A retrospective exhibition of the works of Pierre Alechinsky, one of the great masters of the COBRA movement started in Paris from September 15th until November 22nd 1998.
Alechinsky, whose father was a doctor who sought refuge in Belgium after fleeing antisemitic persecutions from pro-Tsarist troops in Crimea, was born in 1927. Being left-handed, a particularity which was not taken into account in Belgian schools in pre-war times, he thus never was at ease while pursuing his studies.
His father wanted him to become a doctor. Instead he turned to become an artist, first as an actor for a roving theatre and then as a painter.
During a bombing of Brussels in 1944, Alechinsky, enrolled in rescue teams to clear debris around the Gare du Nord railway station, was horrified at the sight of victims that he decided to never depict horror in his works.
After the war, Alechinsky studied at a school of architecture and decorative arts in Brussels in order to start an artistic career. He first followed advertising courses producing posters and discovered Derain's illustrations in a book. He also studied photography and was attracted by Surrealism.
Alechinsky, who said that it would today be difficult for him to become successful because of all the diplomas required in art schools, then met the painters Edouard Pignon and Raymond Cossé with whom he shared a studio which was to become later the headquarters of the COBRA movement.
He then joined the Young Belgian Painting Group and also earned a living as a musician in popular balls.
In 1947, Alechinsky took part in his first exhibition at the Lou Cosyn Gallery during which he met Surrealist master René Magrittebut a few weeks later he left for Yugoslavia where he participated in the building of the Samac-Sarajevo railway line.
He married Michèle Dendal, daughter of the artist André Dendal, in 1949 and went on to produce prints. After his first visit to Paris, he founded the studios of the Marais in Brussels and met the poet Christian Dotremont who had just organised the first COBRA exhibition. Such meeting was of great importance since it enabled him to discover the works of Asger Jorn, Pedersen, Appel, Constant and Corneille.
The spontaneity shown by COBRA artists and their universalness suited him to such a point that he embarked on organising the movement. The studios were then frequented by such artists as Karel Appel, Pol Bury, Jean-Michel Atlan, Constant, Corneille, Dominguez and Asger Jorn as well as personalities like Peggy Guggenheim and William Sandberg who organised a rather controversial COBRA exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
Alechinsky went to Paris in 1951 and worked with Appel and Corneille who had already settled in the French capital. He then studied engraving with Stanley William Hayter and met Miro and Bram van Velde.
Much active within the COBRA movement he continued to organise exhibitions and produced many works, notably «La Fourmilière» (ant's nest) which was later acquired by the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum.
Wetting his appetite with new techniques, Alechinsky became a central figure of the movement despite failing to earn some recognition from the public.
In 1955, he had his first important exhibition at the Palais des beaux-Arts in Brussels and then went to Japan to shoot a film on Japanese calligraphy which was to have a major role in his work.
However, Alechinsky only managed to sell a few of his paintings during the two following years until he snatched a contract with the Galerie de France which enabled him to obtain some modest support.
Alechinsky, who was painting his works spread on the floor of his studio, first met success in an exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. He then exhibited in Minneapolis with Jorn, Cesar, Degottex, Saura, Tapies and Chillida and managed to rent a spacious studio rue Levert in Paris.
After winning the Hallmark Award in New York for his painting «homage to Ensor», Alechinsky acquired the premises of a former elementary school in Labosse, Oise region, which he transformed into a studio. He then had his first personal exhibition in New York where he worked in the studio of Walasse Ting while staying at the Chelsea Hotel, a favourite place for such artists as Spoerri, Arman and Claes Oldenburg.
Alechinsky had his first personal exhibition in Paris at the Galerie de France in 1962 and was hailed by André Breton as a great artist. Three years later he spent several months in the U.S and became acquainted with the use of acrylic colours and cloth backing, preferring paper to canvas.