With Hervé Télémaque disappears one of the most original artists of recent decades, whose style always renewed, resolutely current since the Figuration Narrative of the 1960s to his more recent paintings, often questioned with irony the French current affairs.
Originally from Haiti, Hervé Télémaque studied at the Art Student’s League and discovered in the late 1950s Arshile Gorky and American abstract expressionism in New York. Prevented by the prevailing racism, he left the city in 1961 and found a new home port in Paris. In a decolonial context, he was welcomed by the surrealists, including André Breton, who believed in his work and helped him find early exhibitions, including the immense «Mythologies quotidienne» in 1964.
His pop influence, his creativity fascinate and he participates in France in the adventure of Narrative Figuration alongside artists like Peter Klasen, Jacques Monory or Bernard Rancillac. In 1976, the National Museum of Modern Art of the city of Paris hosted the first major retrospective devoted to his work. We discover a singular plastic vocabulary, marked by the influence of media, comics and advertising.
In more than sixty years of career, Hervé Télémaque has constantly challenged us with the richness and diversity of a work in perpetual movement. Naturalized French in 1985, he lives in Paris, Burgundy and then in Villejuif. However, Haiti’s geographical remoteness does not tarnish its deep connection with an island whose echo of landscapes, vegetation, beliefs permeates its painting… Starting in the 1990s, they marked his work, which increasingly referred to Africanity; since this heritage is also political, he agreed in 1998 to design the French stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Drawing, its finesse, its precision were fundamental for him and he made it a central point in 1991 of his year of teaching at the Beaux-Arts. Thus, he makes dialogue, in rich and always surprising compositions, drawings, collages, assemblies and invented objects whose poetic dimension he knew how to reveal.
Both in France and abroad, his distinctive style captivates the attention of museums and the public. In Havana, he took part in the 2nd Biennale in 1986; in Johannesburg, the Electrical Workshop gave him a retrospective in 1997. Enriched by numerous trips to Africa, this constant dialogue with the world, against racism, against the closure of minds, is found notably in his famous series of acrylic paintings Sidewalks of Africa, carried out in 2001.
In Paris, the general public met the artist in 2014 and 2015 through an exhibition on Haitian Art at the Grand Palais, and a large retrospective of his work at the Centre Pompidou. This year, his paintings are on display at the Palais de la Porte Dorée – Musée national de l'Histoire de l'Immigration for the exhibition “Paris and nowhere else”, where his valuable advice helped the museum rediscover the spirit of the rich art scene of the 1960s.
Today we are losing a very great artist, who taught us to shift our gaze by exploring forms and opening our horizons.
I extend my condolences to his family and loved ones.