Jean Pierre Raynaud

6 March - 27 June 1999
work in collection

Despite his international reputation, the French artist Jean Pierre Raynaud (1939) has remained largely unknown in the Netherlands until now. His only solo exhibition here was held at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1968. Although the work of Raynaud has been linked with De Stijl due to its austere and succinct visual language, there has scarcely been an opportunity for one to become better acquainted with his oeuvre. In the current exhibition, De Pont aims to change this by showing a number of the artist’s older works along side a wide range of recent work. The exhibition has been organized in close collaboration with the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. De Pont will publish a catalogue with essays by Nicolas Bourriaud and Pierre Restany.

The work of Jean Pierre Raynaud is remarkably consistent and, at the same time, varied. A distinguishing feature of his work is the recurrence of motifs such as traffic signs, flower pots and measuring sticks. The pronounced color combinations involving a great deal of red, white and black are also characteristic of Raynaud’s work. Though the oeuvre is marked, as it were, by these characteristic elements, its appearance is quite varied in other respects. Raynaud makes freestanding objects, wall pieces, installations and architecture. He works with a range of materials, uses photography and has produced stained-glass windows.

Raynaud’s earliest works date from the early sixties. Previous to this, he had undergone training to be a gardener but decided, after several years, not to pursue this. His concern for plants and gardens has remained, however, and he has shown this in his work. Among the earliest works is a flowerpot, painted red and filled with cement (Pot 3, 1963). The bright red flowerpot has become a leitmotiv in his work, and Raynaud has produced many versions of this, including one - Pot 815 from 1968 - that is well over six feet tall.

Raynaud’s decision to become an artist is made after a long period of introspection. Having had no training at an art school, he becomes convinced of his choice only through conversations with friends and frequent visits to galleries. This is the time when the artists of Nouveau Réalisme are producing artworks made of all sorts of ordinary materials and objects. Like American Pop Art, these works refer to everday reality and to the banality of the Western consumer society. But although Jean Pierre Raynaud also makes use of objects and materials from the day-to-day environment, he wishes to express not the superficiality but the spirituality of our existence. In this respect his work displays an affinity with that of Yves Klein, to whom he will later dedicate a work titled Hommage à Yves Klein, 1984. Interestingly, Raynaud’s work also shows a certain similarity to that of the American artist Donald Judd, particularly in the search for a clarity of form and an intensity of spatial experience.
In 1962 he produced Sens interdit: a round, red traffic sign with a horizontal white band over which he has mounted an upright, white wooden pole - a white crucifix on top of a red circle. The well-known traffic sign recurs in numerous works, the most monumental of these being Mur sens interdit from 1970, which is included in the exhibition.

The artist calls his early works Psycho-Objets, thereby pointing to their heightened emotional import. Many of the objects have, due to their nature and color, the effect of signs and signals that warn of danger. This is further emphasized by the fact that Raynaud often allows his works to consist of series of identical objects or depictions. Raynaud’s fascination with a uniform and serial visual language finds its climax in the use of the square white tile from 1971 onward. This ceramic, mass-produced element is crucial to almost all of his subsequent work. The white tile represents industrial perfection, hygiene and banality at the same time. The regular patterns of white squares in a grid of black seams provides the artist with potential for austere and geometric design. With this Raynaud places himself in the tradition of Mondriaan and Malevich.

The most developed use of the white tiles is a house built by Raynaud himself in a suburb of Paris. In 1974 he opens la Maison de La Celle-Saint-Cloud, whose walls, floors and ceilings are completely tiled. The sterile spaces show ultimate perfection but can, in their flawlessness, also give rise to more morbid associations. With the white tiles Raynaud also produces a great number of wall objects (Carrelages) and pedestals (Stèles). The house La Celle-Saint-Cloud leads to the construction of a number of tiled spaces and booths (Espaces zéro) that seem to celebrate absolute emptiness.

In 1975 Raynaud is asked to create sixty-four stained-glass windows for the Cistercian monastery in Noirlac. His designs, carried out in opaline glass and contained in a grid of rigid black lines, are a remarkably beautiful extension of the austere medieval architecture. The windows at Noirlac not only constitute a highpoint in Raynaud’s oeuvre but are also among the most successful applications of contemporary visual art in relation to architecture.