“Quand je travail avec modèle je suis abandonne à la figure; le modéle m’ impose des sentiments.”
Paolo Vallorz lives in an attractive house behind Montparnasse; the long ground floor studio overlooking a courtyard lawn may remind the visitor that his country oJ origin is Italy. Vallorz is 31 and has recently held his first American one-man-show in New York. He caused some stir amongst those who knew him in the 1950’s by switching from abstract to figurative work.
B. Your present style is a radical change from three or four years ago, Paolo?
V. Yes. Although I’d already done figurative work from ’47 to ’49, in Venice. When I arrived in Paris in 1950 I went on with it. I came to see the Louvre and other museums and stayed three months. I went back to Italy for fifteen days and when I returned my intentions hadn’t changed. But contact with modem art finally created a disquiet in me so I began to try and understand it. Through Picasso, Klee, Kandinski and Miro. Mostly through Picasso.
B. When was that?
V. In ’50 and ’51. Soon I was doing abstract work. I began alone, following their example. Then little by little I began working with painters and draughtsmen of my own generation, such as Tajiri, Muller, Gilioli, Riopelle, Sugi and others. 1 spent a lot of time with them. Abstract painting really fascinated me in the beginning. And I grew more and more interested in avant-garde work, until 1956.
B. What did you call avant-garde work, at that time?
V. Avant-garde? What was new. Whenever I felt there had been some new conquest in pictorial expression.
B. Mm. Yes.
V. And I saw a lot of Tinguely and Klein.
V. Makes mobiles. He was working in another medium but in a similar direction. I mean towards the destruction of painting. That’s the position I found myself in in 1957. And that’s why 1 found it unbearable. There was no point in painting, any more. It had become useless. I stopped painting for a year.
B. That’s to say, abstract painting seemed to have reached a limitan end?
V. Yes. It had lost all sense for me. I felt no more need of it. Then after a year I did something else.
I made a car.
B. The racing-car. And then?
V. Made a car, and changed die entire milieu I’d frequented. It tied me down to that kind of painting. And to those ideas.
B. You changed your milieu too?
V. Oh yes. I left it entirely. Except for a few friends.
B. They didn’t have anything to do with your painting?
V. It was a rapport of friends.
B. I see.
V. I was completely taken up with machinery. And then the desire to paint came back. So I began. I was quite lost. I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t have the same faith in it as before. But I discovered my interest in the human face. First through photographs, very tentatively, trying to follow certain emotions in the human body, so that the figurative aspect appeared in the painting. It was like that for a few months. Then I began working with models instead of photographs. Still with the same ideas, almost, until all of a sudden I found myself faced with a completely different problem: the feeling with which another human being could inspire me.
B. But that wasn’t the first time you’d worked with models.
V. In Venice I’d been doing mainly still lifes, landscapes. Much influenced by the Impressionists. I was seeking colour.I was faced with a human being and quite incapable of painting. My first attempts were all failures.
B. I see. You had to learn all over again—
B. How to paint—
V. Completely. Completely—
B. And your aims in painting had changed. You began wanting to express something in your painting which wasn’t only a visual experiment, as in abstract painting.
V. Yes. On the contrary: I was trying to learn how to paint the emotion I saw in human beings. Having begun with the figure my problem was to go on with the figure.
B. You mean, the face?
V. Ill particular. Even when I’ve done an entire figure*, the face remains the principal problem for me.
B. So your paintings here reproduced are paintings of nude women, and you’ve painted the body, but your main aim was to render their faces.
V. Quite. For me—
B. Why have you decided on this aim?
V. For me it’s the most mysterious side of a human being, it’s the most elusive, the face, and it’s the most expressive too. I don’t exclude the expression in the hand or the breast or die belly, for example, but none the less the face is a more complex tiling, and at the same time more concentrated—so even if I do figures naked or clothed the head and its expression remain the principal problem for me.
B. I see. Tell me, are you able to foresee your own development a little? For example—
V. Absolutely not.
V. Absolutely not.
B. For example, you’ve no idea how long you’re likely to remain in this period?
V. Absolutely none. I’ve the feeling I’ll never leave it, if only because the face is really inaccessible, it’s a problem you can be occupied with all your life—and theoretically you can paint the same head in the same position all your life, since it’s different every day, and so are you. Sometimes I work in a roundabout way—when a problem’s so complex and involved I can’t see it clearlyand I try painting faces, then surrounding them with accessories, furniture and so forth; but more for the detour than because I’m interested in it.
B. Yes, I understand. It occurs to me through that between someone’s changing attitudes from day to day, between the various attitudes a woman can assume on a chaise-longue, or a bed, day by day, between this and the development of a painter’s style there’s a world; they’re different things, aren’t they?
V. Yes. Style for me is a secondary thing.
B. You mean you don’t want your spectators to be conscious of the style, as such?
V. I’d rather they weren’t. Yet I transform everything sometimes.
* *La figure* tn French may mean body but often refers to the face alone
I work it all over again, to try and translate as near as possible the emotion 1 feel.
B. So your present aim is above all to render your impression of the being in front of you?
B. Good. I think we’ve said the essential.
B. Thank you, Paolo.
(But the tape-recorder was left on and they went on talking)
V. I felt more sure of myself when I did abstract work. I felt I had a method in me which was probably my style or my imagination or my cerebral contribution to the tiling, or my touch; whereas on the other hand I always felt some uncertainty as to the truth at the heart of it all. Whenever I’m faced with a model 1 feel without resources and begin again at zero. But I am certain that for me this is the only way. And the work fascinates me. You can paint a piece of land or a mountain or a still life, but the human form and face arc nearer to us. They disturb us more.
B. So that now the possibility of expressing a certain inward struggle and adventure has returned to your painting.
V. Yes. And a certain powerlessness.
B. Which didn’t exist in your abstract period.
V. Exactly. I was so much more sure of myself then. I think that’s the most interesting thing I’ve learned from this experience. I wasn’t trying to learn it. In fact I seem to have been carefully trying to avoid it.
B. You said you had certain acquaintances who—
V. Yes. One in particular, with an extraordinary collection. Not a professional collector. An amateur. He has Soutines, Courbets—masterpieces—Corots and Modiglianis. We talked a lot. Went to museums together. He helped open my eyes to this human problem. Today it’s at the centre of my work.
B. You’ve also said that painting in the future would tend to follow this direction he helped you to find—that it’s a tradition whose influence will grow.
V. Absolutely, I think the popularity and influence in the first half of this twentieth century of Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Leger, will be completely overthrown.
B. In favour of whom?
V. I’m sure we’ll soon discover that the work of painters like Bonnard and Soutine (who’ve been called bourgeois traditionalists) will turn out to be the more revolutionary, in the true sense—as relating to our true feelings; and for that reason more valid, and more profound.