sketchy black ink painting of figures in trees by Henri Michaux

Untitled, 1944, Henri Michaux. Private collection. © Archives Henri Michaux, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018. Photo: Jean-Louis Losi

Belgian painter and poet, Henri Michaux stubbornly refuses to fall into any particular category and yet, or perhaps because of this, he remains a huge artistic influence on writers and artists alike – indeed during his lifetime, he was known as both as a “poets’ poet” and a “painters’ painter”, idolised by the likes of André Gide and Francis Bacon.

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‘The Other Side’ at The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is a colossal exhibition displaying more than 200 works, divided into three thematic areas: the human figure, the alphabet and the altered psyche, including his works produced under the influence of hallucinogenic substance, mescaline. A fascinating audiovisual screening gives a deeper insight into these experiments, which were conducted with the assistance of  doctors and scientists.

Watercolour painting of a face in red with blue eyes

Untitled, 1981, Henri Michaux, © Archives Henri Michaux, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018. © FMGB Guggenheim Bilbao Museo. Photo: Erika Barahona Ede

Michaux sought the intervention of chance in his works as a way of collaborating with unknown forces, therefore favouring mediums such as ink and watercolours which naturally spill and overflow (see above). In his own words, he painted to ‘to surprise himself’- and walking through the gallery at the Guggenheim, it’s the undefined beings that seem to mysteriously appear (as if by chance) on the canvas that are by far the most intriguing, and haunting.

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A major section of the gallery is also devoted to Michaux’s writings – poetry, travel journals and short stories – including works by other authors who were closely associated with the artist, such as Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz, revealing the Michaux’s close links with, and influence on the literary world.

painting of a white figure with arms raised and yellow head

Untitled, 1938–39, Henri Michaux. Private collection, Paris © Archives Henri Michaux, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018. Photo: Jean-Louis Losi

The exhibition ends soon, be sure not to miss out.

Millie Walton

‘Henry Michaux: The Other Side’ runs until 13 May 2018 at the Guggenheim, Bilbao