Jacques Charlier

° 1939

Born in Liège (BE), lives in Liège (BM), born in BE.

A funny, unclassifiable artist, who refuses to see art as something (too) serious, Jacques Charlier defines himself as an eclectic radical. As a teenager, he vowed to be an artist who touches everything and doesn’t give up on anything. His parents refused to enroll him in the art academy, so he trained as a mechanic and studied history of art as an autodidact. From then on, he read, collected, visited and especially copied the great Masters until he became, according to him, ‘a kind of juke box of painting’. In order to gain his freedom and be able to fulfill his dreams, Jacques Charlier had to find a job to put food on the table: he started working at the Provincial Technical Service (STP) of Liège from 1958 to 1978 and became professor of graphic design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Liège from 1978 to 1999.

He started his artistic career in the early 1960s. His first exhibitions were directed towards the assembly of collected neo-Dadaist objects, associated with photographs. In 1963, he started a collection of professional photographs with the help of André Bertrand, with whom he worked at the STP in Liège. At that time, Pop Art and New Realism were in full swing. He then questioned the phenomenon of fashion and developed a critical language towards historicity in art, which became the general topic of his approach. He then made transparent photographic enlargements that he placed in light boxes glued on panels but he then destroyed them as well as his previous collages. He subsequently embarked upon creating paintings with black marker on which appear objects, scenes with characters, concrete blocks. In 1966, he received a mention at the Young Belgian Painting.

From 1965 to 1969, his productions went into different directions: musical and video-graphic experiences, conferences on art, poetic texts, editions of a magazine, a radio talk show about the group Total’s[1], an artistic detox centre, etc. With Marcel Broodthaers, Jacques Charlier frequented the most famous Belgian galleries. He met Kosuth, Toroni, Buren, with whom he became friends. In 1970, he met Fernand Spillemaeckers who had just opened the MTL Gallery in Brussels. The latter organised the first exhibition of the professional photographs of the STP, which were met with success, stimulated by the advent of minimal and conceptual art. Following Paysages professionnels, Jacques Charlier successively produced Paysages urbain, familial et utilitaire in opposition to the minimalism in fashion; Paysages artistiques applying the idea of ​​‘painting a tree’ for real and Paysages culturels, an audio cassette broadcasting the recording of a vernissage. His productions during this period include Photographies de vernissage (1974/1975), a first comic strip (Rrose Melody, 1978), caricatures of the world of international art as well as musical experiments.

In the early 1980s, Jacques Charlier returned to painting by parodying the return to the market of pictorial figuration (the Plinthures series). In 1986, with Chambre d’ennemi, made in Ghent for the exhibition Guest Houses, he gave free rein to his growing interest in staging with the participation of live actors and the addition of objects to reconstitute fantastic atmospheres. From 1986 until the 1990s, he resorted to processes that he deliberately wanted outrageously regressive. His paintings presented in old frames, aged and cracked artificially, were accompanied by second-hand objects, modelled figurines... almost caricatures. He exploited various themes, such as that of Joan of Arc or Saint Rita, patroness of desperate causes.

In 1988, under a pseudonym, he presents Peintures-Schilderijen, a collection of 15 artists invented from scratch (with supporting biographies) with as proclaimed objective to break with styles, creating confusion and interpreting artistic currents in implosive scenarios. It is during that period that he made his large installations combining painting and objects, around general themes, emphasising the manipulations that images can serve, including in the artistic field. Humour and poetic evocation, however, prevent the work from appearing unnecessarily moralizing. Thus, from the adjective ‘cerebral’, often used by art critics, he imagines the pictorial painting style referring to it and adds a ceramic brain, placed on a pedestal.

[1] From 1965 to 1968, Jacques Charlier has been animating the underground magazine Total's in Liège, actually a simple leaflet printed with a mimeograph, as well as a group organizing happenings around urbanization and environment. One of the most striking happenings took place in 1967, a day of protests against nuclear power. The Total's group marched through the streets of Brussels with their lips closed with Band-Aid, holding a transparent flag and distributing leaflets that were also transparent.

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