Sécan, striking enchanter
At last I had the joy to see an art exposition of Sécan’s, and what an exposition!
Since now, I have just known, about him, an extraordinary mural painting at the UN Building in New York, a work of art which irradiated an extraordinary enchantment of pantheistic space.
Casually, our perpetual voyages had never let us encounter: now, it has happened, since some months, and through his paintings, in particular those ones gathered for Palazzo Reale in Milan, I discovered a painter of an exceptional calibre
; one of the most authentic pioneers, with Hans Hoffmann, of this evolution of abstract expressionism, of lyrical abstraction and of the same notion of pictorial as well as axiomatic space… I have also found a friend… and it’s with a great pleasure that I’m presenting his work.
At the time of our first encounter, when I confided him my reservations about the definition of “informal”, and also about speaking of “informal art” –having the word “informal” of which I am responsible never represented anything but a totally neutral ground to be fulfilled of meaning in the “ artistic field” -, it is Sécan who first spoke of “subformel”, at which regard I would like to give some explanations. Without knowing me, Sècan had read my books and it is for kindness of affinity that he linked this adjective, concerning his work, to my “informel” , on the other part, alas, so much misused.
For Sécan, “subformel”, connected to the subconscious, means to explore “ the depths” when the pragmatism of the artistic expression sees them in naïf state during the painting, to arrive - to yearn passionately to arrive, however-, at a sort of a meta-image ( or meta-figuration), which incarnates, in a maximum of artistic efficiency, the magical world of the signs ignored since “Lost Paradise” times, or since the “ Angels’ Fall” ones. Which leads us happily to the antipodes of a bestial-wild prehistory where the art worthy of that name can’t find its place, nor displease to the current partakers of certain regressive phenomena.
Sécan is a refined man for whom complexity means richness, including violence, at need, and from here an extraordinary plenitude originates: how a demonstration of marvellously enchanting strength, for our psycho- sensoriality of art lovers, is represented by the meeting with the whole of these works, some very large-dimensioned, gathered just along the walls of the immense Sala delle Cariatidi, without any interruption of spatial rhythm ( due to partition walls or statues), and where only aesthetical limitations freely play; aesthetical boundaries of these definitively explosive works in a gorgeous paradox (made up) of essentially artistic metamorphoses, in which the instant of our “ now” witnesses the marvellous illusory eternity on human scale, at the limits of our perception, if not beyond them.
At this power, joy becomes dramatic and tragedy becomes an enchantment: in the content of Sécan’s works there is an irresistible magic, similar to the liberations perceivable in Zarathoustra “GATHAS” , as well as in Nietzsche’s “Will of Power” and in Tristan Tzara ‘s and Ezra Pound’s poems: these analogies are more persuasive than linguistic misuse, as a critical presentation. I witness what I love : Sécan’s work – and through it the gorgeous demonstration of strength he gorgeously proposes us, and thus imposes to “art lovers” – irradiates a magical joy and at a time an ethic, an art of living as rare as necessary, because there, it is the entire subject, “fashions” and theirs taboos of indifference overcome… Painted art is not dead, on the contrary, dead are those who would like us to believe that. Thus, Sécan’s work is also a high-class “déjà”: to the art lovers able to raise up till it and to live its enchantment – magical because essentially artistic.
Michel Tapié, 13/7/’71
Aesthetically speaking, in a rigorous perspective I deal with an essential artist in whom the power and the quality of attracting and enchanting creation are indissoluble.
Sécan is one of the rarest complete painter of his generation and, as far as I know, of this “today” where a necessarily “ autre” art dominates, against all the traps of consumer fashions.
His ethical behaviour can’t be ( and can’t go on being) other but so secret and compartmentalized, that he is a sort of vedette, nearly ignored by the world of art, both the authentic one and the pretended one. At a time painter of sovereigns and courts, travelling all over the world since he was 17, and one of the great partakers of the essential core of the artistic post-Dada adventure, he has soon realized, alas rightly, that those two worlds weren’t able to meet into himself; from here, a double artistic life with two ateliers, one the farthest possible from the other, with all that it implies in the everyday behaviour… From here, also the strangeness of my same encounter with his first work, then, many years later, with him.
Strangeness which continues, in the better way, on the other hand.
Well, one day, some years later, arriving in New York, on the first stop of a further world tour, a friend suggested me going and visiting the Building of the United Nations just finished, where about ten painters and sculptors, among the most famous in the world avant-garde, had been invited to make some murals and monuments; a priori nothing to discover, for me, but voila that, seduced by a mural I hadn’t been able to match a name, among those of the prestigious and finally consecrated avant-garde, a keeper told me, American-pronounced, Sécan’s name, without being able to inform me about his nationality.
