APRIL 2010

A+C MAGAZINE Pages 26-27


William Campbell Contemporary Art,

Fort Worth

On view through April 24

Cecil Touchon is a Romantic, with a capital R, but not by his admission. In his exhibition, The New Beautiful, on view at William Campbell Gallery, Touchon argues that art from the past can be successfully revisited and mined through selective editing and synthesis. What once was considered radical is now accepted as part of the canon of art history — classic, beautiful even.

Touchon favors several very specific moments in art history: Constructivism, Synthetic Cubism and Fluxus. Like the Romantics of the 19th century, he is looking back to a past just out of his reach. While the Romantics experimented with one revival style after the next, Neo-gothic, Neoclassic, Neo-Egyptian, some have interpreted this mining of the past as a way to escape the loud clanging of the Industrial Revolution and the endless march of progress. 

What we learn from the 19th century is that we are of our own time. Even our attempt to escape or turn the clock back reveals our anxieties about our present moment. The movements that Touchon draws on were revolutionary in their time and often direct reactions to their social-political situation. In his collages, there is an electricity that emanates from them, arresting the viewer. His choice of strident reds, blues and blacks serve as echoes of the excitement of that past. Adding light faux shadows and dirtying his whites to create depth and texture in an expert manner, these pieces seem to have weathered the storms of history too.

The Texas artist slices his letters and magnifies them to create fragments that he then arranges into complex grids to create engaging compositions of positive and negative space, curves and straight lines. Emptying language of its function by rendering it illegible does not prevent it from having meaning: obliteration, fragmentation, emptiness, confusion? In Touchonʼs meta-narrative, found in the galleryʼs press release and the artistʼs own writings, he argues against progress for progressʼ sake and instead for the redemption of art styles from the past in pursuit of being strong and light and free. Yep, sounds like a Romantic.


I look at Cecil Touchon’s work and feel like I’m seeing more clearly something that was always present in language: a certain claustrophobia. I think this applies to much of concrete poetry as well. There’s a need in our culture to find the recognizable letters, the meaning, the obvious context of words and to move fluidly to the next word without becoming “caught”. Also, to avoid confronting that terror that seems to plague all texts, that we or they will not “get it”. With concrete poetry we’re often pressed up against language and all of it’s parts. these collages contain that panic.

 Jenny Sampirisi - Other Clutter(2006)


By using nothing but the figure/ground relationships of letters, engaging and powerful pieces are built up through a process that is less reminiscent of collage than it is of burnishing, worrying, plying, or even kneading. The shapes that emerge are without question letteral, though they are operating in a space where it is impossible to read them in a literal way. These pieces are looking at the material of language as a thing that can be cut apart and re-arranged, and while they cannot be read, the part of our vision that is involved in reading is actively engaged in the process of viewing them.

Dan Waber (2007)


" Contrary to popular belief, not all art is expressive of the artist's self.

Self- expression has been one current in the artistic flow of things and until recently, it was not the mainstream. For decades, beginning with the early 20th- century birth of Modernism, mainstream art has been not about the artist, but about the formal evolution of art.

However, in the '70s Modernism was declared dead -- out of gas, as it were -- and other reasons for making art hastily were brought forth. Unfortunately one major reason so asserted was that of self-expression. We say unfortunately because in many cases what resulted were a lot of sophomoric moping over late 20th-century alienation.

...True self-expression happens when artists know what is important to them -- no matter how modest or mundane or abstract -- and communicate it in such a way viewers find it imperative as well.

This conclusion comes at the expense of an artist who has determined not to indulge in anything resembling late-20th-century moping. Instead, his works are a celebration of such early modernist -isms as Miro's surrealism, Russian constructivism, synthetic cubism, futurism and orphism. Not to mention Matisse's late collaged images.

And -- prodigiously, almost alarmingly, talented -- Touchon makes some of the most gorgeous mixed-media paintings you could hope to see... Also, in his virtuoso synthesis of overlapping, dissolving planes, vortices and cutout arabesques -- the visual hallmarks of early modernism -- he subverts what was radical about modernism in the first place. In Touchon's hands, it becomes a mother lode of lovely compositional elements..."

Janet Tyson - Fort Worth Star-Telegram


" ...His show is a goodly selection of collaged, acrylic paintings on either canvas or paper. There are several works from his Fusion Series, which present simple geometric shapes simply arranged, within illusionistic frames [framing devices]. There are overlapping rectangles, with rounded wedges that resemble irregularly cut pie sections.

Occasionally Touchon inserts bits of paper, spattered with Hebrew script or musical notations. Sometimes he paints paper then cuts out shapes. Other times, collage is in the form of paper applied to the surface, then painted over with solid color, so there is a ghost of a collage.

Most of these works contrast small areas of bright hue with overall neutrally colored surroundings.

What is clear is the extent to which Touchon is in love with a formalism that, way back when, was loaded with revolutionary significance.

That he does not think that those early experiments in pure shape and color have been improved upon is evident in the way he uses the motifs, and in the way he has antiqued them artificially with pencil shading and other means to make individual elements and overall compositions into found artifacts..."

Janet Tyson - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"...Touchon's abstractions relate to the more playful stages of Cubism and to the geometric concoctions of Russian Constructivism, both from the years around World War I. He pursues a modernism in which layered planes typical of collage clearly play a central role; and his tiny collages are his most appealing works..."

Donald Hoffmann - The Kansas City Star

" The spotlight, as far as I am concerned, falls on the work of Cecil Orion Touchon... He makes collages and paintings, and his work is solid and intelligent. He does geometric abstractions, and in them are reminders of Picasso here, of Kurt Schwitters there, and at other times of that splendid, classical geometricist, Ilya Bolotowsky.

Touchon has a keen eye for balance and color. He knows how to create tension within the frame and how to suggest deep space. In one group of pictures he uses trompe l'oeil to great advantage as a framing device and as a way of summoning up the past. In some collages he introduces braille to the mix of materials. Braille adds not only texture but also raises questions about the business of seeing and making things that are seen-- and the blessing of sight itself..."

Robert W. Duffy - Cultural News Editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

" Abstraction has never looked as beautifully serene as it does in the work of Cecil Touchon. He combines the collage-like approach to the Constructivist painters with an almost trompe l'oeil sense of spacial depth.

The result is scenes of warmly colored geometric shapes that seem to revolve and recede into the canvas. The Fusion Series [the collages on paper] is Touchon's ongoing obsession with manipulating color and shape.

The Dallas Observer

" The 10 year survey of Cecil Touchon's work...might very well be called In Pursuit of Elegance.

Touchon creates mixed media works that are saturated with a sort of recherche, Proustian elegance. Fusing drawing, painting and collage, he creates serenely abstract images that recall early-20th century Constructivism and Synthetic Cubism. In works large and small, flat areas of rich color are layered with old envelopes, bits of sheet music and other romantic ephemera in works that are nostalgic and knowing, wistful and buoyant -- and above all else -- intensely atmospheric..."

Janet Tyson - Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Critics Choice Exhibit)

"...Touchon uses devices and theories from everywhere in his large acrylic and paper on canvas paintings. Like a hummingbird, he constructs his nest out of whatever he can find.

There are simple, geometric shapes from modern works and the age-old faux-frames, and these otherwise modern-looking works have a sense of historical relevance.

...The faux-frame- which Touchon said would be a no-no to most modern painters- creates a spatial window that allows the painting to take on a deep, three-dimensional quality..."

Jason Silverman, Paseo, Santa Fe

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