Ce blog est alimenté par Jacques Lefebvre-Linetzky. Commentaires et retours bienvenus.

lundi 9 janvier 2017


Eugene Fidler (1910-1990)
A painter, a watercolourist, a paper-collagist, an engraver, a ceramicist…

Eugene Fidler in his studio at Roussillon (summer 1985), © JL+L 


At the start of this new year, I feel like celebrating an artist whom I admire and love dearly. He was my father-in-law, and I had the good fortune of sharing wonderful moments with him over a period of 20 years. As a matter of fact I became acquainted with his work before I actually met him – I am not referring to my meeting his elder daughter, Cathie, but to his artwork. I remember how profoundly moved I was when I first saw his wonderful collages. The musical sensuality of his art touched me to the depth of my soul. The first time I actually saw him, I didn’t know he was to become my father-in-law and that, one day, he would call me “son”. I was most impressed by his elegance, his delicate hands, his refined manners and his humour.  He was indeed the very first « real » painter I had ever met.

Over the years, we exchanged thoughts, we shared ideas and I loved listening to the sound of his melodious voice, which was sometimes disrupted by a formidable burst of laughter. I was even given the privilege of watching him as he was putting together his bits of paper. I knew this was an exceptional gift. Often, he would show me his work, talk about the choices he had to make, mention the difficulties he encountered and even ask for my opinion. Who was I to pass judgment on the work of such a great artist? I was astounded. Deep within me, I was both honoured and moved. He was most generous. Whenever I told him I liked a drawing or even a collage, he would later offer it to me as a surprise gift.  Well, he would offer it to us. There was a distinctive lightness about him, nourished by secret anxieties one noticed fleetingly in his work. This appealed to me and resonated within me.

In 2016, I lived intensely in his company, so to speak, for a few months as I photographed the illustrations that are now in Cathie Fidler’s book, Eugène Fidler, Terres mêlées. It is a long letter addressed to her father, which follows his various experiences from Balti to Roussillon. The little girl asks questions while the daughter, now an adult writer, puts into soothing words the complexity of a relationship fuelled by the admiration she feels for her artist-father.


Montage, © JL+L

Fidler was born in Balti, then a Jewish and Russian settlement in Bessarabia in 1910. The family moved to Warsaw where his younger sister, Aline (who was to become a pianist) was born in 1917. In 1918 his family came as refugees and settled in Nice, France. From 1918-1928 he attended primary and secondary schools in Switzerland and Germany and then the Lycée Massena in Nice. From 1928-1930 Fidler served his military service in the French Army, thus becoming a French citizen. From 1930 till 1937 he studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts, and later at the Académie Julian. In 1937 he returned to Nice, following the death of his father, Aron Fidler. In 1940 Fidler married Edith Giler, a refugee who had fled Nazi Germany with her family, and settled in Mougins. At this time he began to learn the art of ceramics. The couple escaped from the French Riviera when the Nazis took over Free France in 1943, finding shelter in Roussillon under the assumed Gentile name of Fournier to evade the Vichy antisemitic laws and round-ups. He painted and produced ceramics with his wife, turning out small objects like buttons, earrings and necklaces. While presenting his work, under the assumed name of Fournier, he met Samuel Beckett and painter Henri Hayden, also refugees on the run.

In 1944, when Provence was liberated, the Fidlers returned to Mougins, where he and Edith turned out utilitarian objects like vases, ashtrays, dishes and candle-holders. A daughter, Catherine, was born in 1947, but the couple divorced in 1950 and Fidler moved to Paris where he would work for the next couple of years. In 1952 Fidler resettled in Vallauris where he has regular shows of his work. In those days, he became friends with Picasso and Jacqueline Roque. In 1956 he married his second wife, Edith Ramos, from the Azores, his student in ceramics and then co-worker. The couple had a daughter, Nathalie, in 1956. Fidler returned again to Roussillon in 1969, while travelling frequently across Europe and the Americas. He remained there painting and producing ceramic pieces in Roussillon-en-Provence until his death in 1990.


