Jacques Villeglé
Year, Birthplace 1926, France
Year, Place of death 2022
After completing his secondary education in Vannes and following a year working at an architectural studio in the same city, in 1944 Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé – later known as Jacques Villeglé, or simply Villeglé – enrolled at the École des beaux-arts in Rennes. He soon met Raymond Hains, originally from Saint-Brieuc, with whom he struck up a lasting friendship. He worked for a period for an architect, and then studied architecture at the École des beaux-arts in Nantes (1947-1949). In August 1947 he began to collect objects found on the beach at Saint-Malo, strands of barbed wire used to reinforce concrete bunkers along the Atlantic Wall. In his opinion, these objects were already sculptures, without any artistic intervention. In December 1948, Hains and Villeglé – aware of their lack of knowledge of modern and contemporary art – met up in Paris and visited galleries. They also met Collete Allendy, who showed drawings by Jean Arp, Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Magnelli and Joan Miró in her gallery. In 1949, Villeglé and Hains tore down their first joint affiche lacérée, or torn poster: Ach Alma Manetro. Villeglé left Nantes to move to Paris. Doubting the usefulness of the teaching he was receiving and questioning the purpose of painting, he abandoned his studies and made a conscious decision to dedicate himself from then on to affiches lacérées. At the same time, he rejected the technical and methodical constructivist approach of the abstractionists and the automatic biomorphic configurations of the surrealists. He became interested in Matisse’s postwar paper cut-outs, not only because they created a new kind of drawing, but also as something to react against: while Matisse stuck, he unstuck in order to eventually achieve similar results. This need to make the street his studio and to deal with the everyday life of the city also corresponds to an idea of ‘counterculture’ which was evident during the years which followed the German Occupation. Villeglé wrote, regarding his approach: ‘Tearing represents that basic gesture for me, it’s a war of images and signs. With an angry gesture, the anonymous passerby distorts the message and opens up a new space of freedom. For me, affiches lacérées bring art and life closer and herald the end of painting of transposition...’ and ‘One of my ambitions is to be the active witness of a humanity rich in contradictions. It is the anonymous individual on the street who intervenes in the images of dominant culture... I come along later’. Villeglé then worked with his friend Hains, who photographed (from 1947) and filmed (in 1948) poster-covered walls. Hains exhibited his Photographies hypnagogiques in Colette Allendy’s gallery from 1948. They also produced experimental short films. Villeglé participated in the composition of shattered letters, which Hains photographed from 1947 through fluted glass, and on various films, such as Pénélope and Loi du 29 Juillet 1881 [Law of 29 July 1881] or Défense d’afficher [Post no Bills]. They collaborated on the publication Hépérile Éclaté [Shattered Hépérile], a phonetic poem by Camille Bryen, and mixed with the Lettriste movement. At the beginning of 1954, they met François Dufrêne, attending his lettriste recitals. Dufrêne introduced them to Yves Klein. The first exhibition of torn and unstuck posters by the artists, Loi du 29 Juillet 1881, took place in spring 1957 at Colette Allendy’s gallery. They met Gérard Deschamps, who had already exhibited there. In June 1959, Villeglé had a solo exhibition of his torn posters in François Dufrêne’s father’s studio. The title of the exhibition, Le Lacéré Anonyme [The Anonymous Lacerator] – a title which pays homage to all anonymous lacerators – examines both the question of individual creation and mass collective expression. In October, the first Biennale de Paris, at the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, provoked outrage through the inclusion of posters by Villeglé, Hains and Dufrêne, Tinguely’s mechanical sculptures and Klein’s monochromatic paintings. All these methods of questioning traditional painting were to lead to the emergence of a group of artists who would be known, from then on, as the Nouveaux Réalistes. From this moment on, Villeglé became a major figure of this generation. He was included in exhibitions such as The Art of Assemblage, in 1961, at MoMA in New York, followed by Dallas and San Francisco, and The New Realists, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York. Villeglé’s choice of poster to be appropriated evolved, moving from socio-political subject matter to the circus and concerts, yet he continued to ‘décoller’, or unstick, an activity he still engages in today. AC