There is a not-to-be-missed solo exhibition of Jean-Claude Baissac’s work at the Excellence of Art gallery in the Nautica Building, Riviere Noire. He brings together Africa and Mauritius in an exhibition that breathes both beauty and something ever-surprising. The exhibition is beautifully hung, too, by Christian Mermoud and Eric Bonne in the exceptional gallery they own and look after. And because of the gallery’s mezzanine, you get to see Jean-Claude Baissac’s work from different points of view, adding to the enjoyment of the exhibition.
Whether Jean-Claude Baissac is working within the formal frame of rectangular and square frames, or spilling out as in some of the work, or in playful sculptures that beg to be touched and cradled like the two amazing bultang, or an installation placed as naturally by the door as an umbrella stand, his work combines these two words: beauty and surprise. These words do not often go together. Beauty is often associated with something being as it “had to be”, while Jean-Claude’s work is different from what had to be. It combines forms, colours, symbols that you know and recognize – his own whole symbolism – the particular construction of each work is also wholly surprising.
Using different materials and tools, and in a single exhibition using now pure black-and white like the regatta, or nearly black and white, in some, like the fish, or with greys meshed in like the series of “tourtrelles”, “lizards” and … , bright take-it-or-leave-it colour, as in the “Yellow dog”, or pastels as ephemereal as fibre-optic curved tubes with unrecognizable or maybe infinite beginnings and endings, or a kind of luminosity that made a child at the exhibition comment accurately, “It’s as though there is a light behind that painting up there!” And there are two papier mache paintings, some symbols that keep cropping up, some creeping in, and phrases that when you read them transport you into the realm of that utter abstraction that only words can do. And as you comprehend, as you understand, as you very cerebrally think about these works – the thinking itself is a pleasure – there is often a sudden under-tow of emotion that hits you. And this is what adds to the element of surprise, and to the feeling of confronting beauty.
Dan travay Jean-Claude Baissac, ena sa eleman sirpriz ki nu gayne, sa lemosyon ki ris nu kuma enn vag ki pe returne dan gran lamer. Ena enn lenerzi dan so travay. Parfwa, kan mo get enn so travay, li kuma enn resor ki sote dan mwa, e li kontiyn vibre apre kan mo pe gete, e mem apre, kan mo revisit li dan mo memwar.
Kapav li vo lapenn get de-trwa tablo enn par enn, pu sey konpran ki ena ladan ki fer li osi sezisan.
Ena seki pli gran. Li ranpli ar ti-kare, ki pu kapav interes u lizye pandan enn lavi. Sakenn ena enn sinbol, sirtu Afrikin ladan. U kapav res gete-get mem. Me, lerla u truve ki ena trwa kurb kuler ki travers sa bann kare la, ruz, ver, zonn, e zot fer sa striktir rizid (tablo la) paret kuma latwal, enn latwal ki labriz pe traverse, ubyen enn latwal ki soley lor letan finn tir kuler kot ena pli. Ena kiksoz vivan ladan. E seki etonan, seki enn sirpriz, se sa bann kare-la zot abitye byen suvan dan latwal mem dan Lafrik Ostral ek Lafrik de Lwes.
Dezyem tablo, en enn lot, pli tipti, ki ena kare-kare, e serten sa bann kare la, zot briye, zot ena lalanp deryer, ena enn “glow” ki sorti dan zot, kan tu leres zot kuma enn nyaz finn pase lor enn peyzaz. Jean-Claude Baissac pe rapel Gauguin.