The deposed king

© Private collection
Your eye will wander as it follows the blue line of the drawing, trying to meet characters whose balance is quite unsteady. A giant’s body is lying on the ground, surrounded by a number of victorious acrobats who dance around his carcass. The giant, a fallen king, is reduced to silence, his mouth is stitched by a series of x’s. His mutilated body is dislocated, his limbs stretched out.
One can make out arms and legs, from which faces seem to be emerging. An elf brandishes a mask, while clawed hands flutter mysteriously around. The naked victor straddles the giant, his arms wide open. His legs seem to be floating in mid-air, like a contortionist’s.
Beaded threads link his body to strange targets. The mutilated giant’s body merges into a labyrinth of graffiti. Two male characters hold the strings of some invisible balloons and, like Atlantes, they use their heads to support the body of the giant. They too are hovering above a woman’s body floating in the air. She has a triangular body, she is a queen whose crown is reduced to three decorative elements. Your eye wanders and travels back toward the left side of the frame. From the right flank of the giant there emerges, totally upright, another character whose limbs are resting upon a bird. Level with his right knee, an eye watches us while a phallus is clearly visible. The bird seems to be surprised at having been thus chosen to support this intricate and harmonious construction.
Eugene Fidler’s drawings are a puzzling wealth of enchantment. What is immediately striking is how firm the line and how balanced the composition are while it is the spontaneity of the artist’s gesture that seems to take precedence over any kind of intellectual [ ] process. This particular drawing, dated 1997, is a perfect illustration of Eugene Fidler’s artistic pursuit. The drawing is essentially ethereal. The giant has been vanquished without resting upon any flat surface. He belongs both to the world of verticality and to that of horizontality. The same applies to the queen below.
The secondary characters often hang like balloons reaching for the sky or resting upon lines that form shapes born out of the artist’s dream world. Their bodies are fragmented and joyously reassembled as if the pencil had had a merry life of its own under the artist’s fingers. The bird also belongs to the mercurial world but here, it serves as a link with the invisible ground.  Who is that fallen king? Who is that naked David? Whose phallus is it? Who is that queen with a sorry crown on her head? Why this seeming peace of mind on every face? Those questions account for the depth of Eugene Fidler’s art. Like a ropedancer he rides the skies, apparently carefree and this is what gives instant charm to his art. Yet, his whimsical world, is by no means superficial. He glides on the rope with incredible ease, without ever fearing heights. He balances between air and earth, he yearns for balance but he cannot resist the lure of breaking it. He reorganises space so as to better master the composition he has chosen to create within his frame. The characters that haunt his drawings, his collages, his watercolours or ceramic work, are all but fantasized pictures of an artist searching for a pictorial answer to his many queries. He celebrates his image but he is always ready to make fun of it. He brandishes the mask showing his face with a dream-like gesture but he also represents himself as a fallen and mutilated giant. He is both David and Goliath.

The Acrobat

Collage, private collection

The collage technique is the means of expression that best suits his artistic quest. The first collages he made in the 60s are a clear illustration of an ethereal approach. Acrobats and ropedancers abound, sylphlike figures they are, dressed in faded colours. The surface of the paper is scratched, sanded down, peeled off, pasted anew, blended with the colourful texture. Faces emerge, limbs come to life, as if they were the remnants of some fresco suddenly brought out in full daylight. Ink marks bring the texture to life and evoke the shape of a leg or an arm. The delicacy of the line and the subtlety of the surface conjure up a kind of musical sensuality. There is a harmony in the brown, the blue and the ochre hues enhanced by rosy brushstrokes. The pasted paper has the softness of skin, and suddenly, almost by accident, a date, a word, the fragment of a headline, the yellowish tint of a newspaper clipping, leave the mysterious trace of an unfinished business on paper.
The artist does not fear what is left unfinished; rather, he celebrates it. The texture fades away, and so does the body. The movement is lost in mid-air, and is replaced by the emotion of life, thus captured and fixed within a secret and magnetic vibration. The collage is signed, finished, but it is about to live a life of its own, in a flutter of colours, words and silent melodies.


Collage, private collection

Collage, private collection

© Private collection


Selected bibliography

Eugène Fidler, artiste libre, Biro Éditeur, Paris, France, 2010

EUGÈNE FIDLER - Terres mêlées, Cathie Fidler, Éditions Ovadia, Nice, France, 2016

Cathie Fidler presenting her book at the  Nucéra city library 
in Nice, France, November 2016, © FZ

A master craftsman in the art of the collage, an amazing watercolourist, a stunning ceramicist, Eugene Fidler is part of my own inner world and I hope he will become part of yours, too.

Texts and lay-out, Jacques Lefebvre-Linetzky
Warmest thanks to the Atelier Fidler

Atelier Fidler, click here

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