Sunday 5 June 2016

Buffet froid

Bernarrd Buffet (1928-1999) is the subject of a hefty biography by Nick Foulkes (who was for some years a journalist with the byline 'the Ginger Fop'). Foulkes makes a case for the reappraisal of an artist he thinks is of great importance.

Buffet was an immensely popular painter and a dreadful artist, a one-trick phoney. His paintings of clowns are the kind of thing you'd expect to find on sale in Las Vegas hotel lobbies -  painted on velvet. For the rest it's park railing art - gauche, mannered, coarse-grained and unlovely. His figures are stiff, flat, angular and lifeless, his depopulated urban scenes are chilly and cliched. There's nothing to it at all - he gives trite a bad name.

His stylised signature alone is enough to turn the stomach - spiky and overbearing, often in the middle of a picture rather than (say) in a quiet corner. It changed over the years, becoming bigger and more demented. One gets the impression that his best efforts went into that signature.

Foulkes claims that the near-universal critical disdain directed at Buffet is a form of snobbery but it's nothing of the kind - it's simply good taste. Here's an experiment: use Google images to summon up a huge number of his pictures and ask yourself if you could bear to share a room with any one of them, even for ten minutes. At his very best (say the portrait of a girl in a t-shirt) he resembles Ronald Searle on a bad day, but without a fraction of Searle's subversive wit and intelligence. Buffet was breathtakingly productive, churning out perhaps 10,000 paintings (and prints and lithographs) - proof of his facile virtuosity.

Buffet himself had a clear sense of his own worth: "Abstract Painting is limited and boring, while figurative is unlimited". Yeah, right.

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