The art of Jacques Weyer, by Douglas Hanson
— Douglas Hanson is an American writer on the visual arts who has contributed toARTnews, Art Business News, the Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities, and numerous other publications, in France as well as in the United States.
The art of Jacques Weyer has been a searching interaction with the traditions of abstraction, especially geometric abstraction, and has served as an illustration of just how fruitful those traditions have remained to this day. His work also reveals the distinctive evolution of a self-taught artist who, forty years ago, embarked along thispath as a second career.
Rather than being a deductive, outside-in kind of creativity, guided by ideas outside the work itself, Weyer’s art results from an intuitive, inductive, “inside-out” manner of working. To better understand this, one should consider what Weyer brought to his
art from his previous career as a research biologist in immunology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Born in 1946, Weyer was about thirty years old when, in 1975, he left this field to begin laying the foundations for his career in art.
An influence from his earlier scientific profession has been strong and long lasting.
This is his thoughtfully experimental approach to painting.
Weyer has described his work practice. He doesn’t start with a pre-conceived overall composition, but instead might begin at the inside of the work with one color, then contrast another to it, and perhaps another, eventually also arriving at the proper forms to hold and balance those colors. He proceeds by his sense for what is still lacking in the work, what it needs to become complete. This is a searching, gradual, intuitive process that builds from the inside toward the outside, eventually arriving at the proper whole. Hence even his more outwardly constructivist works, which at times suggest the kind formal grid typical of the genre, nonetheless can give the impression of having evolved organically, of having grown into their final state. The frequent impression of harmonious asymmetry in Weyer’s paintings does, however, recall the constructivist idea of counterbalanced disequilibrium.
Although Weyer doesn’t create official series of works, named and laid out as such, he tends to stay for a time with certain motifs and elaborate them, resulting each time in what he has called “a whole family of pictorial results.” These are like carefully
thought-out vocabularies, and anyone who spends time considering the artist’s work in its entirety will sense how they build what might be called the overall language of his art.
Jacques Weyer’s art runs against some long-held distinctions within the history of abstraction. For example the distinction between the relatively “cold” or intellectual realm of geometric abstraction and the livelier or warmer world of lyrical abstraction.
Weyer’s early years as an artist were marked by a frequently gestural style that had obvious ties to lyrical abstraction. But even his more constructivist or rectilinear period has had its own form of lyricism, first through his treatment of color, and second due to the unusual nature of line in his work.
Weyer is a colorist of great sophistication, with a palette as various as it is subtle. He works with consistency, so that his colors take on recurring values relative to one another. His colors are at their base restrained and subtle, sotto voce if you will. He
applies color in a flat, smooth manner, which is one reason why he likes acrylics.
Against this foundation, other color gradations take on their own relative power or voice. White may suddenly seem an arbiter between blocks of black and of intense red. A large enough expanse of violet might offset a small but forceful square of blue in an opposing corner. Fields of pastel-like colors, subtly differentiated, provide a more contemplative or lyrical tone, while the use of primary colors and blacks create a more stark, dramatic, and sometimes ominous atmosphere in Weyer’s paintings. He
himself speaks of “zones of tension” and “zones of calm.”
Thus color is always in a dialogue with itself. The artist considers colors to be possessed of the most nuanced mysteries and powers, one might say “personalities,” which interact with one another. He has written, for example, that the “stridency” of a certain “guilty color” can find “resolution” thanks to neighboring colors “that give it its justification.” Josef Albers could speak in a similar way. Weyer wrote recently that his main goal is to create pictures in which “color circulates in a natural way.” The work is finished, he says, when the work’s total composition, forms and colors, “seem to be re-absorbed by nature.” At this point the work acquires its own life, preferably through the greatest possible simplicity of means.
It is difficult to find a traditional line in Weyer’s work, for example a dark, thin stroke that might separate two different expanses of color in a painting. Usually his colors, and his white or black fields, simply abut one another, leaving only the suggestion of
a line between them. Because the artist works in a free-hand manner, without the use of a straight edge, these implied lines are supple, not rigid. Weyer’s treatment of line itself has undergone a striking evolution. In the latter 1990s he did a series of paintings in which one section of color, usually a primary color placed down low, was set against an overall white background, with varied black lines crossing the canvas horizontally. This was Weyer at his most Mondrianesque. But with a few exceptions these lines don’t separate one chromatic section of the picture from another. Instead, over time they tend to become very thick, more like bars, and begin to lead a compositional life of their own. At first they go edge to edge, but soon we find paintings in which they simply stop somewhere in the picture. They cut through the middle of solid fields of white or color. Eventually they begin to widen even more, so that these “lines” start to function as one more monochrome field, this time as a
field of black. This morphing of the very essence and function of line is a fascinating aspect of Weyer’s painting. In such cases, lines are set free from their normal delineating function and allowed to contribute to the composition on their own terms. In many of his later works the viewer can detect this change. What at first seem like lines turn out to be elongated, narrow fields of black or color. The linear “grid” component of constructivism recedes and the lyricism of color steps forth.
Several traditions of artistic abstraction have been re-vitalized and combined in the art of Jacques Weyer. He has drawn from lyrical, gestural and geometric abstraction.
And he has devised his own transformation of constructivism via approaches more at home in colorfield painting. The latitudes taken by the artist in these matters could well reflect the fact that he has been self-taught, apprenticed only to himself, and thus able to follow his instincts. Those are the instincts of a colorist above all, but also of an artist who has experimented carefully with abstract styles to discover the best compositional formats to express his love of color.
— Douglas Hanson is an American writer on the visual arts who has contributed to
ARTnews, Art Business News, the Star Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities, and
numerous other publications, in France as well as in the United States.