Michel Macréau, born in 1935, died in 1995 has all the characteristics of a cursed artist. Coming from a poor family, he was studying fresco when in 1959 he discovered two books on Matisse and Picasso. A revelation! Without money, he finally only took the second. He decided to become a painter to invent a new language. “Make the lines budge” he said.
He often titles: “What we are”! Our identity, our contradictions, our sex, the relationships within a couple (fig 2), are some of his favorite areas of investigation in a game of expression that leaves much to liberty of interpretation.
For Combas, Macréau is a precursor of Basquiat: “I think the relationship with Basquiat is evident. Some paintings are very close, but people don’t want to see it. In the past, I amused myself by passing off some details like certain heads, for Basquiat, and it worked.” (Combas 2014)
In the beginning of the 1960’s in a squat in Chateaufort (Fig.1) in the south of Paris, he and several artists got some canvases that they had to paint before a dealer arrived. Macréau couldn’t wait. He got up at night. The next day the canvases were all covered. Nobody blamed him. The dealer arrived. Macréau seemed launched and found a kind of success. The merchant was Cordier, not Daniel who only discovered him at our gallery in 2015, an enthusiast, who complimented me with a “Macréau participated in your good fortune.”
It was Raymond Cordier who knew everybody important, and notably the Pompidou’s, known for their capacity for discovering. Macréau thought he had finally met the public when suddenly, his dealer closed his gallery without notice and took a world tour before opening a big bar on the Place de la Madeleine, La Factory.
Macréau feels abandoned. But Georges Pompidou becomes president, and several of his canvases are placed well in sight in the big salons of the Elysee Palace.
And several galleries continue to be interested in him. The Mondon, but they also close rapidly. The T Gallery in the Netherlands did a wonderful job showing him at the fair in Bale, convincing passionate collectors, but not able to create the vast international recognition that her needed.
A moving painting shows this, the stapled mouth (fig 3). “I asked myself he said, if what I was doing made any sense, and even if it was really art.” He regained confidence in the early 1980’s with the arrival of “free figuration”, who Combas in France and Penck outside of France, and especially Basquiat, whose works sometimes truly make us think of him in an astonishing way.
Toward 1985, the gallery Barbier-Beltz in Paris became interested in him in association with Nothelfer, a major gallery in Berlin. From then on it was like an explosion. They began to speak of him in Bale, in Germany and in Italy, at the FIAC where a one-man-show in 1989 was a great success. Was Macréau finally recognized?
Once again it all stops. The crisis, an argument with his dealer, and without doubt too, a lack of rigor in the selection of the works shown in response to the demand, all which can explain his distress when he came to see me in 1993 at the Orangery in Bagatelle where I organized a show to celebrate the opening of the gallery.
The success was once again there. “It’s me who invites you, I’m loaded”, said Macréau at the end of our first exhibition. A very difficult lunch. He looked at me intensely without talking. He knew he was soon going to die. I felt his distress, and that he hoped he could count on me.
We have organized exhibitions regularly ever since, all of them very well attended. But it took me more than a decade before most of his historic works were obtained, those of the 60’s where he deployed extraordinary energy jumping around the canvas of paper, on the ground without stepping back, to “ leave it to chance, but with constant care for the construction which explains why they are still so intriguing.
Macréau’s importance is now recognized by an ever widening circle of collectors, some of whom are well known. And it will be astonishing if institutions don’t follow.