J.B. is the author of, among other books, The Last, the First on Baba Amte’s work and his organization to help leprosy patients and aboriginals (marginalized in India). The accomplishments of Baba, who died in 2008, notably respectful of the environment and autonomous, serve today as models in India and throughout the world.
Jean honoured me in 2001 with an introduction to my work during the opening of an exhibit at the Galerie des Amis des Arts in Neuchâtel! I had very much appreciated his analysis but was not yet conscious of all the relevance of his speech… Rereading his talk in 2009 I finally notice how sharp his text was. Buhler had indeed perceived positively, with great intuition and lucidity, all of my adventures; he knew how to show the coherence of the 2001 exhibit without my explanations; it is, therefore, with gratitude that I include the writer’s vision on the site “rabus.ch”.
–Alex Rabus Neuchâtel, June 2009
(translated by Anne Malena)
Saturday, October 13, 2001: Opening of an Alex Rabus Show at the Galerie des Amis des Arts in Neuchâtel–Introduction by Jean Buhler
Ladies and gentlemen, and all of you, dear friends,
When Alex asked me to introduce the show that you’ll see within these walls, I first felt like suggesting a moment of silence to the memory of Bruno Manser. Bruno, an advocate of nature and of men faithful to their own nature, died in the Sarawak forest. He was a friend of our friend the painter. The reason I resisted the temptation to impose this ritual of silence was because a minute of silence would also have been necessary for the sequoias of the defunct Jardin anglais, another for the soil of Brittany, another for the oceans turned into garbage bins, another for the air one breathes in Tokyo and yet another for the Ruwenzori gorillas. And the last Caucasus leopard, and the last Hindu Kush snow leopard, do we think of them? All these minutes of silence would have muted us; stricken, we would have stared at each other and bypassed the reason for our gathering.
Which is none other than painting.
I had to start this way because Alex, that rascal, sets all sorts of pitfalls for himself in an infinitely long trap line, just to prove to us how much of a master he is in extricating himself and moving on without stopping.
Are we dealing with a militant artist, some bombastic guru who seeks to teach, persuade, convince and recruit? I appeal to the paintings around you. They penetrate us through the channels of pure aesthetic emotion; they tell us that they come from a search for beauty. But what sort of beauty? Beauty deeply entrenched in the desire for the better good according to the Platonic ideal. A type of beauty born out of a balanced query questioning both man and nature. No allowance for gratuitous expression. Answers only given on canvas and paper.
Yet this proposed tour through the museum’s rooms is neither smooth nor flat. It has its secret ravines, its proud summits, its loud and clear assertions and its zones of silence. It moves from the most deeply engaged sincerity to the most corrosive humour and from lyrical effusion to sarcastic denunciation.
Irony is tenderness’ shield. Look at that little doggy in urbanized space who no longer knows where to take care of urgent business! He is baying at the artificiality of a municipal patch of lawn framed by tulips! Well, he is like you and me, he will eventually let go but, like us, how many sleepless nights will it cost him? Hell’s bells, how well this is seen and felt !
On a strictly personal note I would say to Alex, looking him straight in the eye, that the dog occupies an exaggerated amount of space in his obsessions. What about the cat? Forgotten or merely mentioned as an extra in the swarming of life that constitutes the substance of many of his creations? Let’s hope that in the future the Aristocat will find the place he deserves in this city that prides itself upon having once belonged to the Prussian King and that erected a statue to its benefactor, the Baron David de Pury who has done so much for it and for the promotion of Africa’s negroes by securing steady employment for them in the plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean.
Lest we wander off let’s talk painting.
If I’ve spent some time evoking the dog and if I’ve regretted that our man doesn’t give the cat his rightful place, clearly the first place, it’s because animals haunt these paintings. They incarnate betrayed innocence. They are at the core of daily life, between the tall, so arrogant and so fragile city towers. We are harshly interpellated by them, as one is tempted to say in a lowly parliamentary style, interpellated by the tragedy of modern life, by the tragedy of the human condition.
Man’s tragedy is that he is both fate to which to submit and something to accomplish. This dilemma is posited in the large canvas from “Têtes” that you see at the back of this central room. This is undoubtedly the Gordian knot of the show. With no bias toward all the small knots, more or less charming or pathetic, which line the tour.
The head on the left is the captive gorilla Massa, 52 years old, an elder of his caged race, flesh and blood melancholia. Genetically, two fingers’ length away from our regret of a Golden Age, before the invention of firearms, our big brother from the lost frontier, the happy-go-lucky one before Bin Laden and Bush, let’s salute him! And let’s erect in his honour the statue of the Unknown Soldier of evolution !
The head on the right is Ken, Barbie’s partner, her male counterpart. I say partner but Ken is smooth and asexual like his female buddy, the pneumatic and platinum doll already described in the 30s by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. Love glides over those two like water off a mallard duck’s back. They are reified, commercialized, creatures cut and sewn from a standard pattern. Let’s salute the future that awaits us if we survive the cow-boy’s smoke and the torture reserved for the infidels to Allah’s laws !
In the centre there he is, the falsely naïve, the ingenuous one nicknamed Conscience, he who holds on to his brush to keep from falling down the ladder of values. He whose accomplishments, ladies and gentlemen, and dear friends, you see all around you. Between Massa and Ken notice that hope hasn’t disappeared in spite of a certain stupor and that the will is still there to go on yodeling in the storm and in the rain.