I admired the painting and my visual memory recorded it, but my other memory, always fallible, forgot the name after few minutes.
Years go by, life goes on… In 1971, I was invited by Renzo Cortina at a very private meeting where I had to say a few words about the painter Crippa, with reference to an edition of lithographs for which I had written one of the introductive texts, when, during the cocktail, a very distinguished gentleman in black came near me, introduced himself and gave me his visiting card, wishing to show me his paintings, all that very discretely.
According to my plans, that night I had to come back to Turin and, the morning after, to take the plane for Paris, and we had been totally vague referring to a date which was, then, impossible to fix…
My memory might have made me forget everything. But, once arrived in Turin, I found a message which changed all my plans, obliging me to return to Milan the day after, that is few hours later. And there, looking for an address in a zone I didn’t know well, I decided to park my car in a little area where, while I was managing in parking, I saw the distinguished painter seen the previous evening passing on the sidewalk, at a metre from me!
As a good descendent from Albigenses, as I am, I don’t believe to Chance and, thus, I called him; two hours later, dining together in the nice atmosphere of a hearty incipient friendship, at last he showed me a document – before going to his atelier -, and so, as surprised as happy, I saw the reproduction of Sécan’s mural at ONU, of which I had kept good memory, with admiration.
Admiration, mine, confirmed beyond any hope at the sight of some other great paintings in his atelier… and, some months later, invited for a personal exhibition at Palazzo Reale in Milan, where only Picasso and Boccioni had had a personal before him, Sécan offered me the occasion to testify to his work in the book-catalogue printed for that fascinating event.
That is how, since then, I have had the great luck to know one great artist more (luckily and , for other reasons, unluckily, there will never be a large number of them, and that’s normal…).
Born to a French father and a Scandinavian mother, Sécan has passed almost all his life out of France, in Egypt, in India, in the U.S.A. and in many other countries, for motivations essentially professional, in the better meaning of that word, Sécanian duality included.
Sécan’s pictorial work partakes in the actualized successions of Expressionism, at first aggressively figurative, afterwards freely abstract as through an ignored synchronization, and that concerns also a few other artists, catalogued in the “action painting” or in the “ abstract expressionism” like, as a highly prestigious example, Hans Hoffmann who, after beginning in Munich about 1910, on the first days of German expressionism and, in 1920, creating there a school, ( attended, till Hitler’s ascent, by serious students from all over the world), then founded again an analogue school, in New York, in the early 40s; and here, among others, we mention De Kooning, also because, above all, since then, his evolution is surprisingly parallel to Sécan’s one, in spite of the fact they totally ignored each other, in the highest quality of an artistic authenticity which necessarily forces aesthetics to raise to an other power. That essentially partakes in the sublime adventure of our times, from which an ethics “autre” too will get free, and at the same power… and nothing less, once more!
At this point I am pleased to cite some of Sécan’s works, whose titles I know thanks to the publications where they have been reproduced: “ Six personages looking for an author” ( 1941), “ Sun and planet” ( 1944), “ Peacock and garden” ( 1946), “Lacustral rhythmics”(1951), “ The cockcrow”(1958), “ Landscape of Varese” (1965) and many others, undated: “See and life”, “Fugue”, “End and disintegration”, “Spiritualization”, “Masks and streamers”, “For spring”, “Contestation”, “Research”, and many more, because his works speak their language, which is his: deeply, wonderfully, magically, since there is ART because there is the ARTIST… and Sécan is, has been and will continue to be an artist, for our “ enchantment”…
The Universality of Sécan by L.B. 1969
A desire to understand Sécan, to stop his swift progress for an instant in a fragment which reflects his state of grace – this is the first spontaneous reaction on meeting with the artist. The totality of the man, the unpredictable depth of his personality, certainly elude the limits of a rapid profile. And yet, in that ample flow of warmth and tension which binds man, the personage and the artist is a tenacious dialectical relationship, certain higher, more harmonious and penetrating notes already detach themselves and by themselves create a magnetic concert. It is in fact music, in its exquisitely abstract values, which is the immediate reference that the presence of Sécan suggests. He is a man who is full of harmony, full of love. Before speaking, he is grateful to you; even before fastening his thought on an object, a person, he falls in love with it. This tense sensibility, however, has his own spare but sweet way of manifesting itself, and is continually pursued by the disquietude of a thought which searches within nature and, at the same time, within faces, in the universe and in small objects, seeking the solution to a thorny problem.
