There are some unusual cases for me of artists whose work I hardly liked at all, and in some cases disliked, who over time have become artists whose work I find most fascinating. Paul Delvaux is one. It’s also the case with late di Chirico, which I now prefer to Chirico’s early work and thought terrible when I was in my early 20s… But back then what did I really know about painting? Not much. Delvaux’s work grew out of his absorbing that of di Chirico. But his sources are also varied and diverse and his work ends up becoming completely original and an infinitely complex elaboration of his own universe.
One of the thing that I find so compelling and transfixing in Delvaux’s work is that he goes completely against the grain of the almost monotonous insistence in late “Modernist” painting of lack of narrative complexity or illusionistic NON PHOTOGRAPHIC (!) space. All of this was outlawed by American painting in the 50s as “low art.” For me, at this point in my life, I find late Modernism as low a form of art as one could possibly encounter. So Paul Delvaux becomes an artist out of time or out of step — and the more I delve into Delvaux the more I admire and am captured by his insistence on his own visions. And I find myself perfectly in step with artists like Delvaux.
Maurice Nadeau, one of the historians of the Surrealists, wrote this as preface to The Drawings of Paul Delvaux:
“The overflowing of dreams into real life….” How could anyone fail to think of this formula, so characteristic of Gerard de Nerval, on looking at the drawings of Paul Delvaux? From century to century, from poet to painter, there thus sometimes exist troubling fraternities, illuminating relays whereby the world proves to be more mysterious than we thought, richer in unexpected encounters, rustling with harmonies. How have we allowed our universe of slamming doors–so soon closed on childhood, on the confused and crazy desires of adolescence–little by little to screen off these realms that open on boundless perspectives? The moment we begin to follow in the footsteps of Paul Delvaux, we discover a planet whose gravitational pull gives our gestures a different weight. Outside of time, outside of our everyday sense of self, we are astonished to have crossed so easily the boundaries that life imposes on us, boundaries that (curiously enough) are said to be natural. We have perhaps merely returned to that fleetingly glimpsed country that leaves unsettling lights in the eyes of the waking sleeper.