Max Charvolen


June 15 - July 29, 2023

Max Charvolen


June 15 - July 29, 2023


The Ceysson & Bénétière Gallery in Lyon is pleased to announce its next exhibition dedicated to Max Charvolen from June 15 to July 29, 2023.
Opening on Thursday, June 15 from 6 pm.

Max Charvolen: beauty as a surprise 

Charvolen's work comes from afar, with rare coherence and authenticity. In Nice, at the turn of the 1970s, like his companions from INterVENTION, his friends from the group 70, and the people from Supports-Surfaces, he began by questioning the painting as a space for representation – representing the outside world or the expressive representation of oneself. With critical asceticism, the idea was to call attention to the components of the painting, to make an inventory of its materials and to explore the conditions under which it is shown and experienced within a space (a gallery, a museum, a collector’s home). 

At the end of the 1970s, Charvolen moved on to analyze another type of space, architectural space, by glueing pieces of fabric on to parts of an architectural structure, following its planes, edges and contours - the steps of a staircase, the voussoirs of a vault, the edges of a ceiling, etc. He marked the planes and components using different colors, apparently unconcerned by which colors he chose. He then proceeded to pull off all the fabric, taking care that it came off in one piece. It would then be spread out, cut and flattened so it could be shown on a wall. That’s the process and he hasn’t changed it since…from 1979 to the 2020s, for over forty years, working with obstinacy and rigor that remind us of Viallat applying his bean-shaped imprint so that it proliferates endlessly on all imaginable materials. 

Nonetheless, an important change took place as of 2009. While working on large-size interior or exterior architectural spaces, in July 2009 a request from Avignon led him to quickly create seventeen works scattered in-situ throughout the city. The result was a set of smaller sized paintings (at least, when compared to earlier works) that took fragments of the city, of life and of spaces everywhere. The shapes were still strange and crooked, but far less torn, dispersed, or ramified, and they can more easily be compared to paintings. 

A joyful release of color occurred at the same time: soft greens, Matissian pinks and blues, sunny or misty yellows, reds in all variations, even cardinal, and thick black outlines holding in the surfaces. This time the reference to painting is neither nostalgic, nor anachronistic, nor antiquated, but happy and free. Since then, Charvolen has continued along the path of these "fragments" or "details" of construction. The approach has remained true to itself, and to the concepts of the Group 70, but his painting is liberated and joyful. The austere Charvolen is - yet is no longer - the same. 

So far, I have spoken of painting without considering color. The thing is, Charvolen has said all along, "My colors are arbitrary, and so I don't look for symbolism or expressiveness in them." (…) I remain voluntarily dependent on the structure of the building”. He repeated this in 2018: "My colors are arbitrary - without symbolic or expressive value", "my relationship to color is functional. It marks positions." The experience of moving around inside Avignon contributed to liberating his use of color. 

I have been increasingly struck over the years by the beauty of Charvolen's works. The "blind" inventiveness of his compositions, their surprising cutouts, their delicate or clashing colors, the barely legible trace of spaces that have been lived in and passed through, all this contributes to producing a peculiar atmosphere where frontal position and immersion combine. One of the virtues of Charvolen's work is that it has never given up the austere principles it started with but, nevertheless, it surprises the eye with its dissonant and consistently unexpected shapes, colors and arrangements. 

At this point some recollections of his formative years come to mind: his discovery of Free Jazz and the way it crumbles and deconstructs the melody, his interest in repetitive music, or the importance of Matisse's cut-out papers, such as “The Snail” or “The Sorrows of the King”. We may be rationalist and austere but, even in restraint and the ‘nearly nothing’, pleasure prevails. When we see nothing, what do we see? Charvolen asks today. The answer is: the radiant fragility of beauty as a surprise. 

Charvolen is not a whimsical Pagès, an ironical Saytour, a primitivist Viallat, a minimalist Pincemin, or an anarchistic Dolla. He fearlessly follows a logic, first of the deconstruction, then of the construction or re-construction of representational space. Any irony or whimsy is obviously "unknown to his own free will", for one must notice that for a "constructor" inspired by Léger, his approach results in works that remain quite strange. They are at times disarranged, broken up, radiating, then on the contrary sometimes wisely organized. In other words, reason can be a good excuse, but it can play funny tricks. This can remind us of the tricks that Oulipian practices play on authors in literature: neither anything more serious and settled nor anything more unbelievable. Sometimes Charvolen is a bit like Buster Keaton: by dint of his seriousness, he surpasses the limits. 

Yves Michaud 


Artist : Max Charvolen

Visitor Information

Ceysson & Bénétière
21 rue Longue
69001 Lyon

Gallery hours:
Tuesday - Saturday
11am - 6pm
T: +33 4 27 02 55 20