Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf
Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf (as he called it) from his exhibition The American Sculpture at the Musée d'art moderne in Paris. It is, of course, not so unusual to find works by prominent figures from the twentieth century whose figures are so familiar as to seem almost antique—but Sabatté, who is of Moroccan origin, is a naturalborn artist, and the dust wolf is a creature born of a dream. The artist was inspired by the animal, but, unlike a cat, he was not given to dreaming. The wolf was killed in a hunting trip in the region of Algiers, and Sabatté has been looking for a new home for it ever since.For Sabatté, the wolf is a metaphor for human madness and vice, for the power of the imagination and the possibility of seeing through blindness. He sees it as a symbol of the dream of the artist and of the viewer, of the desire to see through blindness, to know the world and the other, to experience the world as an illusion. He sees the wolf as a contemporary version of the classical animal, the symbol of the human spirit. He also sees the wolf as a metaphor for the fantasy of art, of the art object, the creation of art. He has long been interested in the anthropomorphic aspects of art, and the works in this exhibition, in particular the drawings on paper that make up the bulk of his oeuvre, reveal his interest in the figure of the artist. The artist is the artist, the wolf is the wolf, the artist is the artist. Sabattés drawings are filled with figures that look like themselves but are really nothing more than a projection of the artists own fantasies. But they are not fantasies, for they are in fact drawings of dreams. They represent the artists attempt to realize his dreams and the dream of art. It is a dream that is realized only when the artist sees through the blindness of the desire to see.
Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf, the first of the French artists to be born in France, the Flemish landscape painter, and the artist himself, have been linked to the French Nouveau Réalisme. In his second solo exhibition in Paris, Sabatté revisited the connections between his earlier art and his current work. The exhibition, subtitled Les grandes dents (The great holes), was composed of objects that had been used as sculptural elements in the artists previous shows in Paris, Rome, and London. In addition, the artist had acquired a number of small, colorful, and light-weight sculptures from various local antique shops.The exhibition was divided into three parts. The first room contained a number of small sculptures made of paper, pieces that were arranged in a circle, like the paper circles in the work of the eighteenth-century German sculptor J. H. Maier. The works, which were installed one next to the other, were also titled Les grandes dents. They were displayed on a low pedestal and were made of paper, cardboard, paper bags, and paper plates. The objects were arranged in a circle and appeared to be made of paper. The color of the paper was sometimes blurred or washed out, and the objects seemed to be made of paper, although the light-weight materials were not.The works in the second room were made of cardboard. The colors were almost always muted, with only the occasional bright color (blue, yellow, orange, red) or the presence of a scrap of paper. The cardboard was made of paper and had a rough texture. It was torn and had been folded. In the third room, the same cardboard was placed on the floor and a small pile of paper was placed on top of it. The pile of paper was on the floor and was the same size as the pile of cardboard. The pile of paper was the same size as the pile of cardboard.
Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf, for example, are a couple of examples of an avant-garde of the dead, and of the living, and their place in the society of the dead is not only a matter of speculation. The artist has said that his work is in two senses: as an act of remembrance, and as a memorial, and as both are concerned with the same thing: the passage from the dark to the light.Sabatté took these two figures as his starting point, and, in a series of paintings entitled La vie des bâtons, 1983–88, he transformed them into figures of the mind, but also of the senses. These works are like the memory works of the artist himself, in which the artist asks us to consider, on a mental level, the things that we know and know ourselves and that are hidden from us. In Sabattés case, however, the hidden things are those that are a part of our language, and he wants to preserve this mental and spiritual aspect of them. The artist uses various techniques, such as paintings and collages, to evoke this state of awareness. He uses collage to create a sense of the chaos of things, of the gap between the unconscious and the senses, between the word and the thing that it means. In his use of collage, Sabatté shows himself to be a kind of manger, a place of nourishment for the mind, and, above all, a place of refuge from the world of appearances. He asks us to look at things, to consider them as sequences of things, as signs, as traces, as a kind of trace of our history, our relationship to the world. The artist uses collage to create an atmosphere of mystery, of a naturalness that is both intimate and impersonal. In this sense, the artist is an archeologist, revealing the hidden traces of a past that is no longer accessible.
Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf is an eerie fusion of the German and the American, a hybrid that is both primitive and modern, yet eludes the label as either. The only way to discover what Sabattés wolves are is to photograph them. And since the wolves are abstractions, they are only vaguely legible. In the end, however, they are still the most captivating of all images.Sabatté is one of the few artists who have managed to transcend the narrowness of the photographic image to which they allude. The wolves are a visual feast. They are as elusive as the figures they depict, yet they are more elusive, and they are as precise as the original paintings. This is what makes them particularly beautiful, and also why they are so difficult to classify. The wolves are rarely recognizable as such, and it is impossible to say how they are related to the paintings. But they do share certain affinities: they are both abstract and representational, and they are both heavily stylized and highly abstract. The wolves are also distinctly human, and they are often shown in situations that resemble those of the figures they depict. The paintings are, in fact, the result of a collaboration between Sabatté and two American photographers, James Benning and Michael Grunert. Grunert has been photographing American artists since the 50s and Sabatté has been following up on their collaborations, especially since the mid 60s. This is an important distinction: Grunert was the first to take a photograph of Sabatté. His work has always been based on an understanding of the artist as a photographer, and he has often used that knowledge to good effect. But Sabatté, who is more of a painter, uses his subjects as a means of expression. It is a sign of his mastery of the photographic medium that his subjects are never resolved into pictorial forms. His pictures are almost always complexly layered.
Lionel Sabatté and the dust wolf. With these works, Sabatté has added to the international politics of the 1990s, with a particular emphasis on the war in Kosovo, which, he says, is the most important theme of all the works in this exhibition.The artist recently returned to Kosovo to produce a series of drawings on paper, which he calls picture books. They were inspired by a conversation he had with the former Kosovo president, Abdullah Gul, and the artist himself. In the series, Sabatté explores the influence of popular culture on the central European experience. He draws a map of the former Yugoslavia and sketches the direction of a street in the middle of Kuprija Square, the famous square in the center of the city where the Kosovar Albanian wars began. The street, painted in red and green, is called Kuprija Square. The red and the green indicate the different ways in which the Yugoslav Republic has been perceived as a land of refuge for immigrants, and the red is a reference to the national flag of Kosovo. In the drawings, the borders of the squares are filled in, as in the maps, with white paint. The white outlines of the squares, like the red and the green, are, of course, painted on the paper. The process is reminiscent of the way in which the sides of the map were painted by the Yugoslav soldiers who occupied the Kosovo Albanian border in the early 90s. The process of painting, of forming a map, is reminiscent of a photographic process. In the series, the painted lines become lines of text, suggesting a passage from a territory to a territory, a place to a place. In a sense, Sabattés paintings, like the maps and the drawings, are the map of a world, and thus also of a border. Here, the borders, like the maps, are the boundaries of a territory, and the border is a boundary and a territory.