François Stahly played a considerable part in the redefining of sculpture during the 1950s and 1960s. Closely connected to the 20th century's greatest – Arp, Brancusi, Giacometti – he was an active member of the Second School of Paris. As with his friend Étienne Martin, the only sculptor of his generation he can really be compared to, his works stand out as a link between the art of the pre-War years and the avant-gardes – Minimalism, Land Art, etc. – of the 1960s.
Stahly was born in 1911 in Konstanz, in southern Germany. His father Leopold was a portrait painter and his mother was from a family of stained glass painters and peasants. At the age of fifteen he had to leave school and earn his living as a printer's apprentice. At the same time, however, he was taking classes in painting and sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, where he met Max Bill and Jean Arp.
Setting off for Paris in 1931, he studied under Charles Malfray and Aristide Maillol at the Académie Ranson. 1936 brought his first professional successes, notably (with Fred Littman) his first commission: a sculpture for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris.
During the war years his status as a German meant an endlessly nomadic existence: wanted by the Germans for desertion, he was pursued by the French as an enemy national. Like many artists and intellectuals he spent 1941–1942 in Marseille, where his circle included Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Jean Arp, Alberto Magnelli, Sonia Delaunay, Nicolas de Staël and the architect Bernard Zerhfuss. At this time the art connoisseur and writer Henri Pierre Roché, who had taken refuge in Dieulefit, was introduced to Stahly's early sculptures by Étienne Martin and bought many of his wartime works.
In 1948 Stahly took part in the "HWPSMTB" inaugural abstraction exhibition of the Second School of Paris, alongside Hartung, Wols, Picabia, Mathieu and Tapié. Wols and Mathieu urged him to move back to Paris and help form a group, while Roché suggested nearby Meudon.
During the 1950s he became friends with Alberto Giacometti, whom he especially admired: "Together with Étienne Martin, I consider Giacometti my best friend. Our conversations have remained etched in my memory like a credo." This was also when he met Darthea Speyer, the United States cultural attaché in Paris, who championed his work to the very end.
The 1960s and 1970s brought participation in prestigious international exhibitions: in 1959 Stahly was invited to show at Documenta in Kassel; in 1960 at the Bertha Schaeffer Gallery in New York; and in 1961 at Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris, where the catalogue contained a text by Carola Giedion-Welcker. 1966 saw an exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, together with his first large-scale retrospective, at the Musée des Art Décoratifs in Paris. Through the good offices of Darthea Speyer he received a major commission for Nelson Rockefeller's private park in Tarrytown, where L'Eté de la Forêt (The Forest in Summer) was part of a kind of maze.
In the late 1960s Stahly began spending part of the year in the splendid setting of a forest at Le Crestet, on the foothills of Mount Ventoux. His two children, both architects, worked with him to build several houses and a studio there as Stahly designed a complex, sculpture-dotted network of paths, itineraries and places of silence and meditation. Detailed documentation of sacred sites was kept in this place with a spiritual force all its own.
Beginning in 1989, health issues forced Stahly to concentrate on drawing and engraving. He retained an interest in the accumulation of volumes and the interlocking of forms that create spaces and structure buildings. Our two drawings typify a graphic practice consisting in saturating the entire working surface with networks of lines. Mixing two highly flexible media – brown ink and blue ballpoint – he constructs mental projections that are part landscape, part hallucinatory visions. Here we find the obsessiveness of Giacometti's drawings and Stahly's particular interest in the invention of space. While structured by the narrative of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and the painting of German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich, our two works nonetheless remain marvellously universal demonstrations of drawing's ability to transcribe the meanderings of the human psyche.
Price : on request