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by N. F. Karlins
|Gaston Chaissac (1910-64) is an important French artist, unfortunately not well known in this country. How wonderful, then, that his first retrospective in 30 years at Jan Krugier has just been extended. After the gallery's August closing, "Gaston Chaissac" -- with its jaunty patterned drawings, paintings, collages and totems of wood and other materials -- will be back.
Most of Chaissac's mature works have an outgoing personality, and feature an abstracted figure of colorful shards, a loose-limbed, stuck-together everyman. Their creator, however, was a shy man, who lived outside of Paris for much of his career, despite his works being shown there.
Because he was self-taught, Chaissac was included in many exhibitions of "Art Brut," but the show (and catalogue) at Jan Krugier reminds us that he was a hard-working, extremely self-conscious artist. Indeed, he may not have appreciated being categorized with other "Art Brut" artists.
Although Chaissac made good use of materials like figured wallpaper, newspaper, corrugated cardboard, stationery and kraft paper, and was inspired by popular imagery, he studied Picasso in art books, too. So how different was he from other Modernists? Perhaps, he was simply more inspired by his rural surroundings, according to the informative catalogue essay by Sarah Wilson of the Courtauld Institute.
The son of shoe repairers, he was trained as a craftsman, but early on aspired to be an artist. He received encouragement from artists like Otto Freundlich, Albert Gleizes and Robert Delaunay. That Jean Dubuffet, one of his ardent supporters, at least for a time, "borrowed" a lot from him is evident in even an early ink drawing, like his 1938 Woman with an Umbrella. Dubuffet seems to have learned far more from Chaissac than Chaissac did from him.
Now you can see at least a bit of Chaissac's achievement and judge for yourself.
"Gaston Chaissac," will reopen Sept. 5-Oct. 14, 2000, at Jan Krugier Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.
N.F. KARLINS is a New York writer and art historian.