Retrospective exhibition of works by French father of street art Jacques Villegle

Operation Quimperoise (above) is part of the exhibition of 70 works by French artist Jacques Villegle. -- PHOTO: PARTNERS AND MUCCIACCIA
Operation Quimperoise (above) is part of the exhibition of 70 works by French artist Jacques Villegle. -- PHOTO: PARTNERS AND MUCCIACCIA
Artist Jacques Villegle (above) is the last survivor of the 1960s French artistic movement, Nouveau Realisme (New Realism), known for its appropriation of everyday objects in art creation. -- PHOTO: PARTNERS AND MUCCIACCIA
Artist Jacques Villegle (above) is the last survivor of the 1960s French artistic movement, Nouveau Realisme (New Realism), known for its appropriation of everyday objects in art creation. -- PHOTO: PARTNERS AND MUCCIACCIA

French artist Jacques Villegle, known as the father of street art, uses posters from the 1940s onwards in his work

Advertising posters from Parisian streets from the late 1940s became art in the hands of French artists Jacques Villegle and Raymond Hains.

The 88-year-old Villegle was in Singapore last week for a retrospective exhibition of his works at the Partners and Mucciaccia art gallery in Gillman Barracks.

"I wanted to do something non-conventional. Posters are like the newspapers of the street," says Villegle, speaking in French through his curator Dominique Stella, an art historian. "I wanted to express the collective language of the street, of society."

Layers of ripped posters were the art material and canvas for Villegle and Hains, who created a technique called "decollages d'affiches".

While collage involves putting together different materials to create a new work, "decollage" (French for "to become unglued") is the reverse, where the artist cuts or tears away portions from an original image.

In this case, Villegle and Hains tore away posters to reveal more layers of posters underneath. Posters are known as "affiche" in French.

Seventy works from Villegle's almost 70-year oeuvre are on display in the gallery till February next year.

His affiche works made from the 1960s to 2000 are named after the streets where the posters came from, such as Rue Richelieu located near the Lourve in Paris.

The show also highlights his newer text-based works which use a special alphabet Villegle created using existing religious, social and political icons.

Says Partners and Mucciaccia gallery director Valter Spano: "This exhibition looks back on the career of the most important French artist alive today. The exhibition is made all the more special because each of the 70 artworks is literally a fragment of Parisian history."

The Parisbased artist, who has three daughters and no grandchildren, is known as the father of street art and is still regularly invited to work with younger French street artists.

He is the last survivor of the 1960s French artistic movement, Nouveau Realisme (New Realism).

Its members include the late artists Yves Klein and Hains.

The movement was known for its appropriation of everyday objects in art creation, and was a contemporary of the American pop art movement popularised by Andy Warhol.

Ask Villegle what the highlight of his illustrious career is and he says he cannot pinpoint a specific moment, instead focusing on his life's work as a still evolving production of art.

This, despite being the only living artist with a solo exhibition at modern art institution Centre Pompidou in Paris, which has dedicated shows to artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Besides being exhibited widely in venues around the world, Villegle's works are also in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art - displayed before Warhol's works, as a precursor to pop art.

And from his rather humble beginnings as an urban artist during the post-war period, his works are now widely collected by private collectors, museums and galleries around the world, fetching prices that range from $40,000 to $490,000.

In his trademark hat and matching suit, Villegle is a picture of old-school European culture.

Asked to comment on the state of the art world today, he says: "Art is becoming a business."

He does not want to "participate in that competition" where "you can build up an artist like a star, and tomorrow, he can be nobody", he declares.

"Art is now about money and auction houses. I am not interested in that. I am not in competition with Jeff Koons," he says, referring to the American artist whose works fetch record-breaking prices in the millions.

The octogenarian has no favourite artist.

"There are too many people. It is too complicated. It should just be about the adventure of art," he says.

"Artists should go on and experiment and discover the mystery of art."

nabilahs@sph.com.sg