Scratches in time
Original text by Anne Cesbron-Fourrier
She wanted to write about her work, her background, people who have been influential on her work. Charlotte Massip finally entrusted a close friend to tell her story. Together they went back in time, reopened diaries, ran into chisels, steel points, her print-press, literature, and masters that this engraver, who has made Bordeaux her home, has met before.
First she is asked about this new year, starting from its first projects to 2017’s exquisite unknown predictions and resolutions. Drawing will be Charlotte’s first project. This is it: she’s about to grab her pens again! She’s going to glue, she’s even going to paint!
Charlotte has been engraving ever since she studied at the principal graduate printing school in Paris: the École Estienne. At that time, the newly graduated teenager started discovering copper plates, scratches and incisions. Yet Charlotte missed drawing and in 1991 she headed to Claude Lapointe’s class at Les Arts Déco in Strasbourg where she watched her friends’ handling of tempera.
Painstakingly, she worked flat-out with her old ball-point pens in hand – the very same ones she used when she was little, a flashback from her childhood. The curly-haired Parisian used to fly the family-owned hot air balloon, she also devoured art books at that time, she dug up anatomical slides at second-hand book stores, the ‘bouquinistes’ on the banks of the Seine. The ever-moving city of Paris swept the runaway artist along. Holding a map of the Metro, she used to run the streets in which nothing stands still and everything is a source of inspiration. The teenager experimented with both plaster and paintcans. Her first master: Tapiès. This whirlwind of ecstatic discoveries was suddenly blocked by the disapproval of her architect father and she was told to draw! She obeyed.
Then came a shock: she found her true expression through Fred Deux and Domenico Gnoli.
This was now the time for details; hyper-realism, infinite lattices, filled with “stitches, thread and bits of rope”. Drawing made her focus again, allowing her to breathe anew, a ‘meditative state’.
She sat. In cafés, at theatres, she sketched. “I felt as if I was seeing better, listening better when I had my sketchbook… I felt closer to the actor or the musician while drawing”. Charlotte was 15. She was reading André Breton, Georges Bataille and discovered Hans Bellmer.
After Paris and Strasbourg, the young artist settled in the Balearic islands for several years. She had now made drawing her official job for more than ten years. Barefoot on the deck of an old sailing boat, she kept a tight ship. Majestic palm trees, luxurious hotels and Palma’s gothic church would cover the front side of many a postcard. Even today, when need be, she returns to Majorca’s light and warmth.
The continental ‘comeback’ took place in Paris. She met a neighbour whose job was printing. Charlotte engraved and sold her small-format works not far from the Canal St Martin. Then she started work on anatomy:“my dissected bodies”, Charlotte continued. Here she exploited André Vesale’s anatomies and autopsies, as well as naked flesh and Fragonard’s powerful artistic experiments. She was also accompanied in that deep exploration by Marcel Moreau’s sensual writings:
“I touch so many things since my skin has been peeled off, that I can even touch the veneer of the appearance, which lasts as long as an illusion. I can crack it, I can bleed it, lynch it, nervously pollute it with my intramuscular, chromatic and other treasures exhumed from orgasm-liquified bodies: a state summarized by Henri Michaux”(‘Connaissance par les gouffres’, extract by Marcel Moreau).
Happiness : an honour to be invited for a one-year residence at the La Casa de Velasquez, the Académie de France in Madrid. Charlotte was welcomed here where she met two important printer-artists: Juan Lara and Julio Leon.“They gave me the keys to go further.” Photo-engraving being one of them, those who read the plates and caress them. “To reveal the truth. Intaglio-engraved”. Charlotte tackled large-sized engravings, a series of female martyred saints, baroque beauties. The six-foot tall Saint Agueda, Justa, Ruffina, Inès, Ursula, Lucia and Margarita’s bodies, whose organs, bones, agonies, and entrails devouring monsters come out.
To female sufferings, the artist gave herself up. These revealed, tortured interiors told of the evil, misunderstanding and violence that are necessary, even where desire and beauty were expressed. Somother hood tears one apart, love gnaws and tears one apart. Plates are a sort of therapy, a hands-on therapy. With meticulousness, with the extreme slowness of detail, mentally, the words are posed as the plate is scratched, manipulated, and the acid enters the scene. “My landscape is the human body.” And Charlotte immersed herself in those guts, darknesses, and shadows.
She recently came to know engraver Philippe Mohlitz in the city of Bordeaux where she now lives. Ink drawings fascinate Charlotte, as do the chiselled lines of the brilliant coppersmith artist. She recalls Jose Hernandez, well-known in Madrid, whose monstrous portrait hangs on her wall.
She also says a colourful new energy has come out. Charlotte wants to draw. She’s torn with fear yet caught by its challenge. She dreams of abstraction and projects herself. Later, in a long time from now, she imagines herself without any table or room grappling with another dimension, that of nature. Will the bodies of men and women always express themselves? Other forces will certainly populate the artist’s landscapes.
For now, Charlotte is getting ready for an important deadline. Funnily enough, it’s beside Fred Deux that we will find her in spring, at the Abbaye de Beaulieu en Rouergue for a tribute to the one who – let’s not forget it! -‘revealed’ her true calling .