Thus, the conversation flows in a fragmentary way, the strict logic of the thought itself breaks up in a thousand sparks of curiosity, of kindness, of reserve. Sécan, while he speaks of himself, talks of the person facing him, alternating the accounts of his long poetic solfeggios with the most incredible and ingenuous questions, almost as if he were looking humbly for a verification, a clarification of himself and his art, as if ready to start his own process of research again from the beginning, with new thoughts and a different point of departure. He is thus a man of stupefying generosity, ready for every silence, each flutter and every smile, ready for any dialogue, provided he perceives there is warmth and simplicity there. But there is a strong root planted in the centre of this sweetness of his which keeps Sécan in a rarefied area with impassable boundaries. And it is not only his great culture, nor the multifaceted ‘humour’ of his rich experiences. It is his awareness. A precise and constant pivot, a starting-point, and a point of reference for all his world. It is the axis around which Sécan rotates, together with whoever crosses his path and accompanies him even for a short time. But what type of awareness? A definition appears difficult, since one is afraid of limiting its outlines or of denigrating it with a banal term. It manifests itself, however, as a consciousness of its own active energy within the heart of the various processes which constitute civilisation and history, in their turn fragment of an incommensurable progress.
This is the presence of Sécan, restless witness and conscious protagonist of the movement which contains us and transcends us and on which he constantly imposes his thought in its frightening sweetness. In this light Sécan appears, therefore, as an initiate, trustee of the key of truth. Testimony of this is also evident in his more recent, great pictorial cycles. His is a process of incontrovertible thought. It started from the awareness of space, from the vision of chaos. But where does this void come from? Where does this universe come from? And what is the essence of the chaos? At this point, Sécan feels a pull; then, lucidly he perceives that in nothing, however, there exists a space which may contain a pencil. And here is the first direct link with his work. And it is precisely from this link that the moment of certainty arises: the search has led Sécan to the certainty that nothingness does not exist. Rather, there exists another equation: on this basis, Nothingness is equal to Everything. The circle is broken. From the central nucleus of concentration it departs, under the impetus of time, like a centrifugal force which acts following a vortical movement; and each point of the vortex has its own internal spiral motion: all the artist’s vision unfolds in this rhythmic process of energies. And, from the thought, the painting flowers, in its vast freedom. The centre of the movement has its own weight from which colour erupts: the magnetic value of the red flows, in vortical movements, towards clearer and lighter tonalities until reaching white. White, in order to be this, needs all the colours, in the same way that nothingness is formed of all elements. The same and analogous process re-proposes itself between light, sum of the pre-existing elements, and man. This is how, through a difficult analytic procedure, Sécan returns to contingent life. An emotion is reborn, a new creative cycle takes life and is shaped in the series of the “Reactions”.
When Sécan relates this long interior journey of his, he seems to want to justify himself to his listener. And he interrupts himself, bringing to his unconscious defence some pathetic memories of his formative years. Because we are not frightened by his conquest of liberty, his audacity. Then the smoky images of the Parisian cafés arise from his memory, where the young man met the greatest painters of the day, hour after hour approaching the particular breadth of their difficulties. The memories overlap. The first steps towards the philosophy of Spinoza and Kant, the musical meetings with Klee. Also Sécan’s resolute determination never to submit himself to the slavery of a relationship with dealers forms part of this same process of formation and this stage of choices.
With the conclusion of this first cycle, the young artist travelled the world, painted portraits, abandoned himself to nature. Something seems to agitate his memories at this point. And he recounts his toils and troubles, his research, the daily fight against his natural ability to capture a face, an attitude. It must have been a great, exhausting trial; it is the soul which has to sing, the spirit which must guide the hand in the act of creation. By dint of this hard discipline, Sécan succeeded in asserting his own freedom, also of invention and of transfiguration, mediating concern for the exterior aspect of things with the interior impetus. And this is Sécan’s attitude also towards nature. Enraptured in contemplation of a flight of clouds, of a vast sunset, the changing play of a pond, of intertwining branches, Sécan has lived a long stage of study which has led him into a magic dimension, progressively losing the sensation of space and time, he is increasingly more immersed in nature, to the point of complete interpenetration. But in the instant in which he lost himself, he also found himself; the luminous tangle of his sensations, as if regenerated from that fluid, then dissolved in an immediate act of liberation, the transfigured record of that vast concert.
Sécan has today superseded that phase of abandon to nature. Although his inventive freedom, and his poetic inclination is such that any instant he once again perceives a magic meeting in a landscape, with a flower, an invocative face, the times of transfiguration return to his painting. This, too, is a sign of Sécan’s great freedom and profound equilibrium; it is also born directly from the constant unswerving point of his being and his becoming.
