Michel Seuphor

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Michel Seuphor, 1985

Fernand Berckelaers (1901, Antwerp – 1999, Paris), pseudonym Michel Seuphor (anagram of Orpheus), was a Belgian painter, draughtsman, and a designer of carpets. He wrote several books on the history and development of modern abstract art and used all the contacts he had with many abstract artists in Europe and the U.S.


Abstract Painting (1964)[edit]

Abstract Painting, Michel Seuphor, Dell Publishing Co., 1964

  • Kandinsky in Munich uttered the well known words: 'Everything is permitted!' In 1961; we still live by this heritage, which in truth is inexhaustible.
    • p. 12
  • As for myself, I confess to a preference for clear-cut situations, for radical and even extreme positions. But I also feel a secret and very strong attraction to ambiguous situations... for example, that hovering moment when it is no longer day and not yet night, the shades of emotion between indifference and friendship... (they) are so fascinating because they are so indefinable. That which is pure transition, is all the more appealing to the mind because of its elusiveness. It is the same in the cases of Mondrian, Kandinsky and the Cubists: abstraction and figuration have a common frontier in their work that is so tenuous that we often do not know which side we are on. It is this ambiguity that imports a rare poetic charm to their paintings. Artists like Klee, Miro and Dubuffet have also pitched their tents on this borderline and constantly travel from one side tot the other.
    • pp. 43/44: (1962)
  • The 'Cercle et Carré' group owes its existence to my encounter with the Uruguayan painter Torrès-Gracia in 1929... However difficult our relationship, his obstinacy matching my patience, this unholy team of fire and water was bound to produce something. Towards the end of the year, after consulting sundry artists, including Arp, Mondrian, and Van Doesburg, we drew up the program for a new group and launched a magazine which was be called 'Cercle et Carré'.
    • pp. 97-98:
  • To me, the circle and the square where the sky and the earth, as symbolized by the ancient Oriental religions; they formed a kind of rudimentary alphabet by means of which everything could be expressed with the most limited means. They evoked prehistoric runes and the early I-Ching, or Book of Changes.
    • p. 98
  • When I came back to Paris in 1931, after a long convalescence in the South, the 'Abstraction-Création' group had just be founded. Vantongerloo had been given our mailing list. At the same time I learned of Van Doesburg's death in Davos. The first issue of 'Abstraction-Création' came off the press just a year later, printed in the same dusty small shop that had brought out 'Cercle et Carré' and where I had earned a meagre living as a non-union proof-reader and make-up man. 'Abstraction-Création' had a much wider influence than its predecessor. From 1932 to 1936 an annual cahier presented reproductions and statements by painters.
    • pp. 100-101
  • In 1936, when the last issue of 'Abstraction-Création' appeared, Europe was in a deep slump. Hitlerism was rampant in Germany and many artists had already fled there... There were evil portents on the horizon; night was about to descend over Europe. It was at that moment that America took up the case of abstract art. The association of 'American Abstract Artists' was founded that year, and it was also in 1936 that the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York... At about this time a flood of refugees – artists, intellectuals, and men of science – began to pour into the United States.
    • p. 103
  • For if art, like religion, belongs to no country, it is perhaps itself the only country and the only true religion. Only those hear its call who have that siren’s song within them. The inner riches of the eyes bring out the secret virtues of the work, and little by little they begin to speak... Every artist, every work of every artist, establishes, in his or its own absolutely inaccessible way, this contact of the spirit with the spirit. Provided of course, that the viewer is in 'a state of grace'.
    • p. 104
  • But who does not see that the work goes beyond the one who created it? It marches before him and he will never again be able to catch up with it, it soon leaves his orbit, it will soon belong to another, since he, more quickly than his work, changes and becomes deformed, since before his work dies, he dies.
    • p. 105
  • In very other period of art history, the idea itself –the what – had been primary. Today the idea matters less than the way it is arrived at; it is the how that makes the work. This word brings us again face to face with the theme and its infinite variations. It is no longer a matter of knowing, of possessing the truth, but of approaching it... knowing that the road is long, knowing that the road does not end, knowing that the road is the end in itself.
    • p. 159 : About 1961

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