Thévoz (Michel) : Louis Soutter ou l’écriture du désir

At the beginning of a socially promising career and a rather conventional body of work, Louis Soutter (1871-1942) was the victim - or beneficiary ? - of an existential breakdown that deprived him of everything, wife, career, fortune, and condemned him to spend most of his life in an asylum. But this social disaffection was to result in an extraordinary artistic liberation, which led him to produce, in virtual secrecy, a body of work that ranks him among the major artists of the twentieth century - and which leads to the hypothesis of a non-pathological madness.

2022 / 11,5x16cm / 416 p. / ISBN : 978-2-85035-080-1

Date de publication : 25 mai 2022

The art historian and sociologist Pierre Francastel liked to declare that it had become absurd to write an artist’s monograph today. By this he meant that structural ethnology, sociology, psychoanalysis and linguistics, as they have developed over the last half-century, have outlived the concept of the creative individual as the absolute and sovereign origin of the work of art. It would therefore be appropriate to use more relevant units of analysis.
M. Thévoz has repeatedly proven the accuracy of this remark in the course of his work, which is a demonstration of this. Indeed, he has constantly ’gone beyond’ his subject. His analyses can sometimes be applied to other works, or they pose more general problems. Why then did he persist in dealing with one artist ? Precisely because, with Soutter, we are dealing with a particularly "centrifugal" case, more resistant than any other to the categories and procedures of aesthetics, and more apt to lead us into fertile digressions. So we could say, as Magritte did : this is not a monograph.
The first part of this study, entitled "Le suicide antérieur", is both documentary and methodological. It begins with a biography, in which numerous direct testimonies of people who knew Louis Soutter are inserted. Given the importance of certain psychological or sociological determinations in this case, as much information as possible is collected.
In the second chapter of this first part, an initial psychological and sociological interpretation of these documents is proposed, making it clear that, in such a complex case, it can only be a matter of conjecture. Finally, through a critical reading of the works and texts already published on Louis Soutter, an overall view of the work is sketched out and the author poses the problem of its links with the artistic tradition and context, adding some methodological considerations.
The second part, entitled "L’écriture du désir", is devoted to the study of the graphic elaboration and the plastic agents. It highlights the psychomotor origin of the line, the relationship of the imaginary space with that of the body, the anagrammatic structure of the figures, and the analogy between the scenography of drawings and that of dreams.
In the third part, "La figure et le texte", M. Thévoz begins with an iconographic survey of the main themes. He then sets out to highlight their metaphorical convertibility, as well as the underlying action of certain "prefigurative" schemes that ensure this convertibility. Finally, after an analysis of the complex relationships between figures and inscriptions, he shows that Soutter’s production as a whole can be assimilated to an indefinitely expansive plastic writing : its origin is lost in the psychophysiological darkness, and it continues its movement beyond the drawing itself in the reading that it engages. It thus exceeds and questions the terms on which aesthetic analysis is usually based : the work, the artist, the real.

Michel Thévoz was born in Lausanne in 1936. A philosopher and art historian close to Dubuffet, he was curator of the Collection de l’Art Brut from its foundation in 1976 until 2001. He has published some thirty works, notably on the art of madmen, suicide, spiritism, infamy, the reflection of mirrors, the pathology of the frame and the "Vaudois syndrome".

Foreign Rights

L’Atelier contemporain attempts to publish books of art and literature and books which associate artists and writers, with the concern to revive a dialogue between the literary and plastic arts.
The ambition is to explore the « paths of the création » through five collections gathered within the company : essays on art, written by artists, conversations and correspondences, monographs, and literature.