Let us now see what some of the many authoritative critics who have studied Sécan’s painting say, and let us travel with them along the great spirals of this rich progression. Our idea of Sécan, tracing his human dimensions, stops at the source of his poetic reasons. Although, before following his impetuous course, we wish to dedicate an image which seems to us to have arisen directly from his universe: they are words by Shakespeare, taken from “The Tempest”:
“…We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
These lines certainly reflect some seeds of Sécan’s restlessness. We have spoken of Sécan’s great freedom. Garibaldo Marussi captures this quality, and referring to both the artist and his choices, presents him with these words:
“ It is necessary to know Sécan the man to understand the personage and the artist.
“Shy and diffident, little inclined to speak about himself and of his art, Sécan works in silence, lost in his own dreams and his own fantasies. He is a writer and critic, a “Sunday musician” who allows himself to play at the keyboard. A complete man from the intellectual viewpoint, and for this very reason very jealous of his own freedom so that relations with dealers become very difficult for him. Sécan does not want to suffer impositions or restraints. He recently committed himself to a series of exhibitions in the United States. Everything has been arranged: galleries, places, dates. But then a sudden recognition of error on his part, the worry of having to submit himself to choosing and being directed, drove him to cancel everything.
“In brief, we could affirm that Sécan tends to maintain his own freedom and, as he wrote recently in a French periodical, he does not intend ‘to submit himself to a definite genre’. Because, as he has also written, in order to work in perfect concord with one’s own inmost self, it is sufficient to find the occasion to commune with what surrounds us. The poetic material then finds the right form by itself, which may be abstract, informal or otherwise. All depends on what one has inside oneself and on the emotional burden of the ego.”
This is a declaration which defines the outlines of Sécan’s exceptional stature. And his painting is a faithful reflection of this, personal and unmistakable. Such considerations surely suggested these words to Raymond Charmet:
“ In our age, in which the dispute between abstract and figurative art has created so many misunderstandings, the work by Sécan brings us a new testimony, profound, particularly luminous of the pure essence of painting. Sécan’s canvases are projections of the soul onto nature, so intimate and intense that the traditional limits of the schools are annulled in a personal creation where reality and spirit find again their primitive and fundamental unity.
“ The spectacle of the wide world, of Italy and France, of Africa, Asia and Europe, of seas and mountains, which Sécan has passed through, over, and looked at with a devouring passion, has given him the feeling of the cosmos, where an absolute force vibrates and an eternal music resounds. This unfathomable impetus, which the Ancients called the Great Pan and from which the Moderns have received terrifying energies, Sécan represents from the very depth of his heart, as much from the furies that rend themselves under a stormy sky, as from the vertiginous sweetness of a nostalgic moorland. The informal painters of our day, many of whom have looked with wonder and admiration at the work of Sécan, dream in their spirits of systematically recreating this lost paradise. It is with his heart, in a resolute isolation and with a gentle and admirable modesty that Sécan has undertaken, like the mystic knight, the pure Parsifal, to find once again the path of the enchanted Grail. On his canvases, where the softened tones quiver, where the forms are exalted and intermingle like ‘filles-fleurs’, where the rounds of the elements continue tirelessly, the great mystery of the heavy earth metamorphosed in living light brings us the presentiment of the great secret, the permanent infinite.”
However, it is necessary to earn all the confidence of Sécan in order to perceive how far the nervation of his poetic fabric stretches. Waldemar George has recorded his memories of his first meeting with the artist as follows:
“I met Sécan between 1933 and 1934, at the time when Jacques Guenne directed L’Art Vivant. It’s a long time ago now… Georges Sécan seemed too young to me, but his drawing was already filled with exaltation and his painting with vehemence. From among the wreckage of my library, which was looted during the Occupation, I rediscovered some sheets of Ingres paper covered with Sécan’s sketches, and I have preciously kept his sober and expressive portrait of the poet Max Jacob.
“ It is a preliminary sketch for the portrait that hangs in the Quimper Museum and shows, in its integrity, the face of the last paladin of the Western world who died in the concentration camp of Drancy like a saint and Christian martyr. Sécan, it is known, loves to be reflected and inspired by the natural environment which surrounds him. Does he paint landscapes in the usual sense of the word? No, not at all. He undertakes a dialogue with the forces of the world. His unique interpretations of nature are not reflections of reality as this manifests itself to our senses and our consciousness.
“ Contrary to the impressionist masters, he makes a tabula rasa of that eternally changeable light which pulverises all that is solid, reducing matter to a fluid or vaporous state. Contrary to the primitives of the North, he does not make an inventory of the objects in front of him. He neither shows their weight, nor their density, nor their tactile values. He contemplates the universe with the pure and fascinated eyes of a visionary. He animates it, he penetrates it with an elixir of life, and he spiritualizes it. Whereas most of his contemporaries conceive a painting as a surface covered by colours having a certain order, Sécan humanizes it by dramatizing it.
