PressJacques Braunstein, painter of the unusual and provocation

Took on by the Barbier-Belz gallery in Paris, the work of Braunstein is unusual and provoking and cannot leave us indifferent.

TO ENTER the office or the studio of Jacques Braunstein, it’s being captured: by the unusual and provoking atmosphere coming from the objects of his creative cult: bound, twisted, hobnailed, stabbed, distressed figurines, crucifix topped by the Star of David, busts and sacred books from whence feathers and talons surface.
The black, the white, the red, the gold, the ashes as alchemy, “Dance of death”. “The 7 Mourners”. “Shadow point”, a huge black sun of 99 dark figures tormented and wrapped with tied cords. “About a detail” comments the artist without insisting. In subtitle: “Then, he tells me “Son of Man”. “Those bones, it’s the entire house of Israël”..

“To bear witness and preserve an history”


On the ground, the eye colluds to another memorial. We are feeling dizzy looking up to discover the scope : black anthropomorhic figurines wrapped in tied white cord, buried in 99 boxes. Each one has the name of a dead person from the Shoah! (Reference of Serge Klarsfeld)
“My quest is not only plastic, explains the artist, the plasticity is my language to bear witness and preserve a memory”. His work demands a total involvement : affective, sensitive, corporal, intellectual, cultural.
Plastic artist by nature and from schooling, his work is eminently plastic. But it doesn’t respond to standards. Freed, it invents his own constraints: his references rely on powerful symbols found in the archetypes drawn from the memory of man. It borrows from alchemy for the colors, to the habits of the western magic or far-off tribes and civilizations, to the numerous religious rituals, to the witchcraft.
But we can’t try to understand Jacques Braunstein without situating him in his jewishness. He explains himself that his work is the result of the awareness of his jewishness after “The Holocaust”. “That’s what is essential”, he admits. This is also what allows him to have an outlook on the Christ: “…Like a jew seeking to understand another jew, and not just any!” We are struck by the permanency of the assimilation of the martyrdom of Christ with the Shoah, in his work.
The artist knows himself shattered, tormented, rebellious by human cruelties. He nurtures the souvenir so that nothing vanishes, so that their scars awaken consciousness: “As if I was urged by a multitude of voices, imperious, pleading, gentle and persuasive whispering: “Do this in memory of me,…of me,… of me…”
So that the work “built in the fantasies of the night and in the fog of the dawn” has to mull over inside of him for a long time, to feed from his experience, to immerse himself in what possesses him and get it out of his memory.
At the beginning, the artist had a figurative practice. The miserabilism of Francis Gruber influence his painting. Then it was the lyric abstraction. His masters are Marc Tobey, Jean Dubuffet, Riopelle. In 1968, reconsideration of his individual and artistic values. From 1969 to 1976, wasteland, ripening, rebellion toward religion regarding God.
Recovery of artistic activity: reformatting of what should be the fourteen stations of a way of Cross (and of cruelty) really special. Martyrized figures, hobnailed, stabbed, burnt, disabled, imprisoned. The fourteen stations are passed and “The way of the Cross becomes a way of belief!”
His mystical aptitude instills in him a taste for exegesis: texts, prophecies, psalms nourish his reflection. The archetypes assert themselves to strike better and call to mind, to involve the spectator. The artist self-measures. Art is not nourished by art anymore, but from the periphery: ethnology, exegesis, literature, occultism, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, magic rituals. Its creation and its realization are an ascericism, in line with the space and time necessary to gin millions of knots on cords, his base material, like a rosary, to wrap and mummify hundreds of figurines.
The artist does not hold everything, the work has an esoteric content. It does not constitute an answer, but opens to a plural questioning. With Elie Wiesel, he attempts to “preserve a memory”.
His work is nourished by the reference to the sacred, “…wounded, crucified, it is all bloody from the mark of the Holocaust: pain, it reveals the moment of passage”, he writes. With Annick de Souzenelle, he agrees that “The sacred is only discovered at the boundary of the sacrilege”.
To profane is to admit the power of God. “Jacob fought all night with the One sent by the Lord to deserve in the morning to be called Israel. He was scarred in his flesh”. To the artist, this is how the destiny of Israel has been forged.

From the École Boulle to Nancy


At 57 years old, Jacques Braunstein was born in the Paris region to Romanian parents. Graduated from the École Boulle, he practices for twenty years the profession of designer with international enterprises and financial groups, producing a personal pictorial work.
Following a competitive exam, he is appointed in 1975, director of the Regional Fine-Arts School of Nantes, then another competitive exam gave him access to the direction of the National Fine-Arts School of Nancy.
Painter, he took part from 1958 to 1983 in twelve collective exhibitions.
To present his art work in an individual exhibition in Paris, he waited to be able to choose among 200 art pieces, twelve years of production. His last work “Lilith” (Satan’s wife), trying to seduce God himself. Covered by a wall of silence, the breast bare, red and provoking.
Yet another work to interpret positively in its monstrous representation: “Like the reading of a photographer contemplating his negative, sure of the photo print result he will obtain”.
“We cannot refuse to face pain for from that the energy of the spirit arises” explains Yves Regnery, regarding this strong work, disturbing, absolutely original.

article published in L’Est Républicain