Know how to do without panic

The text is an excerpt from the catalog of the exhibition “Knowing How to Create without Panic” held at the museums of Dôle in 1984 and the Château Museum in Belfort in 1985. It was written by François CHEVAL, Departmental Curator of the Museums of Jura, and Christophe COUSIN, Curator of the Château Museum, Belfort.

The text discusses the artistic journey of Philippe LAGRANGE, a painter whose work encompasses a unique visual reconstruction system that goes beyond initial images to delve into the realm of sensations. LAGRANGE’s artistic exploration since 1971 can be likened to a cataract operation aimed at “visual hygiene.” The question of content becomes central, leading him to reject abstract formalism (lyrical or geometric) as well as regional painting that lacks depth, ultimately culminating in Figuration.

While LAGRANGE shares certain formal aspects with representatives of various art movements, he fundamentally distinguishes himself from them. Influences from English Pop Art (particularly P. Caufield) and H. Télémaque played a significant role in his aesthetic choices, but they were not more important than the influences of 17th-century French painting (Simon Vouet, Laurent de la Hyre), David, or 19th-century historical painting (Gros), with their emphasis on maximum color intensity and the importance of line drawing.

Each of LAGRANGE’s paintings reflects a continuous reflection on painting itself and the painter’s craft, a revisiting of the history of art. Citations and references to other artists’ works abound, creating a dialogue between painting and the techniques of artists like Klasen. However, these references go beyond mere adornments in LAGRANGE’s work; they satisfy a desire for skill and expertise following a period of iconoclasm characterized by ripolin (paint) and plywood.

The misinterpretation of LAGRANGE’s art arises from the recognizable accessories and techniques reminiscent of cinema (F.Lang, Eisenstein, Bunuel, Godard) or comics. Seen as a painter of object images and images of images, LAGRANGE is mistakenly perceived as yet another proponent of appropriation. However, the technique of telescoping could be provocatively called “Hidden Figuration.” The concerns of critics and narrators are centered around the conditions of artistic creation (Market, Merchants, Public, Critique), while the artist focuses on rediscovering the sign-idea behind the image of the object. LAGRANGE’s method stems from the recurring belief that painting is alchemy and a spectacle of illusion, where ongoing experiments transform colors, space, and ideas, and an offering trunk becomes a female trunk, a receptacle. Knots and scarves materialize the illusion. Reality is not material; image and idea are not reflections but true matter.

Painting does not start from matter or things, which are derived concepts; direct knowledge and experience come from sensations. The image is not constructed solely from perceptions but is composed entirely of perceptions. Representations of bodies and objects become mental symbols that exist only in relation to their perception. The world of thought is not distinct from the world of objects because both are abstract (cf. Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades). The painter becomes the only one capable of knowing the world, a sociologist-linguist who restores the relationships between signs.

A canvas becomes a visual, subjectivist aphorism where the title is never gratuitous. If politics, like the critics, infiltrate the canvas, it is not as a social gesture by the painter but rather as a humanistic denunciation of the mistreatment of thought by systems (“Nothing New in the West, Nor in the East”). Despite bearing the scent and flavor of critical figuration and narrative figuration, LAGRANGE’s painting goes beyond those categories. Independent of trends, series, and market forces (each painting is unique), with no hope other than personal perpetuation, LAGRANGE exhibits his savoir-faire without panic.