We have the memory of a blue eye passing over the eyeglasses, staring at you with an amused, mischievous, slightly satanic air. When he spoke, he became truly diabolical: an erudition from another time, but never pedantic, sometimes comical by dint of going from cock to donkey. As for his works, they were of the same water: seductive, fragile, damn complex. We also remember the teacher he was, never a demagogue at the risk of a certain harshness, anxious to equip his students with the best weapons to embrace the dangerous career of an artist: Joël Kermarrec died on June 24, in Paris . He was 82 years old.
He was born in Ostend (Belgium) on July 20, 1939, into a family that was itself unusual: his mother, the sculptor Antoinette Labisse, was the sister of the surrealist painter Félix Labisse (1905-1982). Their friends are named Ensor, Permeke, Spilliaert… His father, Henri-Jean, is a bookseller. Joël Kermarrec therefore grew up in a polyglot, very cultured environment, where the arts held a major place. The double ancestry, symbolist and surrealist, will accompany him all his life, like the double culture, French-speaking and Flemish (he himself evoked a “batavism”) that he sometimes mixed fiercely in impossible puns, with which he loved to destabilize his interlocutors.
He refuses the Prix de Rome
Because instability was a virtue for him: it requires a constant effort to regain balance. What is unstable can never be at rest. His works were of that water. Magnificently composed, sometimes endowed with a sumptuous paste for the paintings, maddening collages for the drawings, not disliking the enrichments of gold leaf or peacock feathers. Improbable assemblages that were both rebuses and voodoo charms and drew as much from his personal mythologies as from the tradition of Jewish Kabbalah and Christian gnosis. All served by a line that is both soft and firm.
In 1959, he passed the entrance examination for the National School of Fine Arts in Paris (Ensba). He came out of it in 1964, better than graduated: Prix de Rome. He refuses it! ” I was scared, he confessed to World. Fear of Balthus [alors le directeur de la Villa Médicis]. Finally, less of him than of the state in which I saw the work of those who came back from it…”
A few other prizes, these accepted, salute his Parisian debut: that of the Dôme in 1964 and, the following year, the Fénéon prize and the Adam prize, named after a famous color merchant from Montparnasse. The latter was given to him by Salvador Dali who, for the occasion, gave him his famous cane endowed, according to the press at the time, “magical powers”. It was shown, from 1969, by the Lucien Durand gallery, a major place of discovery, and jointly by the very young Daniel Templon, without it being known whether the initiative came from the latter, or from his companion at the time, Catherine Millet, who had been the first to write about his work the previous year in French Letters. He also participates in a group exhibition at the ARC, the “workshops” at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, and at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.
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