Poetry and Painting: Two Exhibitions in Honor of Yves Bonnefoy

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Poetry and Painting: Two Exhibitions in Honor of Yves Bonnefoy

FROM APRIL TO JULY 2005, THE FRENCH CITY OF TOURS honored its native son, the poet Yves Bonnefoy, with two exhibitions of paintings related to his work: the first was devoted to books he has created together with contemporary artists, and the second to his work as an art historian and art critic. Yves Bonnefoy has long collaborated with painters and engravers, producing books meant to be not only read but treasured as art, where the words inhabit a space materialized by beautiful papers and bindings and constellated by responding images. His earliest collaborators included Raoul Ubac, Eduardo Chillida, Joan Miro, Antoni Tapies, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Indeed he has always been attentive to the visual arts, and over the years has produced many critical essays and books devoted to painting and sculpture, including a tome on Alberto Giacometti, whom he knew quite well. The two excellent catalogues of the exhibitions were published together by William Blake & Co. Editions.1

The first exhibition, "Poésie et peinture 1993-2005," was lodged in the Chateau de Tours, a block or so from the Loire river. It included artifacts produced by Bonnefoy and eleven artists: books resulting from their collaborations, manuscripts (autograph and corrected typescripts) of pertinent texts and letters, and individual, thematically related works by each of the artists. The books were of two kinds: poems or essays by Bonnefoy illustrated by the artist, or catalogues that include a critical essay on the artist written by Bonnefoy. The exhibition took up the second and third floors of the chateau, one room allotted to each painter. The pale, sandstone-block walls, beamed ceilings, and squareand-diamond terra cotta tile floors provided an excellent setting for the paintings, though in a few rooms drywall was installed because the texture of the stone overpowered smaller, more delicate drawings. The books were displayed in glass cases at the center of each room, sometimes with related materials in smaller cases on the side. Works by George Nama, Gérard de Palézieux, Farhad Ostovani, Gérard TitusCarmel, Alexandre Hollan, and Zao Wou-ki, most of them in black and white (except for those by Titus-Carmel) were exhibited in the slightly larger and higher rooms on the second floor. The colorists Oscar Piattella, Nasser Assar, François de Asis, Mehdi Qotbi, and Pierre Alechinsky were up on the third floor.

The catalogue gives the birthplace of each of Bonnefoy's collaborators: Brussells, Belgium; Aix-en-Provence, France; Teheran and Lahijan, Iran; Budapest, Hungary; Pittsburgh, United States; Rabat, Morocco; Paris, France; Beijing, China. It is a list that expresses the cosmopolitan and generous spirit of the poet who made friends with all of them; as the catalogue reveals, the basis of collaboration for Bonnefoy is friendship. The calligraphy that so often haunts these works is present in three or four languages: calligraphy is after all the common root of both poetry and painting.

In an introductory essay for the catalogue, Yves Bonnefoy observes that, despite the striking stylistic differences among his collaborators, various themes and preoccupations unite them, in particular, the motif of the tree. Invoking Ronsard's "Contre les bûcherons de la forêt de Gastine," he remarks that if you cut a tree down or reduce it to a concept, it can't inform, shelter or enhance your life by being the kind of existent it is. A great oak tree alone in a field, he writes, is an individual without self-consciousness and thus unites in itself universal and particular; and it is a model of reciprocity for and with us, breathing out what we breathe in, breathing in what we breathe out. Though as an art critic Bonnefoy writes perceptively about the violence of war depicted by Goya and the violated nudes of the great Venetian colorists who seemed, alas, to find stricken women erotic, there is nothing of the kind in the work of his friends. …