It wasn’t until 1962, after he’s published a collection of surrealist poems, Au Puits de l’ermite (1959), that Jean-Claude Silbermann began to paint. He began with small-format canvases, then soon evolved with his enseignes sournoises (sinister signs), defined by his friend Alain Joubert as, “automatically painted images cut out of wood and floating on the wall, as if rejecting the farm.” These “signs,” fashioned out of particle board, were intended as signage for nonexistent boutiques that he would have liked to have seen open. Their quaint titles-Au Plaisir des demoiselles, Le Peigne de Jacob, La Maison du passeur, were never explicit, but rather merely suggestive of the kind of wares shops bearing such names might sell.
His first exhibit, in 1964 at Galerie Mona Lisa in Paris, featured a catalog with a preface by André Breton, who believed that Silbermann’s inspiration lay at the crossing of three roads: poetry, freedom and love. Silbermann actively participated in the Eleventh International Exhibition of Surrealism, L’Écart Absolu, in 1965, at the Galerie de L’Œil, where he exhibited Sauve qui peut, “a plan for a sacred offering to a plunderer of shipwrecks.” He also executed the central totem of this exhibition, Le Consommateur, described by Philippe Audouin as “a sort of scarecrow four meters in height, with arms spread wide, made of a monstrous pink mattress, perfectly bordered, hemmed and quilted. An alarm siren replaced his head. His massive gut harbored a front-loading washing machine with “porthole” door, in which newspapers tumbled at intervals. On his back opened a refrigerator, from which a bridal veil escaped.” Silbermann organized and oversaw this collective work, casting the consumer society with scorn, making this Consommateur all the more absurd with its broadcasting of incomprehensible task radio calls. Silbermann was one of the signatories of the Pour un demain joueur (For a playful tomorrow) manifesto, published on May 10, 1967, in L’Archibras, a periodical created after Breton’s death by his remaining disciples, who released ten issues until the journal folded in 1969. The manifesto was the editorial committee’s “internal resolution,” committed to the prevention of banalities and dogma in surrealism. In this spirit, Silbermann continued to create drawings, etchings and objects.
This catalog for his 1984 exhibit at the Chave Gallery in Vence, France, illustrates his evolution. In a conversation with Jean Schuster, published in Opus International (April-May 1991), Silbermann declared, “I have no idea when I commence working…but ultimately…there comes a moment when I ask myself about the meaning of a work, what it is trying to say. As long as I don't ask myself, the ego is eliminated.” He found particular pleasure in drawing: “the pleasure of discovery, of finding.” On the subject of his large symbolic canvas from 1988, Le Oui des femmes (et pour commencer le Oui des homes) [The yes of women (and to begin the yes of men)], he confessed, “I sometimes paint against my will, without pleasure, with fear even. I sometimes paint out of duty to the truth. The superego sometimes allies itself with deeper forces, in order to preserve the expression of the most distant subjectivity, no matter how unpleasant it may seem to me.”
Born 1935 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France.