French artist dies aged 96 –

Jacques Villeglé, an artist whose work made use of torn posters spotted in the streets and who influenced generations of French artists, has died aged 96.

Paris-based Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, who represents Villeglé, announced the artist’s death in a statement posted on social media on Tuesday. The gallery remembered him as “hard-working, always smiling.”

Villeglé was the last living figure associated with Nouveau Réalisme, a French avant-garde movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s that sought a total fusion of life and art. Its predecessors – including César, Arman and Niki de Saint Phalle – often used commercial objects and advertisements, which they viewed with suspicion, while also bringing the visual language of Abstract Expressionism into the everyday.

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Villeglé’s main mode of expression at the time was the exhibition of torn and distressed posters he had seen in Paris. He called this practice decollagismalthough he was not often the one to tear this apart – that was the work of passers-by, who were left anonymously.

He described his works from this time as “a whole repertoire of tears, scratches, slashes, scribbles, smears, cuts, gouges, scrapes, inscriptions and overlays.”

There was often an explicitly political dimension to all this. In 1961 Villegle . made Carrefour Algeria-Evian, which features an advertisement for bottled water next to a sign showing support for Algeria in its war of independence. The work was a play on words: Evian was both the name of a water company and the city where negotiations for a peace treaty between France and Algeria began that year.

“What makes them more than that is their strange, allusive poetry: a poetry of chance and everyday life,” critic Michael Kimmelman once wrote in the New York Times† “They’re reminders of the value of keeping your eyes open.”

Born in 1926 in Quimper, France, Villeglé initially began creating sculptures using junk found on the beaches of Saint-Malo. In the late 1940s, Villeglé formed a bond with the artist Raymond Hains, who became a close friend, and the two became decollagism† Some of their early experiments, with an emphasis on appropriated and collaged text, were associated with the Lettrist movement.

After the May 1968 uprisings, Villeglé began to focus on what he called a “socio-political alphabet,” or a language system built with heavily stylized letters with a left-wing underpinning (for example, an A in the shape of the symbol for anarchism). He also continued to produce stripper works, relying on music event ads for one series, although in this case Villeglé himself shredded the ads as opposed to people on the street.

In the 1960s, Villeglé’s work gained some visibility outside of France, after it was included in the legendary 1961 exhibition “The Art of Assembly” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet he remains far more famous in his home country than anywhere else. In 2008 the Center Pompidou in Paris organized a retrospective of his work.

“Thanks to the almost exclusive use of torn posters, this pioneer of urban art leaves behind an abundant body of work of astonishing formal richness”, the Center Pompidou wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

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