By Anne Egger, Art Historian – Paris / Translation Martyn Back

Here is an artist whose work visits History with unbridled imagination, and whose hand sets down what his eyes and heart tell him, directly onto paper. A private dialogue, no doubt. But a dialogue we can be party to!  Let yourself go; take time to look , to visit, to explore : there are many doors to open, you just have to find the one for you!

Intricate drawing, virtuoso pencil strokes, heartrending emotion, stylised landscapes, levitating figures… Make no mistake! This is no realist painter. His is a teeming inner world, changing form each time he adopts a different technique.

All this is set against a background of recurrent and varied themes: childhood memories alternate with poetic or literary encounters, mythological visions give way to biblical or historical scenes. It is hardly surprising that his art is peopled with shady characters, clowns, prostitutes, drunks and monuments reminiscent of Montmartre and bohemian Paris. The painter bears witness to his time.

A time that is sometimes disastrous, sometimes violent. A time whose tiniest remnants of humanity the artist seeks to express. Look carefully: the only dark thing in these drawings is the black pencil strokes. And if nobody is laughing, it is surely because of the artist’s rage as he sees people continuing to kill each other. Yet his war scenes transcend horror: Woman and Love are brandished like flags of peace. These drawings express a hatred of violence. It might all seem easy…a little too easy, perhaps?

But I know of no artist or poet who has not chosen this means of making people react, of exorcising the evil tides that sweep us along, from Antiquity to the present day. It might be said that ancient mythology is far away, that it is no longer familiar, no more than biblical characters are… but these references are not always so distant from us: remember Picasso’s Centaurs, Chagall’s prophets, Dali’s crucifixions, Rouault’s prostitutes and Buffet’s sad clowns.

From 1940 to 2004, a new œuvre was born, and followed its own unique trajectory. In art today, there is total freedom. The post-war years were dominated by abstraction and Surrealism, then New Realism, Pop Art, Body Art, Land Art, Arte Povera and conceptual art gradually came to the fore. Instead of this freedom, Paul Guterman has chosen the classic discipline of drawing to recount his inner world and his emotions. His work has known all the temptations of its time. It has drawn inspiration from all the grand masters. But it has nevertheless followed its own path, a winding road far from the vagaries of fashion, embracing a variety of techniques and sources of inspiration.

If we look carefully, it is tempting to pick up on a detail, a reference, a name. The technique and the obsessions of Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Delvaux, Buffet, Kirchner, as well as Brueghel and Rubens, quickly spring to mind. We might even be reminded of Valentine Hugo’s owl or Léonor Fini’s cat… But these references are so few and far between that it is of little importance. When something seems vaguely familiar, it escapes us in an instant.

We think of Surrealism only to find ourselves in epic fantasy; we pick up on a resemblance to an ancient statue only to discover a caricature in the manner of Daumier; we look for a classic model and find ourselves at the threshold of graphic novels or naïve art. We think we’re looking at a copy of a postcard, but suddenly the drawing becomes more intricate and we find ourselves fascinated by an unknown façade. We enter an idyllic, almost dreamlike vision, only to be jolted awake by a brutal, incisive pencil stroke.

Some of his drawings are transcriptions, haunted by his deepest feelings. They reflect the beginnings of a metamorphosis: the transformation of suffering into something human. A place where victim and torturer blend into one before disappearing forever.  The second part of his work reflects his simple joy in recording what he sees on paper, on every street corner. Here he offers anecdotes, portraits, light-hearted images, popular Paris street scenes that are affectionately anonymous.

Paul Guterman lived through History in his imagination before discovering Paris with his eyes and his ever-wakeful spirit. Streams of black ink are his way of taking part in the world. A careful draughtsman, infinitely patient and absolutely sincere, he records his mental landscape on paper. A world whose optimistic violence reflects the harmony of the artist, his life and the vitality of his art.

Though his art appeared at a time of political and artistic turmoil, Paul Guterman has always committed himself entirely to Humanity. For a long time he expressed himself in silence; today he faces the inquisitive public eye alone.

The man and his work are one.