Michel Moreno, a multi-faceted painter
Michel Moreno lives and paints in Paris and owes his reputation solely to the very gradual evolution in his reflection on and practice of his art. Creating with surprising regularity about 50 pieces each year, he works entirely alone, driven by a perpetual quest and assimilating numerous influence to produce a body of work remarkable for its distinctive character. From expressionism to syntho-chromism, from neo-cubism to the most recent psychological anatomism, we are dealing here with an authentic “Moreno style” that has won favour both with the public and with fine art publications. Listed both in the Bénézit and Artprice, the painter continues, unrelenting, on his artistic journey.
Born 1945 at Saint-Étienne-de-Rouvray (Seine-Maritime), Michel Moreno is of Norman stock by his mother and Spanish by his father. At high school, his teachers recognized his innate talent for painting and encouraged him to pursue his vocation. He attended art school in Paris to acquire the basic tools of his trade before starting to paint seriously on a prolonged stay in Rouen. It was then that he chose to devote his life to painting, determined to gain public recognition. Art nègre, German Expressionism, all the artistic upheavals of his time, each provided a source of inspiration. And everyday realities soon cast their shadow over the enthusiasm of his beginnings. When he returned to Paris, the painter went through a Bohemian period, more impecunious than adventurous.
If from the outset he earned recognition among his peers and won a real place on the Parisian art scene, Michel Moreno was still in search of his style and having a hard time convincing the public. It was natural that his worries and insecurity left its mark on the artist’s work: black overwhelmed the bright colours, the figures were twisted, characters such as his Filles de joie (Prostitutes) were spindly, anorexic.
“It was a period of a rather sordid expressionism,” he says today with an almost melancholy smile.
Over the years, the expressionism of his beginnings moved towards less tormented works which, if some psychoanalytical themes or existential anxieties could still be discerned, gained in light and colour. A certain abstract treatment of his numerous sea themes showed a more assertive technique in applying solid patches of forms and colours in the tradition of the Cubists. This was also the time when the artist developed a taste for the jazz of New Orleans and his musical passion gave rise to a long series of musicians.
From 1974 to 1976, Michel Moreno’s artistic career accelerated. The painter hunted down facts and anecdotes. With a tendency more cerebral than sensitive, he married his art to the great ideas of his time. The rough figures of La Ronde, Combat de coqs (Cockfight), La Musique or Cain testified to the impatience of his search. By the same token, the floating characters of Folon inspired his “tightrope-walker” gouaches while his “spatial” rounds recall something of Matisse’s La Danse.
In 1976, several events led to a decisive turning point in the work of Michel Moreno. With maturity and the recognition of his peers, the painter gained in self-confidence and with it, a style of his own. In the process of re-examining the Surrealist and Impressionist masters, he was determined to go his own way, to find a painting that was truly his.
Dividing his time between Honfleur on the coast and the streets of Paris, the artist was imbued with the ambiance of the sea and the tremors of the capital. His seascapes are gentle in their forms with colours often diluted to the point of fading into hues of white. Light derived from the optical fusion of colours through a tangle of chromatic and formal confusion.
The painter experience this key period in his life as a sort of revelation: to achieve the light, he understood that he had to bring the same intensity to both the primary and complementary colours.
In a manifesto published at the time, Michel Moreno expounded his new ideas in a few lines: “The goal is to reach the point where light is created, there where the colours are born and will meld with each other to become light.” It was a question of painting from one level to the next, from colour to colour, always maintaining the same strength. Let the colours and forms blend into one. What mattered from now on was to express the effervescence of life, that is to say the light through objects.
Becoming a master of syntho-chromism, Michel Moreno launch into geometric abstraction that recalled something of the Russian Suprematists of the 1920s, though with a character that was heavier and better cloaked in mystery.
The end of the 1970s marks the culmination of the artist’s researches. The Cubist forms of his beginnings come back into their own again but via wide sweeps of colour with firm contours, broad, generous curves and angles sometimes open like a field, sometimes closed like a lance. Relics from the syntho-chromist period remain in the gentleness of colours from which the juxtaposition gives birth to the light.
At the age of 33, Michel Moreno experienced a first maturity that went way beyond the tentative explorations of the novice. The eclectic influence had been assimilated and his work asserted itself for keen art lovers. This was the beginning of regular and substantial sales.
The following decade went only to confirm the enthusiasm of the public. Private and public sales followed on each other and the painter’s canvases travelled between Paris, London and New York. Some of his gouaches went for up to 3,000 Euros and the going price for his oil were fetching more than 7,000 Euros. His clientele of galleries and dealers, collectors and investors – but also pure lovers of his art – became more and more varied and faithful: frequent purchases by the Petit Palais in Geneva, exhibitions at the Philips Gallery in Miami and the enthusiasm of the Bulgari jewellers.
Les Choses de la vie (The Things of Life), a vast canvas created in response to the Gulf War was a significant work of this period: a gentle play of shadow and light with the occasional burst of mauve or purple to underline the living structure of a form. The painter recounted man’s loves, his joys and tranquil pains, sometimes also a profound concern for his destiny in society on a fragilized planet. If great themes came into play, as in La Parabole de la vie (The Parable of Life) or Les Tourments du temps (The Torments of the Times), Michel Moreno avoids commenting on them beyond presenting their forms and colours.
In more playful manner, the artist took his inspiration from Ray Johnson, the founder of mail art in 1962 – painting on envelopes before mailing them. But – as with each occasion that Michel Moreno “borrowed” an idea of technique – the artist innovated by painting only on envelopes that postal staff used for internal office use. Post art was born, to be recycled “officially” ten years later.
At the beginning of the new century, new preoccupations led the artist to engage in a psychological and biological exploration of the human being. What mattered now was to express – in the word of poet Henri Michaux – “the light of the interior space” (“la lumière de l’espace du dedans”). His Nu de dos (Nude from the Rear) and his recent Autopsy invited the spectator to examine, to probe the image so as to discover in the “Baconian” entrails a mouth, teeth, an eye.
The research of Michel Moreno today is particularly visceral and introspective and approaches what the artist likes to define as psychological expressionism.