Raymond Hains


There were Summer nights on the terrace of the Danton, one of the few cafes to close at 3am, when I found myself providing the attentive and passive ear that Raymond Harris needed. How I regret not being able to memorise his words. No logic. The words followed one another in total disorder though apparently put together:  chance associations of meaning and sound where one word led to another, unexpected, hidden relationships, a journey through time and space. And from this monotonous chanting, I always ended up finding depth, surprise, coincidence, fragments of erased memories, living memories… all of which we find united in his work. 

In 1945 he discovered the Surrealist compositions of Emmanuel Sougez and began working in the photography department at France-Illustration. He quickly positioned himself on the other side of the mirror, wishing to portray an “other reality”. He created what he called “hypnagogic photography” whose purpose was to expose the “waking dream state” described by Freud as being the transition from the conscious to unconscious state which directly precedes sleep. On the 30th June 1948, he exhibited his photographs at the Colette Allendy gallery. 

He went even further when he used his photographs to “produce rather than reproduce”. He wished to provoke “disorientation”, fragmenting the images with tiny mirrors and distorting them through ribbed glass. The aim was to tear the viewer away from the conventions of imitation and propel them into the informal world of “graphic” photography which thus stands alone and can be seen “as an object”. From the medium of paper, he moves onto cinematic media:  Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou Défense d'afficher and especially Pénélope an abstract film, so-named by Villeglé.

1945 was, most importantly, the year he met Villeglé, both students in Brittany. Together they began the poster-tearing adventure or “anonymous Laceration” as coined by Villeglé, They tore off, piece by piece, billboard posters that were displayed in the streets. At first, they were just fragments, raw, poetic, random, presenting a lyrical image whose mystery is found buried between the layers of glued together posters. 

Their first exhibit was at the Colette Allendy gallery in 1949. 1949 to 1961 were the Torn Up France years, the title of the exhibition at the Gallery J in 1961, still in collaboration with Jacques Villeglé. Twenty posters reflect the France of the 1950s up until 1961. Eleven years of ‘Storm und Drang’, the Algerian War, General de Gaulle, politics and drama. Often austere, the posters superimposed “shattered words”, chanted words, and printing press letters assembled into a near geometric work. It is around this time that Hains met the founder of the Letterism movement Isidore Isou. 

In 1957 Fences (palissades) for Reserved Places was exhibited at the first Paris Biennale. 

The posters were gathered on their original mounts (fences), which intensified the haphazard effect: He seizes or even masters this coincidence, kindled by a Raymond Roussel or Marquis de Bievre style dialectic. All to create what he called “attrapes-mots” or “word catchers”. The words flowed into one another. From posters found on fences (palisades) which became “lapalissades” (Truisms or tautologies), which in turn transformed into La Palissade (a dessert) , onto his meeting with  Geneviève de Chabannes la Palice a descendant of the Lord of Palice and then the sweets which also had the name “Vérités de la Palisse”. Words, paper mounted words and images, sometimes only a coloured shred remained, a hint of a letter, all collated, assembled, held together by the genius of this underlying discourse. A Brownian Motion frozen onto a plank of wood, a sheet of metal or emerging from the sheets of overlaid paper.  

Hains and Villeglé joined the New Realist movement on the 27th October 1960. “What interests me most about New Realism are the personified abstractions…. I myself am an abstraction personified.” He didn’t stop there, continually widening his field of experimentation and went on to exhibit Neo Dada Wrapped Up at the Salon Comparaisons in 1963. It was in Milan in 1964 that he exhibited his inordinately enlarged match boxes. Following on from this, Iris Clert exhibited SFFA & SAITA* and invited the Paris Fire Department. In the October edition of Iris Time in 1965, under the heading of Iris’s Point of View, Clert responded to the question “Who is Raymond Hains?”, by saying, “he is the King of the metaphysical pun… since 1946 he has not stopped reflecting and evolving, his thoughts proliferating in gigantic analogical meanderings”.

His images and his words intermingle with the only associative order, cultural references, everyday objects, and proper nouns bringing together places, personalities, artists, dealers, critics and curators, creating a Pop Art that is both poetic and conceptual. Hains evoked the word Pompidou by bridging (Fr: PONT pronounced pon) the brasserie La Palette in Paris owned by a Mr Pidoux  (which, when coupled with the word bridge gives, in French, Pont-Pidoux phonetically identical to the name of the countries former president whose monumental modern art museum was soon to be inaugurated) with the gallery Lara Vincy situated just opposite, for his exhibition Art in Vinci of 1976. 

