Judit Reigl

1923Kapuvár, Hungary | 2020Marcoussis, France
Judit Reigl — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy Judit Reigl, © P. Boudreaux

— Judit Reigl

Hungarian painter.

By turns a surrealist, a painter involved in action painting, and a figurative artist, Judit Reigl has often puzzled critics by the way her oeuvre has developed, with its turning points that have been as abrupt as they are unforeseen. Her career nevertheless attests to an unchanging existential anxiety: haunted by appearance and disappearance, emergence and submersion. In June 1950, she settled in France, after trying eight times to illegally cross the Iron Curtain to escape from her country’s dictatorial government. In Paris she met up with her fellow countryman and fellow student at the School of Fine Arts in Budapest, Simon Hantaï, who introduced her to André Breton in 1954; she gave this latter one of her first surrealist canvases, Ils ont soif insatiable de l’infini (1950): a nightmarish vision inspired by Lautréamont and Goya, in which monstrous zoomorphic creatures, in the grip of some inexplicable terror, flee into a desert landscape. A few months later, invited by Breton to show her work at the A l’étoile scellée gallery in 1954, she showed her first non-figurative works, consisting of organic-looking tormented sine curves, and produced, in her own words, in a “total automatism, at once psychic and physical”. After leaving the Surrealist group, in the years that followed she produced a series of pictures marked by an intense body language, where paint flung with full force onto the canvas caused violently coloured explosions, at times centrifugal (Éclatements, 1955-1958), at others centripetal (Centres de dominance, 1958-1959). This gestural abstraction likens her to Georges Mathieu, with whom she exhibited in 1956 and 1957. Between 1959 and 1965, her Écritures en masse [Mass Writings], made up of powerful black shapes levitating on a ecru ground, enabled her to deal with monumental dimensions, with an austere grandeur.

At the same time, the canvases in those series which had not worked were not abandoned: walked on, covered with the pictorial rubbish littering her studio floor, they were taken up again, re-worked, and became the telluric equivalent of the cosmic ambition of the gestural works involving body language (Guano, 1958-1965). In fact, rather than formal elegance it was the authenticity of the gesture which Reigl was after, an authenticity which caused her to end up, in the mid 1960s, with an unforeseen figurative output, made up of anthropomorphic torsos—usually male—strongly drawn and placed in a position of flight or fall, occupying, on the edge of dizziness, all the space available on her canvases (Homme, 1966-1972). Next, the artist experimented with lightening her figures, by taking the imprint of their ascending bodies, working on the front of translucid fabrics in order to grasp their essential features, then presenting them on the back (Drap-Décodage, 1973), because “the initial breakthrough has become a wall”, she declared. That work culminated in the abstract series of Déroulements (1973-1985), in which she further developed a fluid “paint-writing”, made of coloured lines emerging by way of transparency from the depths of the canvas painted on its other side. This quest for an incorporation of the painting gesture, no longer struggling with the paint itself but playing on its pliable quality, aroused, from 1975 on, the interest of the critic Marcelin Pleynet, whose essays would henceforth accompany the painter throughout her career. In her last abstract series produced between 1980 and 1988, made on the same principle, monumental rectangles soon appeared, conjuring up “gates” offering passage to slender human silhouettes, moving forward like so many Lazaruses outside their tomb (Face à…, 1988-1990). This return to the figure, a return that was several times repressed and then accepted, illustrates a constant obsession in the artist: that of making the body—either acting or represented—the very subject of the painting. This ontological quest took her work, which did not shrink from asserting her existential preoccupation, beyond fashions and fads. In her most recent works, these naked bodies increase in number in her canvases; they appear alone or in groups, head-on or levitating, but always in silhouette on an even ground, reduced to the essence of their being. As she said in a interview in the catalogue for her show in Nantes (2009): “I am at once the image in the mirror, the mirror, and the onlooker looking at the mirror […] I am all of that.”

Jean-Paul Ameline

Translated from French by Simon Pleasance.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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