The head, why the head, why several heads? Humbly, I’ll point out that the head is the headquarters of the senses that give us life: eyes/sight; nose/smell; mouth/taste; ear/hearing; skin/touch. The brain is unseen: it’s for thinking, sometimes for forgetting. Hands belong to the past: we have machines. As for the heart, here we go !
The key to the tremendous amount of work whose products are offered here to your inquisitive eye is love. Love is the engine that drives the need to testify about the desire to clean up a bit, to put some order into art, into general disorder.
Writing means more that used up words but does so by using words for communication. Music goes directly to the core of impulses and joys. Painting pierces appearance and makes us reinvent the souls of people and things, art is love and, dear friends, Alex is a lover. That’s why he is sometimes angry and sniggering, that’s why he shapes the frames of his paintings like silk staircases where we might all be Romeos able to join the Juliettes of the balcony. Alex is a lover who may have heard one day, like me since I’ve been that lucky, the word of the beloved to the lover, and it was: interpenetration. The love of the true lover, the love of the painter in love with the world in spite of everything and everyone, cannot be macho. His gaze doesn’t colonize the object. It doesn’t impose itself on him to dictate the rules of a school as we have seen it done for centuries and centuries of painting preceding the time and the risks of freedom. The artist’s love wants to possess, enter, come and exult, granted, but not before letting itself steep all the way to the marrow of the mind, to the very fibres of the motor muscles of the hand. Then the work consists of an interpretation of the interpenetration. To allow oneself to soak in order to stammer or shout out one’s personal hymn. To fill oneself up with feelings in order to extract signs from them that will make sense, from which meaning will flow.
In the room to the South, see what the artist becomes when he’s loved for loving, when he dives into what makes him melt, when he lets himself steep before putting his mark on what he signs. At first glance, these pictures of a river (L’Areuse) that was first photographed could suggest a peaceful, post-impressionist idyll, but there might be more than what Rimbaud in happy times noted :
Recognize this turn
So gay so easy:
Mere wave, flora,
And it’s your family! (“Âge d’or”)
More? And what else? Something demanding and frantic. Moments to steal from Time. The need to create for oneself an illusion of the permanence of love’s fusion and to finally take a leap of faith into faith, eyes wide open and with a happy heart. With no intention to be profane, “Dieu garde [God keep]”, as they say in the Gard, I almost feel like tarnishing the diamond and sigh :
It is found again.
It’s the Areuse gone
With the sun. (After Rimbaud, “L’éternité”)
In spite of your kind silence, or perhaps because of it, I feel that I’m committing the usual sin of writers when it comes to painting. We use approximate words to describe images that require a language of colours, volume, perspective, dynamic depth, a language that doesn’t exist but that everyone can feel germinate in his or her mind while facing works on easels or raised in space.
Our Alex is not exempt from literary sin. He writes and publishes texts that teach us a lot about him but less than his paintings do and luckily these books contain wonderful reproductions.
He also questions words by rereading the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers and Perrault, those sado-masochistic horrors, those catalogues of crimes that remained unpunished thanks to the conspiracy of grandmothers who were completely taken in and stuffed us full of abusive stepmothers, parents losing their children in the woods because they hadn’t collected unemployment insurance and let’s not forget the princesses asleep for a hundred years or changed into pumpkins. Sleep well, my darling one, sleep !
Alex stayed awake. He reread the Little Riding Hood. “Take off your clothes my child and climb into bed with me!” That wolf is a typical pedophile. “And the wolf jumped on her and ate her”. But there is scratching, biting, yelling, flesh is torn apart, the sweetie’s throat is ripped out, blood spatters everywhere. What the book reduces to silence, the painter reveals.
The painter relives and resuscitates these realistic scenes. He restores them within a coherent and suggestive series, closer to the original text than what could be supposed by an innocent reading.
As for Sleeping Beauty she is revised and recreated in a dreamier atmosphere, as if seen through the bead curtains hanging in doorframes at the entrances of hair salons or dubious hangouts in Naples or Marseilles 60 years ago.
I hope I haven’t substituted myself to you and I’m not proposing my myopic vision as a replacement for your informed eye. I still would like to warn you. I only pointed out a few general guidelines. Don’t forget that the painter works while listening to music; the proof is in the magnificent and aerial series inspired by Eric Satie, one of history’s only musicians with a sense of humour, which he often used in his improvisations. So music inspires the dominant tones of each painting exhibited here, its leitmotivs, its variations, its shimmering and multiple shapes along a coherent line of thought, sustained all the way through.
Examine closely, therefore, this “Excès de vitesse [Speeding]”, a painting whose modernity busts into multicoloured images reminiscent of pages in a glossy magazine one quickly flips through, the entire scene dominated by the suffering of a crucified gorilla, the flag-bearing gorilla of endangered life.
I say: “Examine closely” because, in Alex’s paintings as in love, each detail is important. Don’t leave the museum before daydreaming awhile in front of the big canvases of the river Areuse: notice in the sunshine on the water those “micassures [Micaflakes]” (Cendrars), those red sparkles, those cracks, those strips of light through the leaves, as many gems as there are in La Loue by Courbet, as many instants of truths borrowed from ecstatic contemplation and promised to the duration of the œuvre.
Jean Buhler (translated by Anne Malena)