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Georges Jeanclos
L.A. International Biennial
June 18-Aug 18, 2001
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Dust to Dust: Etruscan art is one acknowledged influence, religious statuary (Buddhist and Christian) is another, but what emerges as the primary source of Georges Jeanclos’ breathtaking sculpture is a deeply private inner well of both pain and love.  Jeanclos was born in Paris in 1933, the same year Hitler ascended to power in Germany.  A decade later, Hitler’s forces held much of Europe hostage, and Jeanclos’ childhood with it.  For a year, the Jeanclos family, Jewish and thus subject to deportation, lived in hiding in a forest near Vichy.  Circumstances stripped Jeanclos early of the comforts of innocence and a natural sense of security.  The loss of these gifts and also their later restoration came to figure prominently in the artist’s work, charging it with an exquisite emotional density.  

The work of Jeanclos’ final two decades (he died in 1997) is the subject of a stunning Frank Lloyd Gallery show that’s another of the fine introductions offered under the umbrella of the Absolut L.A. International Biennial.

Even before the imagery of Jeanclos’ work registers, one senses its fragility—not just material delicacy, but a more profound psychic vulnerability.  Made of terra cotta the color of dust, the surface rippling like wrinkled skin or cracked like fissured land, the sculptures make palpable the notion of man as emerging and returning to the dust of the earth.

Many of the small, tabletop works show figures wrapped in thin blankets of clay.  Partially sheltered, partially exposed, they draw themselves inward in a posture of self-protection.  Similarly, sleeping figures are, at once, in hiding and at rest, craving the refuge of sleep’s temporary death.

Excerpts from Psalms and the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead, wrap in raised letters around several of the sculptures, transforming them into memorials.  But the figures that Jeanclos sculpts with such extraordinary feeling are themselves very much alive.  Several express that vitality through gestures of tenderness, Adam to Eve, woman to her lover, whose head is cradled in her lap, Pietá-like.

However encrusted the cloak or roughhewn the blanket sheathing them, the figures retain peaceful expressions, expressions of utter purity.  The incongruity is not accidental.  “I wanted to keep the face,” Jeanclos wrote, “make it a point of persistence…exempt of all wounds and offenses…Those faces pay witness to our hope, they are the survivors.”

-Leah Ollman, LA Times, August 3, 2001