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3 artists selected for the 2014 Drawing Prize of the Daniel & Florence Guerlain Contemporary Art Foundation
Prey #101, 2008. Charcoal on paper, 30 x 23,5 cm. ©Martin Assig.

PARIS.- As every year since 2006, the Daniel and Florence Guerlain Foundation for Contemporary Art will be awarding its annual Drawing Prize during the Salon du Dessin in the Palais Brongniart, the unmissable event for all lovers of fine drawings. Committed collectors, the Guerlains concentrate their efforts on allowing artists to be seen by the widest possible public and on presenting their works in French or overseas museums and institutions.

Dove Allouche, Silvia Bächli, Marc Bauer, Sandra Vasquez de la Horra, Jean-Luc Verna, Jorinde Voigt or Amelie von Wulffen… are just some of the many artists revealed by the Daniel and Florence Guerlain Foundation’s Prize which today has become a benchmark in the world of contemporary drawing.

From the 16th of October 2013 to the 31st of March 2014, the Centre Pompidou is devoting an exhibition to the exceptional donation given by this couple of art patrons. Part of this donation, representing more than 1 200 drawings made by artists of 38 different nationalities, is being shown in a space of 600 square meters. Conceived around the works of the 15 artists nominated for the first five drawing prizes, the exhibition has already attracted 80.000 visitors; true recognition for contemporary drawing defended by Daniel and Florence Guerlain for more than thirty years now.

With this donation, still a rare occurrence in France, this couple of collectors is once again demonstrating their determination to restore the art of drawing to its former glory and thereby pursue their work of heightening public awareness. As Florence Guerlain states, “the objective is to open the eye of potential collectors”.

Presentation of the selected artists by Marie Maertens

Martin Assig

Martin Assig is a demiurgic artist : reflection on creation is at the very heart of his work, related to the cosmos and religion, and jubilantly executed.
Furthermore, his working method is rather like a cook’s, with the saucepans in which he heats beeswax scattered around his studio. When mixed with pure pigments, beeswax confers a special luminosity on his drawings. Others are executed in pen and ink, charcoal or watercolour on themes always imbued with universal questions about life, death, humanity and its relationship with the universe. Though he studied painting at art school in a conventional manner, his real apprenticeship began in church where, as a child, his curiosity kept him looking at the scenes of Christ’s Passion. This gave rise to an obsession with the human body, which is endlessly represented in the thousands of drawings that he produces. This human envelope is frequently shown without a head so that the spectator may identify with it. “It’s a way of connecting with myself but also with the whole universe. In my work, there’s always an idea of filling containers. Bodies, which I relate to architecture, are containers whose forms do not reveal what they are protecting. Wax is also a temporal container, which changes according to its temperature.” The architecture is that of churches, cathedrals or tombs. But no obsession with death emanates from it. It is all about invisible, or even mystical connections, and when Assig makes a pun, playing on St Paul and Paul Klee, one of his favourite artists, it is meant to encourage a broader reflection on art. “Men invented it because they asked themselves questions that they couldn’t answer.” Whether figurative or abstract, or verging on ornamental, his works sometimes allude to artists such as Claude Rutault, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Picasso as seen by Lichtenstein, then by himself, or even Munch’s The Scream, to which Assig added a humorous caption – mama, mama! Other phrases are quotes from the writings of Marguerite Duras or illustrate thoughts such as: Forget Everything, Tragic, That’s Love or Yes, I am. “For most people have the same existential problems and I tell myself that if I can do drawings on this subject, that may get through to everyone…’’

Matt Bryans
Matt Bryans revisits the art of drawing via the technique of erasure. Using newspaper as a backcloth, he creates shadowy apparitions out of the humblest everyday materials. Memories and recollections slip subtly into Bryans’ work, even though he offers no literal interpretation. He recalls how he spentthe first few years of his life in the Kingdom of Bahrain and fleetingly remembers the veiled forms that he observed during his stay there. On his return to London, he worked as a paperboy for a while, at a time when newspaper ink transferred its physical presence to readers’ hands. The tradition of reading a daily newspaper is still omnipresent in the United Kingdom and Bryans has kept up the habit of collecting hundreds of newspapers. He stacks them up in piles, then chooses the pictures he wants to cut out, before meticulously erasing them with the help of a rubber. The subject of the article is relatively unimportant, for “it’s a raw material” that simply provides the source of these ghostly apparitions. Not that he is indifferent to history. Pondering over the First World War centenary, he is deeply moved by how young the soldiers who fought in it were. He reflects upon the Holocaust, too, without showingit directly in his works. He also worries about environmental issues and growing urbanization. Is that why his landscapes have become increasingly larger and turned into immersive installations? In shades of ultramarine or gradations of beiges and greys, his drawings eat up space, recalling the compulsive techniques he uses in his studio. For Bryans’ time-consuming, delicate work is a performance that combines both mental and physical involvement. He works on the floor, on his knees, ripping up this very fragile material from time to time. He then composes and constructs. These panoramas are in the tradition of Turner’s paintings or Monet’s gently enveloping Water Lilies. “Have you noticed how paper conserves heat and induces a physical relationship? However, while the images are real, my idea is that any one mountain may refer to another. For example, I do not consider Mount Fuji as such, but I do like the possibility of just looking at the lines and angles.” Little by little, Matt Bryans’ highly personal world expresses itself, forging a link between conceptualism and pleasure.

Tomasz Kowalski
Without actually toying with them, Tomasz Kowalski enjoys telling spectators stories until they almost lose their bearings. In his technique and the way he sets the scene for his characters or evokes art history, he flouts time and space. When questioned about his numerous references to early 20th-century artistic trends, Kowalski readily admits that he makes the present “more aesthetic”. In Poland, critics have grouped him together with a generation of artists called the “New Surrealists”, while glimpses of George Grosz and Otto Dix, members of the New Objectivity movement, or of Hieronymus Bosch and Bruegel, can also be seen in his work. Born into a family of artists, Tomasz Kowalski spent his childhood playing in his father’s studio and looking at books on art history. If the act of drawing is atavistic, his tutelary figures are openly adopted: “What’s important is that it brings back memories and recollections I have of works, for I enjoy making connections between different periods in art history and my own characters.” The latter are often drawn indiluted ink, which confers a certain instability uponthem. When the shades are deliberately washed out, the scenes – also executed in gouache, paint, spray paint or collage – seem to overcome the rules of weightlessness and logic. “It’s important for me to show a certain timelessness and for my drawings to evoke the past, without people being able to date them exactly. It’s like a ghost of history, for which I will give no precise source.” For this artist who loves novels and films, the dream world is never very far away, as he places his protagonists in iconic situations that are part of the collective unconscious. “My pictures are very simple and may take place in a hospital or a bathroom, so as to be recognizable and legible.” A linear interpretation would, however, be too easy, and Kowalski likes to add incongruous secondary elements. “The drawing ultimately turns into an unknown world, in which objects and protagonists come together and tell their own stories.” That the young artist cites the Polish theatre director and performer Tadeusz Kantor or French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s work on deconstruction comes as no surprise.

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