Bordeaux’s dark tradition

Living far from the bright lights and bustling streets of the capital, and being a huge fan of all forms of art, I’m always tempted by the major exhibitions in Paris and all over Europe. But I often overlook what’s going on right here in Bordeaux. I particularly love the current exhibition on Mohlitz, an artist who has spent his life in Bordeaux.

The chance to see an exhibition dedicated to a living artist doesn’t come along often. But the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux is running a retrospective until the 4th of June on Philippe Mohlitz (b. 1941) who has made a name for himself in Bordeaux. He is a reserved man who doesn’t enjoy talking about himself. Instead, he prefers to express himself through his chosen form of artistic expression: engravings. I already knew about his work but I took advantage of the opportunity to dive deeper into his world. “The looter of dreams,” as he has been nicknamed for this exhibition, works using a burin. Behind a man who may at first appear gruff, lies a skillful hand and all sorts of phantasmagoria. Mohlitz draws us into a world where the bizarre becomes normal.

A taste for detail

What fascinates me about Philippe Mohlitz is his imagination and his taste for the fantastic, which he depicts through architecture in the style of Piranesi, abundant landscapes, extraordinary machines and strange imaginary characters. His astonishing Lapin sur la ville (1979) portrays a skinned rabbit whose body surrounds a city: Bordeaux. The details are so fine that visitors are given a magnifying glass. I also discovered Mohlitz’s bronze and silver sculptures – unique works since both their complexity and their details are hard to reproduce.

A tradition of engraving artists in Bordeaux

Philippe Mohlitz isn’t the only famous engraver in Bordeaux. The famous Spanish artist Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), who is best known for his paintings and Los Caprichos, a series of aquatint prints, lived in exile in Bordeaux from 1824. When he died in 1828, he was initially interred in Bordeaux’s Chartreuse Cemetery. In 1825 he made a series of four lithographs, The Bulls of Bordeaux. The building that Goya once lived in has retained its link to Spain and now houses the Institut Cervantes de Bordeaux. Bordeaux artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916) also excelled in this fantastical style of art. I am captivated by his dreamlike, dark Noirs with their evocative titles: the smiling spider, swamp flower, and the eye in the balloon. The colorful, enchanting universe that he introduced from the 1890s also fascinates me. And I love poring over the disturbing, enthralling lithographs by Miguel Fraley, who lives in Bordeaux and who I sometimes spot out and about with his beret perched on his head.

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