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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Clovis Trouille

Italian Nun Smoking a Cigarette, 1944, Clovis Trouille
There has seldom been a well-known or historically important artist who has not been an avid self-promoter. Even Leonardo put forth a self-promotional resume that was shamelessly fraught with hyperbole. This major "rule of thumb" has held true, almost without exception, for centuries. In more recent years the tact has been for artists to try to garner as much free publicity as possible via the news media, TV, and more recently, Internet social media. The competition for such recognition among artists is sharp and, at times, even vicious--not unlike politics. It's all about name recognition. During the past fifty years or so, one means of achieving this public relations coup is by producing controversial art. That is, art which offends, especially those who wouldn't be likely to buy art if their lives depended upon it. This ploy probably goes back a lot further than fifty years, but that's a nice round number, and in any case, that which offended more than half a century ago probably wouldn't so much today. However, one artist I recently came upon, it would seem, strove to be offensive simply for the sake of being offensive. I'm thinking about the French painter, Clovis Trouille.
Ceremonial Sapphic, Clovis Trouille
Monastic Dream, 1952, Clovis Trouille
Trouille has often been classed as a "Sunday painter." He's also been referred to as an "Angel of Bad Taste," and a purveyor of "horrotica" (my spellchecker just cried, "Are you kidding me?"). Around 1930, Salvador Dali and Louis Aragon took note of Trouille's work and declared him to be a Surrealist. The ultimate Surrealist, Andre Breton, concurred, making the label official. As for Trouille, he was rather ambivalent, accepting the designation to gain notoriety rather than embracing the movement. In exploring Trouille's life's work, there's lots about which to be offended. If you're Catholic, you'll be horrified, in seeing Trouille's Italian Nun Smoking a Cigarette (top) from 1944 (especially if you're Italian and even more so if you're a nun). Trouille was intensely anti-cleric, and especially misogynistic. His montage, Ceremonial Sapphic (above) also seems to justify the word newly manufactured word, "horrotica." As for the title, I had to look it up. Sapphic means lesbian. Trouille's Monastic Dream (right), from 1952,leaves little doubt as to his point of view.

The symbolic references may, at times, be ambiguous, but the overall theme is not.
Clovis Trouille, ca. 1960
Clovis Trouille was born in 1889. He grew up in the small town of La Fere in the Picardy region of northern France, which was unfortunate. It meant that he came of age just before the start of WW I in one of the most hotly contested areas in all Europe. Like it or not, Trouille was thrust into the midst of the war simply by virtue of his birthplace. To say his later work was "anti-war" would be an under-statement. The experience left him with a lifelong hatred for the military as seen in two of his paintings above, The Re-membrance (above, right) from 1930 and Takouba (above, left) from 1941. His anti-cleric and anti-war themes, stirred together with his misogynistic eroticism combined with a macabre fascination with death and particularly his own burial arrangements pretty much frame every painting he ever did.

Clovis Trouille died in 1975. It's doubtful his tomb or funeral bore
much resemblance to his surreal visions of the event.
In looking at Trouille's My Tomb (top-left) from 1947, as well as his two depictions of My Funeral (above-left and above-right) would suggest that Trouille was maybe something of a control freak, or at least, not at all superstitious. In fact, he was both. He worked as a mannequin decorator for a department store, even though, as a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Amiens, he clearly had the background and training(not to mention Surrealist friends) to become quite famous. Yet fame imposes restrictions. Famous artists usually go out of their way not to offend. For Trouille, that would have been an unbearable limitation. Trouille hated selling his paintings. On occasion, when he did, he would sometimes seek to buy them back so he could continue working on them. That was the control freakish element in his personality. Simply surveying the overall horrotic tableau of his work would confirm the latter trait in lacking superstition.

The Orgy, 1930, Clovis Trouille
The Lie-in or The Sleepwalker Mummy,
1942, Clovis Trouille
Trouille's The Orgy (above) from 1930, along with his The Remembrance. were likely two of the paintings which brought Trouille momentary attention from Dali, Breton, and the other Surrealists. The simple style and lurid coloring of Trouille's paintings echo the lithographic posters used in advertising at the time, giving his work an unmistakable look all its own. Even as Breton offered to display Trouille's works in his gallery, the ec-centric artist refused. However, Trouille's variously titled painting The Mummy (left) pays homage to Breton with a portrait illuminated with a shaft of light. In any case, it was not until 1962 that Trouille had his first solo exhibition. It was followed the next year with a solo show at the Raymond Cordier gallery in Paris. Admittance was forbidden to anyone under the age eighteen and over seventy. Included in that show would have been Trouille's most controversial painting, Dialogue of Carmel (below) from 1945, depicting two nuns adjusting their undergarments. Watching them, off to the lower left, is a skull bearing a halo-like crown of thorns which has slipped off to one side.

Dialogue in the Carmel, 1944, Clovis Trouille


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