“Les noirs de Redon: The Monstrous Friends You See When You Close Your Eyes”

by C.B. Liddell

Bunkamura
Closes in 25 days

The French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916) liked to depict strange amoebic and insectlike creatures in his drawings and lithographs. His career, too, resembled the life cycle of a rather odd bug. While studying art in Paris, he became disillusioned with the academic style taught by his professors and returned to his native Bordeaux, dejected and depressed. There, like an insect pupa, he turned his back on the world and began working almost exclusively in charcoals and lithographs, creating idiosyncratic creations. Strange cyclopsian creatures and floating, disembodied heads were other favored themes in this bleak, phantasmagoric monochrome universe.

In 1884, a mention in a fashionable novel — J. K. Huysmans’ “A Rebours (Against Nature)” — saw him emerge from his cocoon, as he was taken up and celebrated by France’s influential Symbolist writers. In the novel, the hero, a disenchanted aristocrat, develops a perverse fascination for Redon’s works. The belated recognition this brought the artist seems to have had a positive effect on Redon’s previously morose and reclusive personality. He became a more cheerful and outgoing human being and spread his artistic wings, later developing into a skilled and sensual colorist in oils and pastels.

However, this exhibition, sourced from the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, focuses primarily on the lithographs of Redon’s darker period, when he pursued his secret muse with little reference to the tastes of others.