Simon Hantaï

Barnett Newman declared that black and white were the colors that an artist used when he wanted to reinvent his work. In the case of Hantaï, each of these three paintings addresses and reinvents one of the fundamental concerns of visual art: the theme of figure and ground. In the Meun painting of 1968, we are confronted with an abstract figure set against a ground. With the Study of 1969, a late example of the series in which the artist declared that he had discovered “what my true subject is: the resurgence of the ground beneath my feet”, we find that this figure has floated free and that the ground has established its own autonomy. Finally, in the late Left-Over Tabula, we find that figure and ground are no longer conceived as divided, contrasting entities but are rather fused into an enigmatic new presence. Viewed together, and set against the tendencies of modern and contemporary art in the post-World War Two era, these three paintings reveal the extraordinary depth and complexity of the artist’s aesthetic inquiry. …