of Henri Maccheroni
By Pierre Molinier
The Cage of nymphs
Today I bring up the subject of Molinier, whilst I speak about him and some of his writing in our own private correspondence together, I must bring up the prudishness of his age. My belief is that the contacts I formed at the beginning of the 1960’s have disappeared almost completely. I was bought into contact with him by a recommendation, which came from André Breton in Paris. Pierre Molinier had obviously his specific place in the surrealist world of this period. His place was assured even though he was not living in the big city, and I never heard anyone in the same field of work question his work or style. Forty years later, when I hear others talk about their experiences with him, including the likes Jean-Pierre Bouyxou, who spent much more time close to him than me, or at the other extreme of the scale, Jean-Luc Mercié who has a selection of extremely rich correspondence that shed an enormous amount of light on Pierre Moliner. I find myself at this point extremely unqualified to talk about this character, but ever more interested in his hidden depths. This sense of not being able to describe him, goes to the detail of his surrealist work, in how it was born and developed. Therefore, in the debates about this now departed artist, which focus on his work, his techniques, his personal motivation, we often have a feeling of unhappiness in the body of pictures he has left us with. During this process of revelation, we have to pose the question, who could have not been unhappy during this period?
It was during a look through one of his photographic series, that I was suddenly aware of the presence of Pierre Molinier, this just a little before his death, during this period, when my contact with him was more, and more occasional. My emotions are strong, very poignant, almost as strong as those shown in his pictures, which are in principle photo documentaries that display an exceptional sensitivity, and a level of improvisation that continues to make them come to life in front of our eyes. His pictures are bought to life, by their ability to capture a moment in time, and that fact that they appear not to be staged. The very particular conditions in which they are shot only enriches their documentary value, and turn them into something that can be described as a sublime project.
When Henri Maccheroni, on 8th August 1973 installed himself into his studios in the Attic of Saint Pierre, he was a recognized painter, but as he realized his series of photographs entitled ‘un sexe de femme’ the notoriety they gained soon rivaled his paintings, and one of the first drawn to this collection was Molinier. From then on the painter was left behind and his time was concentrated on producing a photographic mountain, that were the result of much patience and practice, right up until the time of his death. Even if for the most part great painters have used photography, for many different purposes and often in quite bizarre and one could even say quite embarrassing ways. The debate in terms of this work still rages, even if much, has been published and shown in galleries. Whilst it may have been popular this style of creative image has made a slow and timid start into the schools of fine arts. At the start of the 1970’s, the prices of his photographs on the art market were quite modest. Even though the two men who met that day, not only shared the same artistic field, they also had the same approach of artists who are able to develop the nuances in photographic images. There images whilst erotic, reveal the essentials, because for them the function of a camera is to serve our voyeuristic pleasure, see, frame and aid our fetishes. The exchange between master and student - a whole generation separated them, must have been quite intimidating for the younger of the two even though accompanied by his young wife.
This relationship meant the adding of particular space to the studios – The bedroom workshop of Molinier – that became a real meeting point. The place has the feel of his breath full of desire and his obsession for the figures that he captured here. Restyled, painted and it must be said disguised by the paint, the models who penetrated the enclaves of this bedroom would have been surprised by the immobile figure, and would have surely soon have shared the suffocating atmosphere of the room with him. The master of his own space at last, it would soon allow him to create the ultimate models of his work. He would cloth himself in erotic necklaces that would help to bring to the surface the feminine desire that occupied his soul. This metamorphosis, which was like some form of magic ceremony – the hands that would adjust a corset or the high-heeled shoes were driven by meticulous fervor – this produced an under-current of exuberant familiarity that removes the typical undressing of an androgens accomplice. All this we see in silence!
In these conditions, Henri Meccheroni needed a lot ingenuity and audacity and a sense of abandon to ask for permission to photograph the artist at work. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only time and I pose the question what sentiment drove Molinier to accept his workspace being the subject of such a shoot of non-conforming pictures, showing him framed by mirrors, an act of auto-eroticism in progress. I think that Henri Meccheroni must have realized that it was not going to be an act of leisure, but he was producing a shoot of real depth. It is in this belief that we must preserve the moment between those privileged to be there, and Molinier even driven by his exceptional character, was above all under a pressure of time. The light that illuminated the room from a skylight was beginning to fade. This gives the ultimate character to the pictures, this impending interval between the shadow and the subject that really charges these images; that leaves them with a real feel of life, rather than the simple imagery of a documentary. It is out of the question that the images are posed. He consents only to be himself because he had never been able to play any other role. Here I find myself in a surreal dimension that makes for very special contacts.