“ Sécan’s flowers are legendary flowers, they have the beauty of diabolical insects with phosphorescent wings. These venomous flowers are in every way unlike the plants of the botanical tables. They come from a collection of marvels. Their dominion is that of fairies and enchantment. The angel of the bizarre who guides and watches over his destiny draws Sécan beyond the scenes of life.
“ Chimeras seduce him. Under a spell of enchantment, Sécan crosses the threshold of the infernal kingdom of the damned like Dante’s hero. But the darkness which he penetrates does not have the power to restrain his impetus. He crosses the darkness resolutely and reaches a celestial kingdom inundated with light…”
In this alternation of themes, Sécan lives his restless search, which undergoes many interior contrasts. Some of them have already been mentioned. Here is how Claude Roger-Marx sees this aspect of Sécan:
“ There is in Sécan a heroic struggle between exceptional virtuosity, and the dynamism and elegance of his drawing, of his brushes – which meritedly won great success for his portrait, landscapes and still lifes - and the ambition which stimulates him even beyond these successes, renouncing all material artifices and any effect, to conquer that which Delacroix called ‘ the infernal facility of the brushes’.
“ This inspired man knows to the full the power of oil, blends his colours like a virtuoso both when he works on glazing and when he uses his brush handle to squash a decisive laying of impasto, and succeeds in rivalling the ray in speed, the flow which rises, and the clouds chased by the wind.
“ His ardour resembles that of the flower towards light. He suffers greatly and, imprisoning wide spaces victoriously, makes us share his anguishes and his tormented passions.”
Let us return to Raymond Charmet while he delineates a complete and delicate profile of the artist:
“ There are times in which the oppressive tumult of the modern world, its implacable scientific and mechanical progress, its quantitative proliferation and its material triumphs, leave us unsatisfied, full of doubts and secret nostalgia. It is then that we need the poets, the musicians and painters to lead us to that ‘supplement of soul’ which the philosopher Bergson invoked at the dawn of the century. Among the artists who reveal themselves beyond the exterior immensity, the infinite of the interior world, one of the most fascinating is the mysterious Georges Sécan.
“ ’Citizen of the world and gentleman of painting’, as he has been called, Sécan possesses an extraordinary personality, discreet, modest, extremely generous and active, with a sophisticated culture, a sensibility driven to paroxysms, a boundless love for nature and for man. A great traveller, he has explored the North and South of Italy, to which he has become very attached, and also the distant countries of Asia and Africa. Inside himself, he is truly and exceptionally the personification of an international man, not on the surface only, but in depth. Sécan’s art is made in the image of man. It does not derive from any school, nor does it belong to any country – it is above everything. In him we find an extremely carefully formed professionalism, the result of his studies first in France and then in Germany, which was followed and regularly perfected during a career of thirty years, and at the same time we find the fruit of such work, an extreme freedom, in that his painting integrates the realism and abstraction which drew the attention even of Paul Klee, with whom he worked, and of the informal painters, in a stupendous synthesis. He has two characteristic traits: a lightning rapidity, both in the large and the very small canvases ( as complete as the large ones), and a perfect economy of means. All he needs to paint is three large brushes and six colours: zinc white, burnt sienna, lemon yellow, ultramarine, lake, and minium. These he carefully prepares himself, producing unalterable materials by baking shell. Mixing these colours with subtlety, he succeed in obtaining the most delicate shades, making a sure and harmonious unit of the whole, whether with sombre and refined greys, animated by brilliant whites, or with purple ochres stressed by sumptuous browns. The secret of Sécan’s painting lies in the freshness of the outline, not hampered by the clumsiness or arbitrary and theoretical poverty typical of most contemporary artists, but due to the unerring certainty of his technical mastery. Having thus dominates the difficulties of the craft and showing himself strict with his own work – ruthlessly discarding everything which was not perfect - Sécan could with his painting express what touched him most deeply and which gave sense to his canvases.
“ For him, things have a language which most of us do not know how to understand, made obtuse as we are by the aridity of our hearts and by our sensual and material egoism.
“ While he paints, Sécan is often obsessed by music since for him the tonalities in painting correspond to those of music. This assimilation of the two arts, which has been the preoccupation of so many modern painters – the abstract painters in particular – is also that of Sécan. But he does not find it ( as they do) in superficial plays on rhythm. His canvases do not resemble Kupka’s Fugue in red and blue, the first abstract painting: they harmonise the different resonances and tonalities, living each one its own character , in order to obtain a pictorial symphony which touches the soul. Figural themes, once dominant, now appear only occasionally in Sécan’s work, for whom everything in the universe is intimately human. His ‘marionettes’ of 1946 were inspired by the sense of our species’ fragility which he felt during the last World War when society became like a ballet of ghosts which was performed on a temporary stage. It is the comedy of life which unfolds itself every day under the eyes of the philosopher.
