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Jacques Villegle, Pioneer of New Realism

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Jacques Villegle,was a French mixed-media artist famous for his alphabet with symbolic letters and innovative mixed-media collages, which he began creating in the late 1940s from ripped posters he found on the streets of Paris. Often regarded as France’s “grandfather” of street art,Villegle was the last living figure associated with Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism), a French avant-garde movement of the late 1950s and early ’60s. His work is primarily focused on the anonymous and on the marginal remains of civilization.

Born in 1926 in Quimper, France, Villegle first started producing art in 1947 in Saint-Malo by collecting found objects. He initially started out making sculptures using junk found on the beaches of Saint-Malo. During the late ’40s, Villeglemet visual artist Raymond Hainsand it was with him, that he took off his first poster, in 1949, in Paris.Some of their initial experiments, with their emphasis on appropriated and collaged text, have been linked to the Lettrist movement.

After 1949Villegle, concentrated his work on ripped advertising posters from the street and over the time he developed his distinctive process of layered advertising posters. His process of using collage and found/ripped posters from street advertisements in creating Ultra-Lettrist psychogeographical hypergraphicsof an obscured sense of cultural reference and the deterioration of civilizationbecame an important influence to the Nouveau Realisme movement.

Villegle’spostersare built in a way that one poster is placed over another or others, and the top poster or posters are rippedto reveal a greater or lesser degree of the poster or posters underneath.He had described this form of his work as a“whole repertory of rips, scratches, slashes, scrawls, smears, gashes, gougings, abrasions, inscriptions and over-pastings.” Exhibition of ripped and distressed posters remained the primary mode of his expression which he termed as décollagisme. And hisworks are a blend of text, pure blocks of color, and commercial imagery, all remixed in order to convey humor, eroticism, and sociopolitical critique.

Villegle’s execution, processes and medium of expression has often had explicitly political dimension. His densely layered surfaces suggest social and political critiques through their appropriated description. His1961, Carrefour Algérie-Evian, is an example of his early socio-political expression though the work was a pun, showing an ad for bottled water next to sign expressing support for Algeria in its war for independence. Villegle had proficiently used Evian which was both the name of a water company and the town where negotiations for a peace treaty between France and Algeria were starting that year.

Moreover, during the uprisings of May 1968, Villeglebegan to work on “sociopolitical alphabet,” an unusual language system built using heavily stylized letters with leftist underpinnings. He later created a ‘guerilla alphabet’ that transformed symbols ranging from the Communist hammer-and-sickle to the Nazi swastika into letters. In his alphabets the hammer-and-sickle became a C and the swastika became an X. He continued to add symbols (such as € for the letter E), keeping his alphabet sociopolitically current. And he has used it extensively to create signage that possesses the capability to hijack the symbols’ overall meaning.

Villegle published Hepérile Éclaté, a phonetic poem by Camille Bryen, which was made unreadable when read through strips of grooved glass made by Hains. he also published an overview of his work on ripped posters, Des Réalités collectives in 1958, which is to a certain degree a prefiguration of the manifesto of the New Realism group (1960) which he joined at its inception.

Villegle was included in ‘The Art Assemblage’ show held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1961. The show brought appreciation for Villegle and his work and it was first such occasion outside France that gave him global visibility. Though globally acclaimed artist he remains much better-known within his home country than he does anywhere else. In 2008, the Centre Pompidou in Paris staged a retrospective of his work.

Villegle 96 died on 6 June 2022, the Paris-based Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, which represents Villegle, announced the artist’s death in a statement posted to social media on Tuesday. The gallery remembered him as “working hard, smiling always.”

And the Centre Pompidou wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.“Thanks to the almost exclusive use of torn posters, this pioneer of urban art leaves an abundant body of work of astonishing formal richness,”

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