In 1983, Hains was inspired by the boundless Yves Klein to create Monochrome in the Metro which was shown at the Eric Fabre gallery. It was during the FIAC festival in 1989 that Hains exhibited The Bust of Louis XIV by Bernini covered in tags. He showed the same bust at the Lyon Biennale in 1991 on the Place Bellecour next to an existing sculpture of Louis XIV by Lemot. Two monitors transmitted the events occurring inside the Tony Garnier hall so accurately that passers-by could confuse the two sculptures of Bernini and Lemot. 

In 1999 he was invited to Printemps in Cahors to carry out his Macintoshages. This varied output was based around linguistically linked words and names: machinations, Macintosh, Mac Luhan (Gutenberg Galaxy), Mother Mac Miche** and other associations swirling around Yves Klein, Marguerite d'Autruche, Raynaud ‘s Pot and Garry Davis.

It was an exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 2001 when the importance if the artist’s body of work, its diversity within the same obsessional, recurring and constantly renewed system,   was finally realised. He exhibited a condensed work, a shifting of words and images: “a metonymy, a metaphor, a linguistic exercise of tropes, a study of the unconscious dream state in a Freudian sense, a true ‘hypnagogic’ work”.

Marie-Hélène GRINFEDER

Expert for La Cour de Paris

* Translators Note: a fictive collective under which Hains also exhibited. Acronyms standing for French and Italian Society of Tobacco and Matches.

** Translators Note: Character from ‘Un bon petit diable’, a children’s book written by the Comtesse de Segur and set in Scotland.


Raymond Hains is a French artist, born in Saint-Brieuc (Côtes-d'Armor) on November 9, 1926 and died in Paris on October 28, 2005. He studied at the School of Fine Arts in Rennes before to settle in Paris to present his first exhibition of hypnagogic photographs and begin work on the torn poster, collected in the street. The choice of posters lacerated by passersby and damaged by wind and rain can be purely plastic choices, a look that frame, a flat color spotted by one who proclaims "inaction painter" or more widely choices circumstances: Hains is a reconciler of images as words, he likes coincidences and typographical encounters.


Art Paris Art Fair [Stand de la Galerie W] / Grand Palais, Paris, France, 2013

Le Festival du Mot, La Cité du Mot, La Charité sur Loire, France, 2012

Not For Sale [prêt de Ma Langue au Chat par Eric Landau], 2011 

Passage de Retz, Paris, France, 2011

Pop-Up Galerie & la Galerie W, Favela Chic, Paris, France, 2011

Vérités de la Palissade, Galerie W, Paris, France, 2009

Hainsoumis, Hainsolent, Hainsinuation, Galerie Albert Bénamou, Paris, France, 2009

Les Nouveaux Réalistes, Grand Palais, Paris, France, 2007

Les Nouveaux Réalistes, Sprengel Museum, Hanovre, Allemagne, 2007

La Force de l’Art : « Être le ministre de sa propre culture », Grand Palais, Paris, France, 2006

Rues, Galerie Marion Meyer, Paris, France, 2006

APRèS dAdA ?, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, France, 2006 

Distorsions (1), IAC, Villeurbanne, France, 2006

En souvenir de André du Colombier, Galerie Patricia Dorfmann, Paris, France, 2005

L’oeil moteur 1950-1975, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, France, 2005 

L’action restreinte, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France, 2005

Les Affichistes entre Milan et Bretagne, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, Milan, Italie, 2004 

Nouveau Réalisme, Museum Moderner Kunst Striftung Ludwig Wien, Vienne, Autriche, 2004

Le désir de Retz ou le disert de Retz, Passage de Retz, Paris, France, 2004

De l’art à Vinci aux Vedettes du Pont Neuf, Galerie Lara Vincy, Paris, France, 2004

De Chateaubriand à Rosanbo, Galerie du Dourven, Trédrez-Locquémeau, France, 2004

Art & Utopia : Limited Action, MACBA, Barcelone, Espagne, 2004

La boîte à fiches, Musée Art et Histoire, Saint-Brieuc, France, 2003

En quête de Raymond Hains, Galerie du Dourven, Trédrez-Locquémeau, France, 2003




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