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Simply complex world of an accidental painter


Pierre Legrand, at seventy plus, remains as inquisitive as a child experimenting with whatever he lays his hands on. Canvas, thread, flex, pigment, wood, glass, plastic and sundry materials establish a rapport with his inner creative being to transform the complexities of life into simplified visual form.These forms, hanging precariously on multiple structured threads or drenched in visual melody, serenade onlookers.

‘Simply Complex – Pierre’s Journey’ exhibition of works at the Gallery Gitanjali, Fontainhas, is an experience in wandering into the world of this accidental painter,  who began as an engineer in Paris only to saunter into India with a quest and thirst for ultimate spiritual truth.

Pierre’s journey from Paris to India in the sixties was beyond the typical flower generation’s euphoric meandering. Ensconced in the spiritually charged environment of Auroville, near Puducherry in South India, Pierre’s simple act of repetitive copying of mantras led him to a subtle spiritual progression, only to discover a visual language that resonated with his inner self.

‘When you are in Yoga, there is a profound change in the values of things, of Art as of everything else; you begin to look at Art from a very different standpoint. It is no longer the one supreme all-engrossing thing for you, no longer an end in itself. Art is a means, not an end; it is a means of expression’, said The Mother, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo.

For Pierre, it’s beyond expression. “Painting is my life and I’m living when I paint”, states Pierre with conviction. Art for Pierre is experiential rather than visual and as such it triggers a consciousness shift that resonates on a subtle realm for the creator as well as the viewer. “At Auroville, I realized”, says Pierre, “that there’s a spiritual connotation to this enterprise called art.”

His works, which are largely nonrepresentational, having vaguely drawn inspiration from aboriginal paintings, Indian tribal art and painters like Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock and others, act as a catalyst in igniting the divine spark in the onlookers.

Inspired by Japanese scroll paintings during his visit to Japan in the late sixties, Pierre began to experiment with the method and realised the practical advantages of the same. Back at Auroville he put together montages of multi-hued fibre and sundry material embellished with pigment besides continuing his engagement with three-dimensional forms.

At the turn of the last century, whilst largely collaborating with an architect friend, Pierre remained mainly engaged with synthesising his works with architectural designs.

2014 remains his comeback year after a hiatus of fourteen years, with several successful back-to-back shows and the release of a book on him titled ‘Light Matter – Atelier Pierre Legrand’ edited by author Anuradha Majumdar.

Pierre’s invention of unique script structures are seen in majority of his seemingly abstract works that include paintings, sculptures, reliefs and installations. Understanding of the life form as a collective of tiny blobs of ephemeral energy centres, resonating at a frequency – as inscribed in the ancient Vedic scriptures – can lead the viewers into deciphering the meaning, pregnant in the coded paintings by Pierre.

“Working with the structures of my coded script helped me see a correlation with human and cellular structures and their patterns and how they impact one another, allow infiltration, or create space for change to occur”, says Pierre explaining his concept.

Pierre gradually distilled alphabets from geometric forms into varied strokes. His quest to extract the essence led to dots sprouting from Pierre’s seemingly incoherent strokes threaded with algorithms to interject space and colour. He drew inspirations from the mundane object like window grills and the geometric patterns seen there.

Man-universe interconnection reflects in his seemingly porous paintings that resonate with the metaphysical truth. The structure of his paintings and the finer fundamental elements of design collectively reflect the ritualistic arrangement found in the Indian system that Pierre is enamoured by.

Multilayered, superimposed delicate film of translucent pigment form a composition that’s simply complex.

Bold, spontaneous and simply nonconformist, Pierre’s works are a mix of impressionist, pointillist and abstract expressionist genre. Viewed from both the sides, the works mutate with the change in light source only to tell a different tale.

Legrand exhibited extensively in Europe and India between 1989 and 2000. His work has featured alongside Mark Tobey and Richard Serra and his installations include Resonance, Light Matter, Light Station and Colour Piano.

Pierre’s work also features in ‘Odd Volumes’ , which  showcases a selection of experimental and innovative works of book art from the 1960s to the present. Drawn from a major collection given to the Yale University Art Gallery by Allan Chasanoff it features approximately 100 works by more than 80 artists including acclaimed figures such as Olafur Eliasson, Yoko Ono, and Dieter Roth, offering a rare opportunity to discover the world of book art.

(The works will be on view at Gallery Gitanjali from December 6.)

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