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 Henri Michaux  (1899 - 1984)

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Lived/Active: France/Belgium      Known for: surrealist, abstract figurative painting, drawing, poetry

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from Auction House Records.
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Biography from Museum of Modern Art, New York:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Henri Michaux was a French draughtsman, painter and poet of Belgian birth. From 1911 to 1914 he studied at a Jesuit school in Brussels. In 1919 he started and then abandoned the study of medicine and the following year worked as a seaman. Returning to Brussels in 1921, he started writing in earnest in 1922, soon becoming known in literary circles. He went to Paris in 1924; here he was struck by the paintings of Klee, Max Ernst and de Chirico at a Surrealist exhibition.

He started to paint in 1925 and until 1927 worked in a variety of media: India ink, watercolour and oils. The Alphabet series in ink, for example Alphabet was based on a series of personal ideograms, and in oils he painted the series of Blot works. From 1927 to 1937 he travelled extensively abroad, visiting South America, Turkey, China and India; this experience was a powerful influence on his later work.

On his return Michaux began to paint and draw regularly. From 1937 to 1939 he produced a series of dreamlike gouaches on a black ground, which he called Phantomisms. They included such works as The Prince of the Night (1937; Paris, Pompidou). In 1937 he had his first one-man show at the Librairie-Galerie de la Pléiade. After the publication of Entre centre et absence in 1936, with eight drawings, his Peintures was published in 1939 with seven poems and sixteen gouaches. During World War II, while continuing to write and paint, he published several other books with his own illustrations, such as Exorcismes (1943). He experimented with frottage from 1945 to 1947, and immediately after the accidental death of his wife in 1948 produced several hundred visionary ink and watercolour works.

In 1950 Michaux returned to his earlier use of ideograms in a series of India ink drawings, through which he became closely associated with Art informel. This resulted in the poem and 64 drawings that formed the album Mouvements (Paris, 1951). He continued this development with the Mêlées, Foules and Préhistoire series of 1952 to 1953 and with the ink paintings of 1954 onwards, such as Painting in Indian Ink (1954; Paris, Pompidou).

In 1955 he took French citizenship. After experimenting with the drug mescaline, he produced a number of drawings and paintings from 1955 to 1962 executed as meticulous 'all-over' compositions, lacking any real centre, as in Mescalin Painting (1956; Paris, Pompidou). During the 1960s he continued to use India ink, watercolour and pastel; some works of this period suggest figurative elements, as in Untitled (India ink, 1960; New York, Guggenheim; for illustration see Art informel) or sepia and ink Untitled (1962; Paris, Pompidou).

He introduced more colour into his work in 1967 by using acrylic, and he later mixed this with watercolour, as in Untitled.

Throughout the 1970s Michaux's style in his ink paintings, oils and acrylics remained spontaneous and abstract. The works of the late 1970s onwards were of a near figurative character.

From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press

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