“ Sécan’s fundamental subject is often found in immense desert nature where the elements constitute an eternal and mysterious drama. He has experienced, confronted with this heavy world, an interior discomfort which perceptibly pulsates in the palpitating touches of his brush. This feeling of the great cosmic forces is very rare in Western painting.
“ The ancients called the dizzy vertiginous force of the cosmos ‘ Great Pan’, which man tries to capture for uses of a terrifying efficacy. The function of art, which a profound painter like Sécan has understood, consists, once again, of facing this infinite universe which envelopes us so intimately and which ignores our civilisation, mean and temporary, stunned by noisy illusions.
“ Had not Delacroix already said that he was for the infinite, against the finite?
“ Sécan’s work is among that which brings a message, which is so much more important because it is not like so many others limited only to a revolt or renunciation, or to a subtle but fictitious invention of the intellect. In Sécan’s art there is a resonance of the heart, a sensitive inclination to reality which he dominates without ceasing to regard or caress with affection, in such a way that the detachment of the Asian mystics, like the severe pessimism of the Romantics of the nineteenth century, are alien to him. There is in his painting an emphasis on goodness and love which makes the colours and forms vibrate with a secret intoxication in which we intuit the hope, always alive in the heart of man, of finding once more that paradise lost of which art will always be the best witness and last poet.”
Nothing escapes the courteous attention or love of Georges Sécan. And, among the various enchantments which affects his sensibility, certainly those of the Italian landscape and way of life are very much to the fore. Garibaldo Marussi remembers him in this way:
“The case of Georges Sécan, this subtle and enchanting painter in love with the Italian landscape and people, who goes wandering through the Po valley in order to grasp its most secret, most metaphysical sense, to understand its most mysterious and poignant aspects, has something surprisingly pathetic. It is like a musical call, something extremely intimate and ineffable, which moves him to imprison and translate that light and luminosity which fascinate and linger over him like an ever renewed miracle of discovery. But Sécan is above all a modern painter, and knows very well how to take advantage of his innate romantic spirit, obtaining an exceptional balance between reason and the enthusiasm of the free imagination which transfigures – translating them – those aspects of the real.
“ It is necessary to come close to the man Sécan to realize the marvellous elements which make up his being. It is necessary to draw near to him to discover that gentle restlessness of his which is the basis of his character, which stops him from talking for long to anyone because his interest is always elsewhere – it is in the dialogue started many years ago with Nature, with that exclusive lover; and thus he masks his own timidity, hiding that too emotional impetuosity of his own sentiments.
“ His works are so many spiritual fragments torn from the truth, thefts committed in Pan’s great game, shreds of the universe.
“ ‘ Nous comparerions volontiers à Prométhée ‘ , I read in an important French magazine, ‘ cet apprenti sorcier, cet alchimiste en quête de la pierre philosophale’…
“ For Sécan the painter, art presents itself like a two-faced divinity : one of its faces reflects the exterior reality, the real; the other, the interior reality, the spirit. Jean Paul Crespelle wrote in France-Soir that in Sécan’s painting there is the direct sense and the secret profound sense of that tragic world which it is possible to discover only by going beyond appearances.
“Like Delacroix with his long apprenticeship, Sécan has succeeded in mastering the means which allow him to use to the full his expressive powers. And he directs these means, handles them, like the conductor of an orchestra.
“ In his canvases, where silence often finds a place, a musical atmosphere organized by rhythms can be found.
“ It was not by chance that Delacroix had intuitively realized that painting in certain moments obtains music, at the point where logic is overcome, when the ‘ precise and limiting boundaries’ of logic are shuttered. And he noted: ‘ Superiority of music, the absence of reason… the fascination that this exerts …’. And speaking of the techniques of Sécan and Delacroix, I quote the judgement of a well-known critic in an evocative passage: ‘ We have seen ( at the recent Boldini exhibition) the rapid brilliance of Sécan’s strokes as he “ amused himself”, as he said, reproducing some oils of the Ferrara Master’s, taking less time than we needed to look at them.‘ So, Delacroix’s lesson is true: if you are not able to make a sketch of a man who throws himself out of a window, in the time that his body takes to fall from the fourth floor, you will never succeed in works of greater commitment.
