Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dynamic forms

Henri-Georges Adam was born in 1904 in Paris, where his father was a jeweller and goldsmith in the Marais district. Adam worked in his father's studio while taking art classes in the evening, before entering the École des Beaux-Arts. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Untitled, 1957
Engraving included in the 500 copies of Adam, Oeuvre Gravé

Initially working as a painter, in the early 1930s, following an accident, Henri-Georges Adam changed direction. He took up engraving (the rudiments of which he had learned from his father), and abandoned painting for sculpture. He also designed monumental tapestries, always in shades of black and white. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Le Christ aux Oliviers
Engraving, 1947


As a printmaker, Henri-Georges Adam also insisted on the purity of black and white, and only used one tool, the engraver's burin. An anarchist and a pacifist, Henri-Georges Adam first distinguished himself as an engraver with a series of prints expressing his outrage at the Spanish Civil War, Désastres de la guerre. 


Henri-Georges Adam, Anteros
Engraving, 1947

In 1936 he joined the Association of Revolutionary Writers and Artists, along with Maurice Estève, Alfred Manessier, Édouard Pignon, and Arpad Szenes. It may have been Pignon who brought Adam to the attention of Picasso, who encouraged him, and after WWII lent him his studio in the rue des Grands-Augustins and a house near Gisors. In 1943 Adam, Pignon, and Manessier were three of the founders of the clandestine Salon de Mai, which was in effect the artistic wing of the French Resistance. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Vers dorés
Engraving, 1947

In 1959 Henri-Georges Adam was appointed Professor of Engraving at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and was later also made Professor of Monumental Sculpture. In 1966 there was a major retrospective of Adam's work at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris. The following year, still at the height of his powers and productivity, Henri-Georges Adam died of a sudden heart attack, near Perros-Guirec in Brittany. He is buried in the cemetery of Mont-Saint-Michel. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Artemis
Engraving, 1950

At his death, Henri-Georges Adam left unpublished a major series of engravings, designed to illustrate Les Chimères by Gérard de Nerval. Executed between 1947 and 1950 for a proposed edition to be published by Bordas, this abandoned project was eventually published posthumously in 1971 by Les Bibliophiles de Provence, in an edition of 200 copies plus 40 suites. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Le Christ aux Oliviers V
Engraving on three cut-out plates, 1950

Henri-Georges Adam, Anteros
Engraving on seven cut-out plates, 1950

Some of the plates are pure illustrations, while others brilliantly incorporate the text of Les Chimères as an integral part of the design. For some, Adam has cut the copper plates into significant shapes, and juxtaposed as many as seven plates on the page to make a single image. 

Henri-Georges Adam, Delfica
Engraving, 1947

The dynamic forms and intense cross-hatched blacks of Henri-Georges Adam's nearly-abstract engravings incorporate the lessons of cubism and surrealism seamlessly into the long history of the furrowed line.

7 comments:

curator said...

These are beautiful.

Neil said...

They are wonderful, aren't they? Quite hard to photograph as the blacks and whites are so intense - they must have been a nightmare to print.

Jane Librizzi said...

I quite like these unfamiliar works. Can you shed any light on the texts embedded in some of them? My eyes almost crossed trying to make out the words.

Neil said...

Gerard de Nerval (1808-1855) is the decadent romantic poet famous for taking his pet lobster for walks on a lead, and for his posthumous influence on the surrealists. I did think about about translating one of his dense and allusive poems for this post, but although very dreamlike and strange in their imagery they are written as strict Alexandrine sonnets and I decided it would take too long! Maybe I'll have a go at one at the weekend. In the meantime, the French of Artémis, which is one of the hardest to read in the engravings I posted, is:

La Treizième revient . . . C'est encore la première;
Et c'est toujours la Seule, - ou c'est le seul moment:
Car es-tu Reine, ô toi! la première ou dernière?
Es-tu Roi, toi le seul ou le dernier amant?. . .

Airmez qui vous aima du berceau dans la bière;
Celle que j'aimai seul m'aime encor tendrement:
C'est la Mort - ou la Morte . . . O dêlice! ô tourment!
La rose qu'elle tient, c'est la Rose trémière.

Sainte napolitaine aux mains pleines de feux,
Rose au coeur violet, fleur de sainte Gudule:
As-tu trouvé ta Croix dans le désert des cieux?

Roses blanches, tombez! vous insultez nos dieux,
Tombez, fantômes blancs, de votre ciel qui brûle;
- La Sainte de l'abîme est plus sainte à mes yeux.

Neil said...

I should have said, Jane, that when these engravings were eventually published, they were in two folders in a box - the first containing the engravings, the second the text of the poems beautifully typeset by Robert Blanchet. So the difficulty of reading these already difficult texts was perfectly recognised!

The engravings were printed on Adam's own press, by Marc Chapin, on vélin de Rives.

TBK said...

I have collected Mr. Adam's works for many years. His tapestries and sculptures are also quite engaging. The detail and intricacy of his work is remarkable. A book of his works was published including an etching in each copy. He is well regarded in France, though he is less known abroad. Thank you for featuring my favorite artist on your site.

Neil said...

TBK - thanks for your appreciative comments. I've never seen any of Adam's sculptures or tapestries, except in reproduction. It is strange that he is so well-thought-of in France and relatively unknown elsewhere. Perhaps his greatest chance to make it internationally came with the 1953 ICA competition for a Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner. 2000 entrants were whittled down to 140 prize-winning finalists, who included Adam, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. But the overall prize went to an Englishman, Reg Butler, sealing his international reputation.