At first glance, Charlotte Massip’s watercoloured etchings have something fascinating about their naturalistic aspect, which, as you approach, reveal a multiplicity of worlds offered with an exacerbated attention to detail.
The artist, born in 1971, trained at the Estienne School of Printing and then at the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts, offers an incessant and vertiginous return journey between macrocosm and microcosm by following the path of the human body.
From scientific linearity, we move on to an unbridled baroque universe that recalls surrealism with joy. We must take time in front of each of these “dissected” people, who lead us into a fantastic and dreamlike world.
Charlotte Massip invites us to a permanent questioning on the visible reality and the gap between it and its representation. For her, the body is as much a material as a reflection, an object of study as a subject of thought and in her work the two remain constantly overlapping. Her incisive eye finds in the technique of engraving, both sharp and intimate, the most appropriate tool.
The engravings of Charlotte Massip
Carlos Garcia-Alix 2014
I saw Charlotte Massip’s prints for the first time in the Ogami Press studio run by Juan Lara. Surprise, admiration, worry, sensuality, beauty. An unshackled imagination bubbles and runs along the acid-bitten lines, sinuous burns of an inner fire that appears in a vertical direction. Ancient echoes, Atlanteans and Caryatids, which once supported the architect of the heavens.
And these bodies that Charlotte Massip offers us show us with indifference and without modesty their anatomy, their organs, their sex, their cartilage, their bones. “Organic receptacles of my moods,”says the artist. Strange beings, in any case, coming from a surrealist and baroque heraldry, an intimate mythology that is also fed by a tradition to which Charlotte gives first and last names: Hans Bellmer, Richt Miller, Rudolf Schlitter, Fred Deux, Domenico Gnoli, Jose Hernandez, André Breton, Georges Bataille, Mikhail Boulgakov. These are the stars of her training that illuminate from afar these bodies that know they are mortal, condemned to decomposition, and that keep the memory of pleasure and pain, impermanence and the absurd, solemnity and grotesque. Bodies with butterfly heads, emaciated skeletons wearing old shoes, passwords of tireless travellers, between life and death, or vagrants of a dream that decomposes, as in a kaleidoscope. Expression of the love of detail in the work of this artist and material revelation, of a strong and determined gesture of the tip of the steel point, the uncertain dialogue between thinking and doing.
And by blinking between these lines and spots, we discover fear, the unusual, chance, the journey, the luxury, the danger, sex, an elegant spell that both attracts and repels us. A universe housed in the realm of fantasy and wonder, an imaginary that crystallizes into a salveet coagula with powerful emotional strength and a refined and poetic reality.
Because inevitably and without escape we understand that, in Charlotte Massip’s prints, there is a deep enigma, a mystery that we will never decipher, an arcane that (as Charlotte finally warns us), has its origin and foundation in the ink and blood of matter, another secret society.
written by Charlotte Massip
Born in 1971, trained at École supérieure Estienne des Arts et Industries graphiques in engraving of Paris, Décorative Arts of Strasbourg . I have exhibited in many galleries (Michèle Broutta-Paris, Gallery Fürstenberg- Paris, Wégimont in Belgium, Monastery Santa Clara in Séville “hommage à Francisco de Zurbaran” in Spain, l’Orangerie du Sénat summer 2014 and 2018, and Fondation Taylor in Paris.
The Academie de France supported me with a residence as an engraver member at the Casa de Velázquez, French Academy at Madrid (2012-2013), where I created the series of Saintes martyres (HolyMartyrs) in a large format. In 2016 I won the prize, Jeune Graveur of Salon d’Automne in Paris.
I was attracted by very refined by strange works such as of Hans BELLMER, Rodolf SCHLICHTER, Fred DEUX, Jose HERNANDEZ, Richard LINDNER, Giorgio DE CHIRICO…
I guess what brought me to drawing and engraving was my fascination with the detail. Not any detail but the one which opens up to a deeper truth. So that whatever was linked to texture, skin, vein and hairs, was merely a thin barrier, the last one before sinking into the depths.
My eyes, thereafter, drifted very naturally towards imaging the body. What became to me the exemplary architecture of the living was the skeleton. It seemed urgent and necessary for my artistic mind to cover the skeleton and my experience with dissected bodies. I’m not talking about the ones the anatomist refers to, but rather those whose organs – thanks to strange transgressions of biological rules – are moving, changing roles and are confronted to unexpected transplants. All this may seem baroque and yet it echoes what I would qualify as “surgical deeds”.
One can compare the art of engraving with delicate scalpel incisions whose consequences remain somewhat mysterious. My relationship with copper was quite revealing. The cut of the metal was like surgery to me, starting from the skin, and continuing into the darkness of ink and blood of matter.
Baroque, surrealist, innovating, the works of Charlotte Massip have an special place in contemporary engraving. For several years, the artist has worked on the body and anatomy, in particular the feminine. She strangely transgresses biological laws to move organs, changing their role, and submitting them to unlikely grafts. In this the skeleton undergoes wild mutation, abandoning its natural aspect, to enter a dream like world. A radical transformation that gives it a touch of lightness, voluptuousness and humour, to better camouflage the moods of the author’s soul.