“ Sécan has a speed and certainty in his brushstrokes, a plastic strength, which are no less that prodigious. In the vehemence with which he captures and spreads the light, dominating the colours – often even the metallic ring of the brush handle is impressed on the canvas – one has the impression that Sécan strikes and makes the most insignificant things come magically alive…
“ It is necessary to penetrate the intimacy of this work of his laden with dreams and poetic inspiration. A world which can only belong to a dreamer or a poet. And seeing with how much sweetness and harmony, how intensely this artist makes the canvas sing, using the paints like a musical score, we say spontaneously: Schubert, Chopin, Debussy are each themselves, each different, each one has his own personality. And we see in Sécan a composer of both sacred and profane music for the temple of art, and an enthusiastic orchestrator of … colours. Colour-music; Schubert, Chopin, Sécan, Debussy and a whole succession of sovereign creatures and of facts which are the supreme expression of beauty.”
Sécan’s inclination for music is an essential fact of his painting, not a consequence. And it is precisely because of this that the tones of his pictures may be regarded as so many musical values. It is the ineffable which has made its appearance.
For Sécan it is a matter of recalling disturbing emotions both from the depth of his prolonged meditations and from his being in order to express the inexpressible… Moreover, how can one defend a poet from the particular languor of an hour, from the lightning flash of a storm, from the wind which rends the clouds in the sky?
This desire to discover a new sense, unheard-of , was already revealed by Baudelaire when he wrote:
“ To drown in the deep vortex
Hell or heaven, what does it matter!
In the depth of the unknown to find the new…”
And returning to the same theme in our times, Apollinaire proclaimed the need to master:
“ Vast and strange dominions
In which the mystery in flower
Offers itself to who wants to pick it.”
There is something of the mystic in Sécan. A mystic in the way in which he is a man, persecuted by the makeshift manifestation of this extraordinary, fascinating but in the end boring machine age of ours. A mystic not by way of retaliation, but for interior need, and for this reason, with his particular assumption of time passing ever more quickly. Sécan himself wrote in Kunsthefte in 1948: “ Always further from himself, man, detaching himself increasingly more from the eternal laws which regulate and decide his own life, ever more unrestrained in his false and discordant passions, this man has lost the notion of the New – the sublime sense of life.”
Other words of Delacroix come to mind, like a warning: “ Nature reserves for those great future imaginations more original things to say of its creations than are the things created by nature itself.”
This seems to be written with precisely Sécan in mind. The landscape which he paints, like his flowers, comes from the memory, purified of the sensory elements which become a spurious fact, a collection of negligible particulars. The transfiguration goes beyond the possible, goes further, overcomes the known. Whence the sense of his figurations, and the subtle fascinations which they transmit to the onlooker.
Renouncing the facility and the gluttony, if one likes, of a naturalistic interpretation, sacrificing the pleasure of painting on the altar of pure sensibility, Sécan recreates an imaginary world for us in whose silence the apparition of truth awaits us; it becomes the message of another life, the revelation of the mystery. The fullness of this vision constitutes a sort of apotheosis of the universe, gives the sense and the measure of that which Claude Roger-Marx – renowned critic of Figaro-Littéraire – has defined as: “ Une sort de sainteté qu’on voit dans les yeux de Sécan.”
Thus, in his canvases, harmony and impression marry with an unparalleled ease, and the sensibility of the senses is overwhelmed by that of the soul, tested by distressing problems.
“With the frantic longing “ confesses Sécan “ of excluding oneself from Time, of tearing oneself away from the cage of the senses towards a new harmony…”
Returning against to music, I see Sécan abandon himself sorrowfully to his own keyboard in the kingdom of celestial notes.
Thus each of Sécan’s harmonies becomes a melody. Giorgio Kaisserlian adds:
“Georges Sécan always brings precious things to the brightest moments of his art. He seeks in his very depths, above all he listens to the most intimate movements of his memory and of his heart. What stands out most of all in his paintings is almost always a rhythmic and musical wave of pure pictorial motives. These motives, however, maintain a close relationship with reality; there is the “ cockcrow” which rends the silence of the night and announces the imminent light of the dawn, there is the inexorable, terrible flight between elements which combat to the last drop of blood, there is the sense of the elevation of the soul in prayer which seeks the divine, there is the rhythm, plastic and concise at the same time, of elements which subside in a supreme harmony, that is, in a growing desire for order and light. Thus Sécan appears in this ardent, expressive moment like a decisive advocate of a painting strained to reach the deepest emotions which succeed in rousing the soul to elevate it to light.
“ Briefly, Sécan confronts – with entirely modern instincts – the world of vision, trying to understand in each subject with which he deals, the temporal and emotional essence of a hidden presence, which his inspiration reveals and of which he brings us the most intimate heartbeats and palpitations. In each of his paintings Sécan sets us moving towards the sense of an interior presence which vibrates in unison with the cosmos.”
