Guerre mondiale, Beuys s’engage dans l’aviation militaire. Il est victime d’un crash aérien dont il réchappe ; il contractera pourtant une blessure à la tête le rendant localement fortement sensible au froid. Afin de remédier à cette sensibilité, il se coiffe dès lors d’un chapeau de feutre qu’il ne quittera quasiment jamais. Le célèbre couvre-chef devient le symbole du mythe que Beuys construit autour de lui : celui d’un artiste ressuscité, élu du destin, contribuant à édifier l’image d’un personnage exceptionnel et fantasque. En outre, le Portrait de Joseph Beuys présente toutes les caractéristiques de l’art percutant de Combas, qui développe sur la toile un style graphique accusé, délimitant et contaminant le personnage ainsi que le fond du tableau d’un cerne épais et foncé, échafaudant la composition grâce à de larges aplats de couleurs vives et éclatantes – rose, violet, jaune, bleu... La disproportion anatomique, l’inflexion caricaturale, l’abstraction de l’arrière-plan évoquent les différents domaines ayant influencé Combas ; de la bande dessinée au graffiti urbain, de l’art brut à l’imagerie africaine, l’artiste nourrit un intérêt particulier pour les formes d’expression picturale indépendantes. Le bruyant enchevêtrement de masses colorées et de lignes jetées sur la toile aboutit à la création d’une œuvre flamboyante et sonore.
Born in Lyon in 1957, Robert Combas is one of the most renowned painters of the late 20th century. After having followed courses at the Fine Arts School of Montpellier, he rapidly acquired definite recognition. Paradoxically, Combas’ first personal exhibitions were held abroad, in Amsterdam and in Düsseldorf, while his first retrospective, in 1985, took place at the Museum of Sainte-Croix Abbaye in Sables-d’Olones, France. Influenced by comic strips and popular culture in general, as well as rock music, the art of Robert Combas is tainted with irony and a quasi-omnipresent humor, which at times leads to a stroke of the grotesque. The brazen nature of his work is demonstrated by the diversity of the genres and themes with which he engages, from classic new millennium portraits to societal or historical subjects, as well as a certain attraction towards religion and esotericism, as of the late 1980s. As of 1981, Robert Combas joined the Figuration Libre movement, an expressive form invented by the artist Ben, and which held its first exhibition in a Parisian apartment the very same year. At the start of the 1980s it included a dozen artists before limiting itself to a group of four friends: Combas, François Boisrond, Hervé di Rosa, and Rémi Blanchard. Without any kind of joint esthetic program or set paradigm, this foursome was nevertheless driven by a joint ambition to return art to the general
public through concrete means in order to break away from the close-minded intellectualism of the 1970s, as occurred with Minimalism and Conceptualism, and advocate for a deliberate return to figuration. Despite evident stylistic differences, the members of Figuration Libre all took a new look at contemporary popular culture, its advertising, and other images, which fostered their art and led to bursts of color and the inclusion of surprising objects and figures. The painting we are presenting today is a portrait of German artist Joseph Beuys, who made significant art of a singular nature with completely independent means. Beuys was as much known for his work as for his unique story and appearance of his own design. Robert Combas chose to depict him by emphasizing the felt hat that Beuys always wore. The story goes that during the Second World War Beuys enlisted in military aviation. Later he was involved in a plane crash and he sustained a head injury that caused a lasting after-effect of high local cold sensitivity. In order to counter this sensitivity he began to sport a felt hat with which he would thenceforth practically never part ways. His famed headgear became a symbol of the myth Beuys had conjured ar