I was born with the condition of the wide-awake dreamer. I can still feel the wind blowing at the temples of my sixteenth year at a time when I was living on the back of a camel, crossing long stretches of bumpy desert road in search of a well that doesn’t go dry. Painting was my love, but one day I had reluctantly to dismount, as we were in Algeria where there was a war going on with the French army and I was a draft able young Frenchman.
Quietly unwinding in the back of my head during the long period of my reluctant military service was a subversive lasso of satire and derision that would later help me catch and drag through the dirt the crassness and stupidity of the French “petite-bourgeoisie.”
It was in Paris in May 1968, however, that the real change took place for me. I was feeling closer to the Situationists than to the art establishment. I remember this marvellous sentence on the walls of Paris at the time - “Sous les pavés - la page” (“Under the pavement - the beach”). There was a call for a new poetic energy - the Parisian art world was anaemic. The system of the Beaux Arts Academy was ossified and centred around the conservative Prix de Rome. Picasso, already in decline, was hard to shake. Bernard Buffet, catapulted to a Paris-Match - type fame, was the prototype of the 1980s New York art-star systems. Soulless was no Franz Kline and in his small formats, his black bars were shaking. Georges Mathieu was officially crowned by André Malraux as “at last, an occidental calligrapher” as though Bottlieb didn’t exist. Mannnessier could be dangerously decorative and Bazaine, as a postimpressionist, lacked the tension of his American colleagues. When the American Painting Show was on view in 1965 at the Musée d’Art Moderne, everything fell into perspective. It was in that artistic context in the years following May 1968 that I started to publish absurdist drawings-cum-cartoons in the new magazines of black humour like Hara-Kiri and Charlie.
At the end of the 1960s, I began painting again. The human figure, which had troubled me for several years, found its way into my paintings disguised as semi-abstract signs and caricatural characters that popped from the painterly ground like knots of light or ghost-like figures concretizing space. The drawn line, clear on a colored ground, held the systems of shapes like a luminous net. The slapstick mood and lushness of color rendered less threatening my private bestiary of violent instincts, bawdy manners, diffuse fear, contagious glee, and even, sometimes, serenity.
extract from MEANING: An Anthology of Artist’s Writings, Theory, and Criticism, Edited by Susan Bee and Mira Schor, Jacques Roch [p245]
In the fifties, during my studies at the “Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Lyon” I traveled to Morocco, Greece, and later to Algeria where I was sent drafted by the Army. Now more than ever I am still within the light of these Mediterranean countries. In 1955 I was accepted in one of the Painting Studios at the “Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris”.When I came back from the war in Algeria in 1962, I started to paint the sensuous forms of the cactus pears, in which I could see the drama of secret battles.
May 1968 in Paris caught me within the Situationist movement. I was given the opportunity to produce a book of drawings called “Paris Ville Piege”, published in 1970 by André Baland, in which the monuments of Paris are transformed into a new reality. I also produced a series of surrealist humorous comic strips published in magazines at the time. Over the following years I received commissions for several works as part of the 1% allocation scheme for the decoration of High Schools in regions of France. My main preoccupation in these was to create site specific pieces that would encourage playful interaction from the students, such as a snail for nesting in the ground or a mosaic dragon for sitting on, within the context of a situationist approach.
In 1979 I came to New York and started to paint again. The intensity and diversity of the street life and the culture of graffiti were new influences for me and I responded in my paintings by developing a world of line drawn characters playing out their inner psychic tensions on a ground of luscious abstractions. I had my first show in New York in 1983, curated in Franklin Street by Cathy Goncharov. This was followed by three shows in the East Village at the Bruno Fachetti and M13 galleries. In 1990 Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo curated a survey show of my work at Exit Art with the title “Ten Years of Painting in NYC”. This show was to be the inspiration for an article by the art critic Robert C.Morgan ,“After the Deluge, the Return of the Inner Directed Artist”, published in Art Magazine in March 1992. I then had four shows at the Kim Foster Gallery, including The Myth of the Unicorn, from which a painting was featured in the retrospective show on The Figure curated by Lilly Wei at Snug Harbor in 2000.
The last show at Kim Foster constitutes a homage to to remoteness and yet proximity of the island as a dream. A series of island forms cast in pigmented resin from a clay original appear either as individual sculptural creatures or as characters integrated within a painting on canvas. This work is now being developed further as a collaborative project through the medium of digital video, in which the figure of the artist, that is myself, becomes re-inscribed within the inner personal landscape of the island settings. Over the last few years I have also been working on a series of dreamscape monotypes, which include the element of these island forms. My next show at Kim Foster will be a retrospective of the last 30 years of my work, scheduled for 2005.
artist statement by Jacques Roch