  The black participates in the works construction and underlines certain elements:  it draws a circle around the subject’s right ear in symmetry with the left ear, then the nose, also underlined in deep black.  The medallion of a lighter black tending towards anthracite grey, almost in the center of the composition, brings rhythm to the whole.  The artist’s signature in the lower right corner is discrete, but visible.  Diagonal, it also participates in the movement of the work.  The lines that underline it give the impression that the composition is in movement.

The apparent serenity of the face also reveals a more somber aspect.  We can feel a kind of suffering coming from it. This is seen through the lines, which here and there, appear like the stigma of a tormented life.

At chest level the protagonist wears a cross, preceded by a ribbon, symbol of the fight against the disease.  Triangular shapes whose stems end in little circles fall on the eyes, a metaphor for tears held back with difficulty.  The many details that cover the skin could be scars.

This subject incarnates an inherent duality of the human being: the faculty of hiding and covering up its emotions under a mask, which sometimes reappears in an unexpected manner. Etymologically, the word mask comes from the Latin word “persona”, which precisely designates the masks that theater actors wore. The Latin word is astonishingly close to the word “person”.  This mask then takes the sense of an interface between the individual and the others like a reflection, in this case of a painful destiny of a misunderstood person.

One slides little by little from its representation to its undoing, entering an area more of a mental and symbolic order than external reality.  Michel Macréau not only encourages us to look, he makes us see beyond appearances.   He work calls out to us.  It is able through its symbolic imagery, to share his own extensional questioning with the spectator.

“I can make a painting without knowing who I am. But the painting that I made, in some ways, if I can read it, tells me who I am”, He said.