A language of light

For 50 years Alfred Manessier has been one of France's leading artists. His ''Walk in the Gardens,'' sometimes called an abstract painting, might be more precisely termed nonfigurative. It is actually the very essence of nature, evoking the beauty of flowers in bloom.

The title in French, ''Promenade dans les hortillonnages,'' provides a clue to the subject's location. In Picardy people designate market gardens ''hortillons,'' and everybody knows ''Roses are blooming in Picardy.'' Does memory of that song bring thoughts of flowers and mornings in spring? The magical colors and the glorious light are sufficient of themselves to incite dreams.

The picture is a jubilation. With an evident joy of painting, Manessier, master of subtle chromatic harmonies, dares perilous blends and contrasts. His beloved blues accent golden yellows and rosy reds or combine with them in luscious violets or dreamy sea-greens, and there are delicate oranges. Luminosity plays over the whole surface without forming shadows. A strange fascinating vision evolves.

Darker areas in the photograph may refer to the blue sky or its murky reflections in nearby marshes and inlets of the English Channel. Manessier is involved at present in a series based on visual emotions experienced when, as a child, he visited his grandparents in the old northern French province.

We have long been attracted to Manessier's pictures, because they offer such delight to our eyes and minds. We share his admiration for the cathedral of Chartres, with its fabulous windows. The cathedral has been a sort of leitmotif for Manessier throughout his career.

Some influences still apparent in his work are Gothic nobility, a tendency to ascending forms, and intense blues. He has designed and executed stained glass windows for several churches in Switzerland and France.

Some years ago Manessier opted for a pictorial language based on light and color without any suggestion of perspective, volume, or the third dimension. He remains in close contact with nature; the studio walls are covered with sketches and ideas developed from them. Identifying sources is simplified by Manessier's custom of giving a referential title to each composition.

A special technique adds interest to the surface. He slowly presses the brush on the painting, often superimposing one color on another and only partly covering it.

Manessier's interior life must be intense. Generally, on encountering a motif , he lets much time elapse before an idea becomes a painting. He has an uncanny ability to evoke previous sensations poetically and possesses the artistic drive to provide a way for others to feel them also.

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