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Mural painting

Certainly, it seems that there are still many painters who share the intellectual aberration which treats decorative painting as the poor ancestor of the chamber painting, of the picture, for which all virtues and honours are still reserved.  Among the 'non figuratives' there are many who are attached to the picture and who express contempt for mural painting, for decorative painting.  Is there not in this attitude and in these declarations, leaving aside the deep ignorance they show of the object of their scorn, a tendency to perpetuate that spirit of individualism which has made fools of so many of us?  The truth of the matter is that it is mural decorative painting which answers, in every way, to the needs of popular painting; that it requires men who know their craft; that it demands the hierarchy of the workshop; it needs the master, the worker [companion] and the apprentice, being, as it is, all order and subordination; that neither words nor diversions can substitute for it; that it is useful and takes its place in everyone's everyday life; that, consequently, it is freely accessible and human.  Mural painting poses a host of problems that the elaboration of the picture will never know since the latter is abandoned to the moods and humour of the artist and worked out empirically - without the support of a craft, which is handed on traditionally - through methods, procedures, ways of doing things which have no certainty about them and which, most of the time, soon reveal how troublesome their nature is.

There has, however, been some concern in recent years with mural painting, as a certain number of structures [bâtiments] - I do not say 'buildings' [édifices] - have been raised which seemed to call for it.  The scorn which so many painters have affected with regard to decorative painting begins to appear rather suspect given the ease and enthusiasm with which we see them scrambling after such commissions.  As soon as the occasion presents itself, all their scruples vanish.  It is a good sign and shows that the hunt after what is natural is beginning to turn into a gallop.  Let us only hope that the results will be worthy of the task that has been undertaken, and that the walls will not become pretexts for pieces of individual delirium or insolent figurative provocations.  For the property which is specific to mural art, and this is what distinguishes it from the poster, is to put the man who is at rest into movement, while the poster aims to bring the man who is in movement to a stop.  

This property of putting the man at rest into movement was, at least, what was asked of mural painting traditionally, and that is why the religious epochs, ontologically active, used it so abundantly - non-figurative, objective paintings; plainsong, made of linear, coloured, interlacing and melody; objective paintings implying also the signs of an iconographical language answering to the need for stories and to the need for symbols by which, for one and for all, a transcendental and supernatural reality could appear.  In sum, painting useful to the service of Man and of God.  The painting-object which is demanded when we banish the subject - 'harmony of lines and colours, melody and counterpoint'  is it not, with all the modes of expression it allows, the true mural art, subject to its own distinctive rules, and to the authority of architecture understood in its most noble dignity - 'architektonike' - 'versed in the sacred art'.  

Painting-picture, mural painting; these are, already, two of the modes which painting is obliged to address.  No personal point of view can have anything to say against that, the more so when we try to imagine the future of non-figurative painting - more precisely, objective painting : that which emphasises painting and its natural developments, and which places the human and his emotions into the context of their own epic reality.  

There are other modes to which it is equally suitable.  It would be madness to confine it to being only this and not that.  The painters of other times were, even during the classical centuries, men of culture, knowing their craft well enough to be able to extract from it a host of applications which they did not consider in any way unworthy of them..  They were capable of painting cartoons for tapestries, taking account first of all of the conditions in which they would be executed, that is to say, knowing how, while painting them, to adapt them to the colours in use at the time.  They did not scorn the task of designing patterns for clothes and for wall papers, illuminating books etc. etc.  When anyone asked them to do something, they did not wrap themselves up in an infantile vanity to avoid what I, for one, would regard as their duty.  The painter's craft was so large in terms of all the things it enabled one to do that it could not possibly be shut up in the limits of a sort of intellectual onanism in which, at bottom, the agony of the man-dust of the present day is barely able to conceal itself.  Objective painting, painting which once again becomes painting - it must be tirelessly repeated - requires serious knowledge on the part of the man who agrees to become a painter.  It also opens many doors that are closed to the artist because he has refused to be a craftsman and is paralysed by superstitions which have no foundation in the reality of things.  

It is also - and this follows from what has already been said - the painter's role to know a certain number of technical procedures.  To confine oneself uniquely to the use of oils is, again, to accept the narrowest of the conventions passed on from Humanism  .  Other techniques are available, bringing diversity and quality to painting.  Just because they have been neglected, do we imagine that they have lost their value?  Fresco painting, painting with size, with wax.  And even mosaic.  Would it not be good just to think about them, even if the age in which we are living is no longer capable of understanding what purpose they fulfilled, socially?  No-one can say that there will never be any occasion in the future, tomorrow, in a world that has been reconquered for Man, a world in which painters are, once again, useful, to have recourse to the material truths which they embody.  Real painting is a means of advancing towards Perfection, as much for the painter as for those who contemplate it.  Perfection does not refuse any beautiful technique since beauty is one of its attributes.  The body of painting, its flesh, which is in colours, must, already, be perfect.  That is where the real sensuality lies, which sight can, truly, fully experience in painting once it has been returned to its nature.  

Let there be no mistake about this.  We must, simply, know how to guide the senses, not to give them any more than is necessary, so that, once they are satisfied, they can climb the steps that lead finally to light, to the transcendent spirit.  Materials which are too seductive, and the systematic choice of aggressive materials, must, equally, be condemned, for reasons which are very easy to understand.  If the first are used abusively, the senses, weighed down and submissive, hold the soul back; if one affects to use only aggressive materials, the senses rebel and sympathy is withheld from the start.  As in every human adventure which is to embrace all the degrees of being, the prudent rule is always measure, balance, the golden mean.

The Eucharist, c1952. Fresco painting for the chapel of the Jesuit seminary at Chantilly, painted by R.M.Burlet and a team of specialists under the direction of Albert Gleizes. This was the only one of several mural projects proposed by Gleizes that was actually realised.