The grand façade. 2012.
* 1963 in Nancy
Linocut. 65 x 89.5 cm.
Signed and numbered 3/25.
Nicolas Poignon (1963) attended the École Nationale Supérieur des Arts Visuels (E.N.S.A.V.) in Brussels, where he trained as a painter. His graduation in 1989 signalled the end of his university career and a turning point in his artistic development. Deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the abstract paintings he made during that time prompted him to reflect on his position as an artist. After a long period of reorientation, in which he studied the work of the great masters of old in depth, he decided on a radical change of course: he stopped painting and turned his back on abstract art. For a long time after this he concentrated almost exclusively on linocuts, a medium he had dabbled in during his training and to which he felt drawn. It proved an auspicious choice in every respect.
Since then, Poignon has made more than four hundred linocuts. He finds inspiration in his immediate surroundings: a nocturnal landscape, terraced houses at dusk, a country lane, a deserted industrial estate on the edge of a town, a group of trees in the half-light. Although Poignon draws his subjects from life, his primary interest lies not in the topographical aspects of the image, but in sharing with the viewer the emotions that his nocturnal wanderings far from the noise of the city arouse in him. What links all these works is the feeling for the nuances of tone, atmosphere, the sense of meditation and the almost palpable tranquillity. These qualities set Poignon’s prints apart from traditional linocuts, which feature large, uniform surfaces, powerful lines and expressive, sometimes harsh shapes.
The contemplative nature of his linocuts calls for a different, subtler approach. Poignon had to ‘reinvent’ the linocut, developing a way of working whereby minuscule pieces are cut from the linoleum with infinite precision and a strong feeling for the suggestion of atmosphere. This creates matrices that can be best compared to screens on which photographs are produced.
Poignon usually draws his subject straight onto the linoleum from life. Sometimes he works from a drawing. Next he roughly indicates how the various parts of the image should be given texture and tone. He has a set of shapes, such as circles, squares and ovals, which he calls ‘motifs’, for this purpose. He chooses the most suitable motif for each part of the landscape or townscape, for example square or rectangular shapes for the sky, smaller squares for the vegetation or triangular for a façade. As well as selecting the kinds of shapes he also varies the size. One successful example is Face – Horizon, which is constructed almost entirely from the same motif: a rectangle in which the diagonals and center perpendicular lines form a star. By leaving the rectangle empty, or filling it with lines or small squares and sometimes cutting out the shapes in negative, he gives himself a set of tools he can use to achieve almost every tonal nuance. The dusky brick wall, the dark sky throwing the terraced houses into relief, the silhouettes of the chimneys and the vegetation standing out dark against the light wall are all built on this simple shape.
Analysing, dissecting and then, as accurately as possible, recreating a landscape by means of motifs is a complex process—an intellectual challenge that Poignon relishes and sometimes even intensifies by changing the landscape, by repeating an element such as a tree, for instance, where one is cut out as positive and the other negative. On occasion he combines two or three landscapes by cutting them out one over another in the same piece of linoleum. The extraordinary thing is that the viewer is totally unaware of the complexity of the technique and of the effort that the artist had to put in to achieve the end result. It is to Poignon’s great credit that he has never allowed himself to be carried away by his technical virtuosity, but has always subordinated it to his artistic intentions.
Alongside the muted, contemplative works, Poignon also makes linocuts with a much more dynamic character. Many of these pieces, particularly those from the earliest period, have netlike textures that hang in front of the image like lace curtains. The pattern is sometimes regular and, especially in the prints where lines are strongly accentuated, acts as a fence blocking access to the underlying landscape. The network in these cases is an independent element that forms no part of the landscape. This is certainly true of the linocuts where the network spreads out in waves over the landscape and to an even greater extent of the images that originate in the mandala-like shapes of the kaleidoscope. Poignon’s fascination with the rendering of dynamic light effects is expressed at its strongest in the prints where reflections swirl around like scraps of paper in a whirlwind. Prints like these are living proof of the vitality and boundless expressive possibilities of printmaking that continue to be re-energized by inventive artists like Poignon.
Ed de Heer, Former director of Rembrandthouse, Amsterdam. (The Hague, February 2016).