February 2015

“Jacques Monory: Painter of  Blue Series”

Translated from Philippe Piguet’s article for L’œil


Forever with a hat, black sunglasses on the tip of his nose, and a leather vest, the most gentlemen of contemporary artists, Jacques Monory presents a very personal monochromatic version of reality.

“We ran, followed by the police, her, the little girl, and myself. We always escaped them. We always took pleasure stealing from stores. Clothes stores, jewelry stores, all very chic. We ran down hallways, streets, and labyrinths, through theaters where only women acted, and always the same play. Never did they catch us. I loved her deeply.” The voice is calm and soft. It echoes a succession of images portraying a woman lying down in an immaculately made bed, in the early hours of the morning, and who has woken up slowly to see the light at her bedside window, similarly to her, all white. These are the first thirty-five seconds that begin a short film entitled La Voleuse, directed by Jacques Monory in 1985. Love, chase, theft, luxury…, the painter often reflects on these themes within his works. After having experimented with abstraction for a time, he devoted himself to “representational painting”, and in searching for a subject, he focused on the first object that was within reach of his hands. It was a revolver. Not that the artist is a thug, but he has always practiced shooting. This passion developed after being given an old, no longer working revolver by a great-uncle in the military when he was a boy, which he showed off to his classmates. Does painting a revolver mean the artist envisioned emblematizing his art as a crime? “Of course,” responded Monory, “there is everything that the revolver suggests, connotations of sexuality and domination amongst other things, but, for me, when I paint a revolver, it is not in an aggressive manner. On the contrary, it calms me.” As did the practice of shooting.

A Passion for the World of Film

For a long time, many biographies stated that Jacques Monory was born in 1934. That was until his real birth date, June 25, 1924, was discovered hidden in a rose pot painted in one of his works. For years, the artist had masked reality. A reversal of facts? Vanity? Perhaps an existential crisis? Without a doubt, probably a bit of everything. Being slightly older than his fellow Figurative Narrators, all born in the 1930s, the artist decided to reclaim a few years of his life. It is also because Monory is a player. He spent his time creating stories, and then challenging them throughout the series. “It is in my nature to recount stories in my work. The first series I did was called Meurtres. It was the continuation of a very personal story of mine that drove me to paint my own death, my own assassination,” he said in complete tranquility. The series is comprised of twenty-two numbers; up until the tenth, it’s the artist that dies, and then, placing a mirror within his work to include other characters, the artist begins to slowly disappear, as others begin to die in his place. “In fact,” he said in an amused tone, “my recovery corresponded to their murders.” Since the 1970s, Jacques Monory hasn’t stopped painting, explaining that doesn’t know how to do anything else. Today, at ninety years old, we note reluctantly that he perhaps doesn’t have the same energy he once used to, neither the same desires. Despite this, his work lives on. Bathed in different tones of blue, they remain intriguing and foretelling. The blue remains unyielding, forever present at his current retrospective funded by Hélène & Édouard Leclerc at Landerneau. The work of Monory has been completely inundated by it. “I have always had the tendency to paint in monochromes,” he notes. “Blue is typically considered the color of our dreams, of the night. By using it, I hope to indicate that it doesn’t necessarily pertain to one reality, but to a mental projection of others.” Projection: the word is used loosely. He projects back to the world of film. Monory has always been crazy about it. Actually, the blue itself stems from it. He has a memory from his childhood from when he was six years old. His parents brought him to see a film in which the projectionist placed a blue filter in front of the projector in order to mimic the feeling of nighttime. This “cinematic effect” is one that he has never denied his love for and has appropriated throughout his career. He poses this type of reality as a dream.

The Art of Syncopating and Collaging

From the film side of things, Monory has always admitted his preference for American film noir from the B series of the 1940s. Talk to him about Gun Crazy directed by Joseph H. Lewis — a known detective recognized by the film buffs as a mélange of mise-en-scène technicalities, of narration, of a montage of this genre of film, and in which the producer had allowed for various formal and technical experimentations — and you would have made a new friend. What interest does he find in these types of films? “He was speaking of another world, a completely false one, that seems freer than my own. Everything is explicitly stated about the fragility of the human condition: we live, we agitate, and then we die. There is something about these types of films, that seemingly darken the darkest of scenes, that reminds me of a tragedy.” Monory is a simple and direct man, but refuses to revel in straightforwardness. He enjoys life and has searched for ways of how to live it to its fullest, conscious of the fact that we shouldn’t try and complicate it; we all end up dying. Jacques the Fatalist, in order words. Plan, sequence, frame, assembly…, the vocabulary that we use in the film industry is also something noticeable throughout Monory’s work. He even titled Technicolor (1976-1977), a series in which he uses yellow and red to paint a variety of Hollywood references. The artist may be considered as a master of syncopation, of collage and of assembly, as he refuses to order his images aesthetically, concocting incomplete plot lines. Not one of his stories has the ability to be retold, because above all else, he cares about the nature of them.

From Meurtres (1968) to Roman Photo (2006-2008), we can’t stop naming of all of Monory’s series: notably Velvet Jungle (1969-1971), Measures (1971-1972), Opéras Glacés (1974-1975), Ciels (1978-1979), La Voleuse (1985-1986), Énigmes (1991-1996), Nuit (1999-2003), Couleur (2002-2005), and Peinture Sentimentale (2009-2012). His work offers viewers a different approach to life, more in relation to that of a maze that he chooses to drag his audience along, leave them, and allow them to fend for themselves. From one composition to another, the work is presented as a treasure hunt, in which the treasure is his true identity. With Monory, everything is always a question of role play and intention. Often playing different characters in his own work, he intertwines fiction and reality confrontationally, thus creating an eschewed version of reality. As stated by Alain Jouffroy, Monory is the most filmmaker artist of contemporary painters.

Monory, or Hommage to the Prolonged

In addition to being a painter, filmmaker, and film buff, Jacques Monory is also a photographer. Photography is at the root of his work. It’s his main source of material. “I always walk with a camera,” he says, “so I can capture everything that interests me as I compile a reservoir of images.” Much more than a hobby, photography for him is a real addiction. Does he watch television? He even has his camera in hand to capture even the most fleeting image that catches his eye. Does he go to the cinema? He puts his camera in his pocket! Does he go on vacation or trips? He might have forgotten about this one, but never will he forget his Leica.