XV: Later Abstractions


With his Composition abstraite Lahner addresses the problem of spatial depth where there are no lines but only flat surfaces of color. He solves this by adding significant areas of black to his patchwork design. The black form at upper right sits like a sculptured bust on a mustard-colored pedestal, a three-dimensional figure in two-dimensional silhouette. In contrast to what remains essentially an Impressionist palette, the dark form furthermore suggests a hole in the surface, so that the figure appears not only before the design but seemingly submerged below it. One is reminded of Lahner's use of the sylvan hollow around which he organizes many of his landscapes. The silhouette of the individual is the central force in Composition abstraite as is the head of the angel in Figure abstraite-volante . In what are otherwise completely non-figurative paintings, it is the human element that lends coherence to a random association of forms and color.

There still remain a number of abstract paintings that cannot be classified in terms of their subject matter. Upon closer inspection, however, they reveal ambiguities which, if not strictly intelligible as are the landscapes and figure subjects, leave the door wide open for interpretation. Lahner'sComposition of about l960 has the surface design and textural weave of a Middle Eastern rug, a logical outcome of his interest in primitive art and his many visits to Algeria. The color areas do not interlock as they normally do in his paintings, but rather seem to float on the neutral green surface. The black lines restrict this motion and so in a sense continue to organize the space. But they enjoy an uncustomary freedom as well, bending and intertwining and conforming to the patterns set by the color shapes and giving the illusion of spatial depth. The mood is joyous and robust.

Two other non-figurative subjects appear to have benefited from a familiarity on the part of the painter with Matisse's cut-outs of the 1940s and 1950s.[106] The amorphous forms set against a patchwork background in Formes dans l'espace may be an outgrowth of Lahner's Préhistoire , but their coral-like appearance makes a tempting comparison with like forms in Matisse's work.[107]Similarly, the spiral chain in Formes et couleurs presents a color construction very like the blocky forms in the papiers découpés . The example of Matisse was particularly relevant to an artist like Lahner who, after a career grounded principally in landscape and figurative subjects, found himself gravitating into the realm of abstraction. The wit and ambiguity displayed in Matisse's cut-outs at the end of his career could hardly have failed to please a painter embarking on a similar direction.



(106) As with Picasso, it is quite possible that Lahner visited Matisse while in the South of France where he could have seen the papiers découpés . Matisse's work was also on view in Paris, notably at an exhibition at Berggruen et Cie in February and March of 1953. Henri Matisse. Paper Cut-Outs, 286.

(107) Compare this, for example, with Matisse's Le Lagon of 1944. Henri Matisse. Paper Cut-Outs , 113.