Claude Margat: the Dao of writing and painting

“I can think of nothing which, uncurbed, uncontrolled, untamed, can lead to more ruin than thought and I can think of nothing which, curbed, controlled, tamed can bring more rewards than thought. ” Anguttara-nikkâya 1,4 (words attributed to the “awakened one”).

Claude Margat lives in Rochefort-sur-mer in Charente-Maritime, between the ocean, the woods and the marshes. He is one who roams space. He first published a few books under the friendly protection of poet Bernard Noël (who became his friend) and then, as early as 1990 started to produce exorcistic caricatures which were supposed to cure his malaise and his notorious inability to adapt to social life. With the help of a few anarchist friends, his works were first exhibited in the Librairie du Monde Libertaire, rue Amelot, in the 11th arrondissement in Paris. Along with more novels and poems he went into a thorough study of Dao and Chan with sinologist François Cheng. He was sent to China by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and he met there two great calligraphers Qin Zhu Yi and Li Shou Ping, in Yangshuo (autonomous province of Guangxi), a landmark in his life.
Back in France he decided to choose the path of the “scholar-painter “ (“to have read 10.000 books and walked 10.000 li”). He then painted his first large horizontal landscapes in China ink. Françoise Corcuff then organized the first important exhibition in the François Mitterand library in Poitiers for which, because of the impressive size of his works, special presentation furniture was made. La Différence publishing house soon published his first essay about Chinese art and thought, “Dust of the Guangxi”. He went to China for a second time and once back organized several meetings around the calligraphic works of Qin Zhu Yi and Li Shou Ping. Since then he has been practicing his Dao of writing and painting in the large wild expanse of the Charentais seashore which is the main source of his pictorial inspiration. La Différence publishing house published “The Horizon of the Hundred Steps” in 2005, a large collective work with personal notes about paintings along with numerous illustrations as well as texts from several major voices in contemporary literature, all of them close to Claude Margat. His latest book Daoren (man of the Dao), something like a diary with thoughts about the Chan and sketches from his wild experience of Dao, was published by La Différence in March 2009 and presented along with an exhibition of several vertical rolls in the Hune Brenner Gallery , rue Ravignon in Montmartre. Sponsored by the center for Books and Reading in Poitou-Charentes, some of his books have received library promotion. His two latest major exhibitions of landscapes were presented in Espace St Jean in Melun and in the Palais des Congrès in Royan. Line paintings (details of the large horizontal rolls , some of them more than 10 meters long) have all been made in Chinese ink on Xuan paper. Smaller-size paintings belong to the so-called “freely-inspired” genre


Claude Margat, a free man,
by Bernard Noël

A free man: that is the caption I would write under his portrait and that is also the first thing I think of when I conjure up his presence. A free and almost brutal man for his freedom is sharp and even wild. I add these qualificatives with some sort of nostalgia for I envy these qualities which I don’t possess. It is probably the first time I have enunciated them as clearly, and this makes me step backward a little and see the man behind the friend: a man who has managed to bring together nature and thought, even if that means make them tougher, one by the other, to go through the hardships of daily life. You don’t often meet someone for whom natural life and thinking life are exercises with enough interaction for body engagement. Hence the ever strong feeling –and it can’t be otherwise- that you are in front of someone who is fully committed in his speech as well as in his deeds. But if being committed means a certain rigidity in his choices, it also means solidarity when listening, which proves that when you refuse facility you become more open and attentive. The world and the Others only give us their external appearance and we are led to stick to that today as if real life was not always behind the surface. The need for expression is linked to the wish to reveal what is thus hidden and yet talk to our senses, mainly our eyes. This process could be summarized in a somewhat abrupt shortcut if we say expression is the work of the eyes: a craftsmanship which confronts inner and outer experience, grafts one on the other and metamorphoses them. The result is a precipité as well as a synthesis which, with Claude, gives way to a text here and a drawing there or an ink painting. Incidentally it is by reading and writing that this shortcut for reason that Daoren, Claude’s latest book, which calls for reading and eyesight in turn, brings us to go from the readable to the visible and thereby, develops our awareness of the duality of the visual.

That is why we have here a natural opportunity to experiment that the visible can be reversed into its contrary since the readable brings us to the invisible. He who can feel this shift will discover that appearance as well as readability is a cover for the invisible. Everything changes then for our perception becomes finer as the quality of the surrounding space is modified and, if I may say so, vitalized. Claude’s pictorial work demonstrates this without meaning to do so: one just has to watch it at length for the shift to take place. He himself gave the shortest and most apt definition of this paramount exchange when he wrote: “A painting is a picture plus the thought of the picture.” What can you see first? A landscape. And what happens as soon as you know what you are looking at? A shift takes place and a space emerges from the landscape and this space immediately merges with the space of your eyes. This mutual penetration is the source of the pleasure of watching, which – if you try to grasp its nature- does not come from the shapes, even if that can’t be put aside, but from the airy emanation they never cease to produce. To say that this “emanation” is the thought of the picture may seem a bit short and yet it is really what puts the viewer in the state of thinking receptivity from which conception and thought are forged and correspond to each other. Thought is never a static formula which, to be shared, should be deciphered and understood, it is a movement which never stops developing its path as it orientates and gives light to the space it covers. Claude Margat’s inks are proof to this just as they are a chance to experience it. The reproduction of a motif is only their appearance: they do represent a landscape, and a landscape which has been watched but the way it is on the paper, it is a memory and therefore a mental landscape. What matters is not its exactitude, even if one could be fooled, what matters is the spatial construction it allows and the discovery this spatiality is necessarily mental and therefore thoughtful. What matters is a place: the place where meaning is forged and spread, and this propagation is a concrete phenomenon, not an abstract one as one usually thinks. Incidentally, the word “abstraction” means pulling out, something concrete if you can only feel it. This being said, you can see two attempts at abstraction in Claude’s work and they bring his writing and his painting together to create a space whose place will never be taken for granted by its author, since he must forever recreate it; when it is definitely open to those who come and watch, read and practice going beyond watching and reading. What can you say about going beyond this? The path does not end, no more than meaning does: it invents the space where it is lost. But this loss is the coincidence with the ungraspable and one suddenly feels that the visible and the invisible are one. At the same time, the inside and the outside similarly reveal their unity and the eyes do not watch anything because it is silence and light. One must read Daoren, a long thoughtful walk through life, to feel that at the end of oneself, the relationship is condensed into a meaningful touch.; Something essential has just come out, here, at the end of it, an expanding point, a genesis…

translation F. Toison

artist’s website

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