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Pierre Alechinsky
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A Belgian artist who has lived and worked in France since 1951, Pierre Alechinsky is best known for his graphic art and acrylic paintings on paper. He is also a writer with numerous published books and essays and an award-winning filmmaker. Born in Brussels in 1927, Alechinsky is the only son of two doctors, who had hoped he would follow them into medicine. He instead turned to art, and studied book illustration and typography at the École Nationale Superieure d’Architecture et des Arts Decoratifs in Brussels from 1944 to 1948. He exhibited his works in a solo show at the Galerie Lou Cosyn in Brussels, joined the Jeune Peinture Belge (Young Belgian Painters) group and made his first etchings in 1947. His first illustrated book was published in1948; he would go on to illustrate dozens of books. He made his first lithographs the next year, and met Michèle (Micky) Dendal, whom he married in 1949. That year he joined with the Belgian artist and poet Christian Dotremont (1922-1979), the Danish artist Asger Jorn (1914-1973), the Dutch artist Karel Appel (1921-2006) and others to form the avant-garde group CoBrA (named after their home cities of Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam), which published a magazine and mounted exhibitions until it dissolved in 1951. The recipient of a French government scholarship, Alechinsky and his new wife moved to Paris, where he studied printmaking at Stanley William Hayter’s (1901-1988) “Atelier 17”. Alchinsky’s first solo exhibition in Paris was at the Galerie Nina Dausset in 1954. Encouraged by his friend Walasse Ting (1929-2010), Alechinsky and his wife traveled to Japan in 1955, where he made a film about Japanese calligraphers. He adopted their technique of placing paper on the floor and bending over it to paint, which dramatically changed his approach to his art. His film won awards at film festivals in Bergamo, Italy and Tokyo. In 1957 Alechinsky was commissioned to create a mural for Paris’s Cinémathèque française and also began to make ink drawings on paper that he later mounted on canvas. He became a member of the organizing committee for the Salon de Mai in Paris in 1958, continuing until 1970. The next year Alechinsky was included in an exhibition of contemporary European art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. John Lefebre opened his New York gallery in 1960 and began representing Alechinsky with a show of works by him and two other CoBrA artists. Alechinsky traveled to New York in 1961, the first of many trips to the United States, where he worked in Walasse Ting’s studio. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam gave Alechinsky his first one-man exhibition in a museum that same year and the Lefebre Gallery mounted his first solo show in America the next year. In 1963 Alechinsky moved to Bougival, on the Seine River just west of Paris, where he maintains his studio and residence as of this writing. In 1964 he contributed five color lithographs to Ting’s ground-breaking book of illustrated poems 1¢ Life, which combined works by Abstract Expressionists such as Sam Francis (1923-1994) and Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), Pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) and Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and Alechinsky and his fellow CoBrA artists Appel and Jorn. Alechinsky’s Central Park (1965) was his first acrylic painting on paper with marginal ink drawings (“remarks”) surrounding the central colorful painting. A prolific artist, Alechinsky’s works are included in the collections of over 60 museums in the United States and Europe and has been featured in over 100 exhibitions. Notable among these are exhibitions at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (1969), the Belgian pavilion at the 1972 Venice Biennale, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh (1977), the Pompidou Center, Paris (1978) and in New York at the Museum of Modern Art (1981) and the Guggenheim Museum (1987). The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark created a permanent Alechinsky Room in 1975. Among his commissions were works and murals in the Ministry of Culture (1985), Ministry of Finance (1989) and the National Assembly’s Palais Bourbon (1993), all in Paris. He served as a professor of painting at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1983 to 1987. His awards include the Hallmark Prize (1960) for his painting Homage to Ensor (1956), the Andrew W. Mellon Prize from the Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute (1976), and the French National Grand Prize of Arts and Letters for Painting (1984). Alechinsky has been a member of Belgium’s Royal Academy since 1987. (TNB 2/2014) Selected bibliography: Alechinsky, Pierre, Michael Gibson and Octavio Paz. Pierre Alechinsky: Margin and Center. Exhibition catalog. New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1987. Alechinsky, Pierre. Alechinsky: Paintings and Writings. Exhibition catalog. Pittsburgh: Carnegio Institute Museum of Art, 1977.