Trwazyem tablo, “Gratsyel”, li montre enn “skyline” batiman lor batiman, ti-kare lor ti-kare. Zot vertikal. E lerla seki solid, kumans fonn. Parski sa bann gratsyel la, zot ena form seliloyd, kuma ansyen seri negatif fim, ubyen serten paret aplati, kot zot lur, kuma sime-rel, orizontal. E sa lemosyon kri ki ris u dan tablo, li sirman akoz depi Twin Towers 9/11, bann gratsyel nepli osi solid ki sa. Alor, enn tablo ki enn bot exki, li anmemtan efreyan. Li expoz frazilite extrem nu sivilizasyon modern. Seki vertikal, macho, dominn lorizon, for, dibut kapav enn ku aplati, kumans gondole, kraze, al andeor kad. Alor, li pa etonan nu gayn sa kuran emosyonel ki ris nu, kan nu get li.
Katriyem, li deborde ar limur. Ala get tem Morisyen. Jean-Claude apel li “Black Penny”, me zis so nom, li ena buku jok ladan. Normalman ena 2 tem byen koni, apel “Penny Black” (pa dan lot lord)
ki ti premye tem kolan dan listwar lemond, li date depi 1840 par la, ek lerla ena “Penny Blue”, seki fer Moris gayn grander partu dan lemond, tem le pli ser dan lemond, e anfet premye tem andeor Langleter dan lanpir Britanik, date otur 1847 par la, e natirelman tulde ena Larenn Viktoria lor zot. Me, “bad penny” (setadir kot gayn azektif avan), li osi vedir kiksoz. E tit la rapel nu sa osi. Li ule dir enn kiksoz ki tultan pe re-aparet. Setadir, akoz li enn “fos larzan” (“bad penny”), tu dimunn sey debaras li osi vit ki posib, alor li sirkile pli vit. E, “Penny Blue”, li osi enpe “ubiquitous” dan Moris, tultan pe tann koz li. Me, sa enn lot jok, parski sa “Penny Blue”, li vo plis larzan ki nerport ki lot tem ki filatelist rode. Sa li enn nivo jok. Me, ena enn lot nivo limur. Apre sa Penny Blue Morisyen la, ki deza ti enn gravure enpe bizar profil Larenn Viktoria, finn ena dan 12 an ki swiv, enn seri nuvo edisyon tire Moris-mem, ki apel bann “primitif” akoz zot telman “malfer”, ubyen, pli sir, zot ti pe sikann Larenn Britanik ek so lanpir. Antuka, ena enn kot li paret kuma enn misye ek enn mustas, ek enn lot kot li paret kuma enn “tete de singe”, kuma dimunn alepok ti met li. Sa bann tem la, pena pu dir, ena buku valer zordi, zot osi. Me, telman zot ti bizar, ki enn gran ekrivin lor tem kumansman 20yem Syek finn dir “sa tem la li pli gran difamasyon kont nu chere feu Reine Victoria ki finn deza perpetre”. Anfet, Jean-Claude so “Black Penny”, li kapav, asterla, vinn pli gran difamasyon kont larenn.
So, you see, a collectors item for philatelists, become a symbol of great wit, in Baissac’s work, and it blends in with his other symbols, making something so surprising, so pleasing, that you can have a belly laugh.
In a similar vein, the beautiful bronze of “Chazal”, as iconic a figure as the Penny Blue, created with the minimalist form imaginable, and having a dialogue in the exhibition with a found piece, a coral that seems to be what De Chazal has become or will become.
In his exhibition, alongside the catalogue, are two rare copies of children’s books that Jean-Claude wrote and illustrated when he was in South Africa, where half of his life was spent. They, too, are evocative stories, with divine illustrations. Do not miss them if you go to the exhibition. It will be on all week.
And amongst the institutional buyers who have collected Jean-Claude Baissac’s work, what is most impressive, perhaps more than the banks and insurance companies, is the South African Rugby Union. Because sportsmen in general, and rugby players in particular, fear art. But Jean-Claude’s art does not inspire that kind of fear. It makes your mind work, and it brings in your emotions, and, most of all, it gives the viewer confidence.
His work is generous, expansive, and meticulous. Don’t miss it.
by Lindsey Collen, based on her launch speech on Friday 16 March.
Jean-Claude Baissac is a Lalit supporter.