(b. 1921, France; d. 2012, France)
A self-taught painter, Georges Mathieu was born in 1921, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. At the age of 12, Mathieu moved to Versailles where pursued studies in Greek, Russian and Spanish, after which he attended various institutions in Douai, Cambrai and Rouen in France, ultimately entering law school in 1941. His painting career began in 1942 by producing mostly portraits and landscapes in his spare time while holding professional positions beyond art including working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in 1944 and a teaching role as professor of French at the American University in Biarritz.
Citing Edward Crankshaw’s 1936 novel Joseph Conrad: Some Aspects of the Art of the Novel as a source of influence, Mathieu began painting in abstraction, experimenting in drip techniques and amorphous shapes. In 1947, Mathieu moved to Paris and it was here he became heavily involved in the Abstraction lyrique (Lyrical Abstraction) movement in France.
The 1950s were a pivotal time for Mathieu, who was actively participating in exhibitions both within France and internationally as well as publishing his theoretical writings. He held his first solo exhibition in 1950 with Galerie René Drouin in Paris and his first New York show two years later at Stable Gallery. An important figure among the Abstract Art movement internationally, Mathieu was one of the first European artists to acknowledge the significance of their American counterparts, such as Jackson Pollock. In the late 1950s, Mathieu established close associations with Japanese avant-garde group Gutai, whose happenings and abstract works are often viewed today in parallel to the Western abstract movements developing at this same time.
Squeezing paint directly from the tubes onto canvas, Mathieu worked rapidly and believed this was the method to harnessing intuitive expression in his abstraction. Attempting to portray epic events through abstraction, Mathieu identified his art with history painting and often titled his work after events and battles in French history. In the peak of his career, Mathieu introduced a performance element, executing large paintings in front of live audiences on several occasions, thus anticipating the work of artists such as Yves Klein who came out in the late 1950s and 60s by merging performance and painting. Mathieu passed away in 2012 at the age of 91 in France.