It is not, however, only an interior motion. It is also the overcoming of himself, with study, with seeking, with commitment. It is these aspects of Sécan on which Renato Giani comments:
“ Commitment to painting, and not as is usually said, committed painting. A painter is always and constantly committed: to a surrender, above all to an investigation, to a discovery or rediscovery. Sécan belongs to that group of observers who cunningly, indifferently pass from the most distinguished and authoritative portrait to a freer and less limiting composition whose effects cannot be dated in temporal terms. His exhibitions, yes, these can be dated, and they are remembered, even though it is less easy to remember the variegated sinuosity of some of his joyously ironical titles – Disturbing Expectation, Sacrifice and Vocation, and still upon this metre, in literary appearance and stamped by the colours of his palette.
“ These titles are not literature, rather they belong to the context of a sentimental and intellectual Parisian tradition which allows every possibility of escape and evasion, and especially of returning to meditate on the tone-colour values in the continual variation of the spoken language which characterizes good painting. Sometimes he is a figurative and landscape painter inclined towards the ‘vast heavy horizons, to the theatrical and stormy clouds’ as Marco Valsecchi wrote and as Dino Buzzati underlined; sometimes he is burdened with a desperate optimistic need to confront and declare in non-figurative and almost abstract forms a personal independence and an absolute necessity to guard his own freedom as a man and as an artist; the depth of his temperament is present as a constant line on which it is possible to order an itinerary of expressive means which flow together into that which will always remain the eternity of painting, that is, the being and the remaining a painter, whatever the medium adopted, the world interpreted, inventions or fantasies whereby the legend of the aureole of the artist assumes colour and vitality. Sécan is a painter, and the sweet violence of his paintings is nothing other than a sort of free outburst and vibrant affirmation of all the freedoms to which civilization and culture have together accustomed us. Art is not made of words but rather of silence and of mystery. Sécan interprets both the one and the other and makes ‘painting’ of them. This is why, for him, we use the expression ‘ commitment to painting’ rather that other formulae in vogue today.”
A very important fact, which ought to be noted, is that Sécan is the only one from among the great contemporary painters who has not been helped and launched by dealers and galleries. His works are among those more requested today, and reach record figures at the big international auctions. Sécan’s art has succeeded on its own merits. Giorgio Mascherpa has pointed out that:
“Sécan is one of the most disturbing figure of contemporary painting: he is, in fact, outside every artistic trend, yet all the major critics have written about him; he is capable of painting a portrait from life in a few minutes and of wandering the world for years on end, although from time to time he loves to retire from the world and people for months and months to live alone in a remote country cottage and paint with those mysterious spectral colours of his which he himself delights in making with secret alchemies.”
Sécan, who apparently intends to leave Europe for America, has had an extraordinarily tumultuous existence, rich in adventures. When still a boy he revealed an innate propensity for drawing; he had an uncle who was a painter, whom he follow like a shadow and from whom he learnt the first rudiments of art and painting techniques.
In order to stay close to this uncle, he ran away to Paris from his parents’ home. There, to keep himself and to be able to study at the Académie des Beaux Arts without asking for help from his parents ( who were extremely contrary to his artistic vocation), he resorted to the most varied expedients, such as painting his fellow students without signing the pictures which he then sold to them so that they might pretend they were their own work. He painted poker cards and symbols of the game for some private clubs and carried out artistic commissions of all kinds ( thanks to his prodigious facility with the paintbrush). As for the pictures which he painted for love, he took to leaving them at a gallery at the insistence of his owner who promised to show them to critics. However, every time that the young painter appeared, the gallery owner hastened to send him away laden with large canvases “ to practise on” without ever giving him a franc by way of compensation. If it had not been for the help of the gallery porter, moved to pity by the timidity of the young painter, perhaps Sécan would have died of hunger without ever knowing the truth, which was the bitterest and most delusive imaginable. He learnt, in fact, that the dealer was selling his pictures at very high prices to Parisian millionaires and that the last ones had even finished in the Rothschilds’ house. This left him with an implacable grudge against those who speculate on the young and their ingenuousness.
He was to remember it many years later when, in one of his Paris exhibitions, he showed a female nude ( who symbolized pure and disinterested art) on whose delicate skin greedy leeches ( unscrupulous dealer) were sucking. If the struggle for existence was the obsessive theme of his Parisian youth, his pictorial experiences of the Old Masters must also be remembered – his studies on Rembrandt, his visits to the very old Boldini to whom he felt linked by their mutual and natural disposition for portrait painting and their prodigious facility in drawing.