Alain Margaron letter > Tribute to Jean Hélion 2/4

Tribute to Jean Hélion 2/4

Jean Hélion, “Man sitting down”, 1928, oil on canvas, 130 x 80 cm


Jean Hélion was always immersed in his times.  He was one of the first abstract painters of his generation, in 1930, beside his forerunners, Torres-Garcia, Mondrian, and Van Doesbourg, but without deviating from reality, in contrast to the more dogmatic painters.

As early as 1933, he, like his great friend Alexander Calder, resonated with a form of worldly poetry, then built “figures” that served as frameworks for his future more complex compositions. Most of his figurative works are underlined by geometrical forms or are supported by architectural motifs.

He accompanied his return to figuration by his engagement in the French army in 1940, leaving the United States where he was being recognized, which was in contrast to the actions of many European artists.  Not to escape an historical reality, but to stay as close as possible to daily life, to the point of disengaging from the myths behind a commonplace gesture: “Myths are so innate in us that for each of our actions, familiar or extraordinary, there is one that expresses itself.” (1979).

Against the erosion of collective values, he searched in reality “signs that continued to show a sense, a hope of coherence of world order.”

The word “coherence” characterizes all his work, like all of his life from his youth to his later years. It begins with a magnificent portrait of a man in 1928. The diamond shape of the legs notifies the enrichment by abstraction of his first figurations in 1944 and 1950.  A drawing from 1929 makes one think of certain roofs from 1960.

“Grand Luxembourg” from 1955, far from precision, practically a “trompe l’oeil” he painted then, is another premonitory work. “Summarily, after a voyage in nature and having worked uniquely with her, after two years, I go back to my domain, the world of concepts”, he wrote. He went back to the structure of this painting in the 1960’s.