For these contacts one needs to use several parts of one’s inner-self with an arrogance and efficiency, surrealism constitutes another fear, that needs to exorcised, rational arguments cannot be listened to the movement towards a revolution is what marks the radical artist from the institutional one. In the photographic evidence of Henri Maccheroni there is the proof that right to the last Molinier refused to accept the norm. This however is not enough to distance this artist from the wave of anti-establishment feeling that really marked the ideology of this period. The fact that more than any analog art, photography needs the careful interaction of the model and the artist – something that adds to electric intensity of erotic pictures – only reminds us that this contact can achieve an ephemeral moment. That can give us the feeling of the capturing a moment in time, and then that moment is gone and is dead. When we look at these pictures in this way, the representation of a man whose death dates back 30 years, the depth of life in them is ever-present because of our knowledge of his impending departure. This aspect of the reportage of Henri Maccheroni would have probably amused Molinier, as the subject of his own death was familiar to him being one of his personal fantasies that would finally be revealed in the form of his own suicide, without perhaps being the cause. At this point, we need though to distinguish between an image and an act. These images of ones death are normally those of fantasy and from this point of view as such there is another part of the erotic transfiguration of the artist. The point of them of them was to bring life, they extinguished the thoughts of death more than they prepared them, because we cannot contemplate our final state, nor all the experiences we have gathered when we are in our own tomb. Molinier decided his own ultimate gesture, when his future seemed to form suddenly an un-climbable wall in front of him. When I new him he was quite an anxious person who wanted to publish a book that would cover the total of his work. He was someone motivated by a desire to exceed all limits.
This is why when looking at these photographs together, we find it difficult not to be touched profoundly by the contrasts that reference the fragility of the man and have become his own manner of communication, against the backdrop of the troubling permanence of his idols whose established hierarchy made him loose the emotion of desire. When looking at the enigmatic smile that they give us, the question is to know if Molinier was a great artist, or only one of mediocre talents or merit, this is somewhat derisory, because we touch at the limits of this notion. The objects that he has left behind him are in such bad taste, without the humorous quality that would allow us to class them with disdain in the category of pornography. They do not have as a goal the desire to satisfy the defined norms of a specific tradition, nor by some manner shaking the history of art, so the body of work never stops to loose its understanding, but is still there for us to use, and they are not just interesting for the most deviant thinkers. They are objects of true magic. When Molinier, is labeled as a fetishist – something that he himself accepted –in his terms - one should not stop with timidity, and this term needs to be considered in its original signification. As we see him, following the thread of this photo-reportage, the figures that are populating his immediate environment are fetishists, the idols of Molinier, at the same time as he is making them into his own vision, transfusing his own living soul into them, and this fact makes them come to life in an even more troubling way. The accent of provocation, helps to ensure the removal of any sense of stability and makes things move without allowing us to choose a point of focus, between the doll whose familiar stance seems improper, the statue that seems to have an overpowering expression, and the model whose powerful dreamlike look is too intense. The signs here are of an unbreakable marriage between the things, and a far off presence.
For us not to be captured in some doubtful metaphysical nebulous, we have to remember that to have the right to photograph these pictures. Molinier imposed one condition: Henri Maccheroni and Janine, his young wife had to appear in the photographs, which means that we have the joy of contemplating a female figure at the centre of this strange universe. I look at the clear face of a classic model whose emotions are clearly marked by her natural liveliness. Then the eyes open, as if all the light in the world has lit up this half-light, our look is turned and our eyes fall onto the face in deep thought. The pose is of a master’s maid and the sensuality is restored. Then with two fingers on the chin, the face starts to be revealed, a new source of light. The lip still raised in a dubious manner starts to smile, the nostrils are palpitating with the clarity of the fairytale and the attentive eyes seem to understand a secret scene. At the end it is a smile that shows somewhat the timidity of a child.
That which is always resplendent and past, the silent reverie, the troubling immobility of the slow caress of playful pleasure, came to this place just to reveal this profound principle. Without this new Star, perhaps Henri Maccheroni would have never stepped into this world of flesh so often scrutinized, to come so close to the heart of femininity, so every object here has an echo, and they all combine to recall this founding father.