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  • 2007 - Jacques Julliard (journalist, essay writer)


Guy-Rachel Grataloup is a painter of the Middle Ages, whose entire work is similar to the search for the alchemist. An alchemist who would have succeeded in breaking the secret of matter. The acrylic paint spread on the canvas mixes with metal and sand to give gold. This is why it is triumphant. See this Spirit of the air, in my eyes one of the most accomplished works of this exhibition. On the lower right part of the canvas, the earth with its lumpy mass and the indentations of the shore is only a starting point. The essential happens elsewhere, in the depth of the ether. A woman who is the woman, that is to say our mother at all with her hair extended and the undulations of her body, like the little Eve of the portal of Autun, is pictured in full ascension, sucked up by the divine lightning. It is she who stretches out her arm, as in a creation of the world, but it is the lightning that controls and decides. Now Eve and lightning are of the same matter, which is gold.

The ascension dream is not gratuitous; it is reality itself, or rather the surreality. Anyone who looks at a Grataloup painting for the first time cannot fail to be struck by the separation of the worlds. Again, as in medieval painters, the sky and the earth are superimposed. No transition zone. The separation is often underlined by a hard line. Sometimes even, the two universes are enclosed in different frames. The confrontation of this world with others is the secret leitmotiv of the work.

Every time I think of him, I cannot help but mention this word of Claudel, who says everything, in his own way: "Nature is not illusion, but allusion. Everything that exists is symbol, everything that happens is parable" (Diary, September 3, 1942). It is therefore futile to ask whether Grataloup is figurative or non-figurative. He is symbolist! He is a Symbolist painter as there are Symbolist writers. The elements – he says the elementals – show themselves in the naked state, like air, earth, water and fire. It is the struggle of the elements, their constant confrontation that makes the world order. There are even other elements in it than the fundamentals, in the first place the vegetable, represented by the tree. There is therefore in him a “spirit of the tree” as there is a spirit of water, or of fire. Guy-Rachel showed me, in his property of Chevreuse the real tree, cut in cup, which gave birth to this magnificent series, which scandalizes his work and which is a celebration of the tree. It is represented here by the fire apple tree and by the spirit of the tree. I admit that I was surprised and disappointed by the model. A frail shrub, the weakest in nature. But I want to add immediately: a thinking shrub.

In the work of Grataloup, dressed in an emerald green from nowhere, of mordoré, red and purple, the small suburban apple tree becomes a torch, or better yet, a chalice. It is no longer hidden in the alignment of its fellows; it bursts out like an epiphany, and on its incandescent peak are drawn the tears of the shore and the tongues of fire of Pentecost. It’s only when you see Eve hovering towards him through the air that you suddenly remember that it’s an apple tree…

For beyond the confrontation of the elements, the great affair of Grataloup is the confrontation of man and the universe. Man is in the cosmos like a foreign body; but without this intruder, no cosmos! No one to admire him, no one to make him exist. Perhaps it is he who is this antimatter of which Michel Tournier spoke in a penetrating commentary of the work of Grataloup. Even before he knew that he had made a series devoted to the fall of Icarus, the evidence of the rapprochement with the famous painting of Breughel had imposed itself to me. The ploughman is there, in the centre of the canvas, driving his plough. He is somehow integrated into nature, which he is transforming. But the intruder man, the revolutionary man, is hard to spot in a corner of the picture, it is Icarus, the bird man whose wings have melted, and who is drowning in the indifference of nature and the ploughman. For he has violated the laws of nature. Yet this is man’s vocation.

Nothing similar in truth in Grataloup’s paintings. However small man may be, he is nevertheless central. We see only him, unlike Icarus. He is the different detail, by which everything is changed. Whether he is in a state of levitation or in the midst of a fall, as in the Death of Adam, it is his relation to the cosmos that interests us. This man is, moreover, most often a woman, because it is through her that man comes into contact with the universe.

All the great poets knew this, and especially the romantics, like Lamartine and Vigny. As a reader of the Bible, which irrigates and inspires all his work, Grataloup believes that it is not good for man to be alone on earth. That’s why he’s giving her a girlfriend. Better than that: he makes a single body, a single flesh, as in this extraordinary double character who appears in many paintings: fabulous creature with four arms and four legs: it is not the beast with two backs of Rabelais, it’s the opposite: it’s the two-faced angel.

Finally, I like to greet a place that saw Guy-Rachel and I, a few years away, pass by: it is Nantua, this somewhat secret Jura city, which has remained for us a microcosm where nature presents its elements – its elementals? in the raw state: the mountain, a dark and dominating mass, which sometimes becomes threatening, sometimes protective;the lake, which is its natural antithesis and its mirror.This is why, in the work of a painter installed in the transcendental, Nantua can be luminous or lunar, when man, like the string of an arch, closes the crescent of the moon.It’s basically, as Guy-Rachel says, chromatic Nantua.It is to suggest that this city, at various seasons, but also at various times of its existence, is both a range and a palette.

It is thanks to the painter that this alchemy takes place: the iridescent of the real.

Jacques Julliard (journalist, essay writer) - June 2007


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