If I start a painting from a quasi-embryonic state with forms that I make visible to better exclude them later, I do it mostly to initiate a trajectory. Like the ancient Greek philosophers, I want to prove movement by walking. I feel a kind of vertigo in front of the emptiness of a white canvas, and am ready to do anything to fill its void. But fortunately after my first thrust of energy, a hidden voice within me says, “No, that’s not it at all,” and propels me to make alterations that, even if not valid in their entirety, open the way to more reflections and more imaginative propositions. There is a progression; more and more fragments come into focus and begin to be attuned to one another until the whole purpose clarifies itself and, in an instant of enlightenment, leads to cohesion and unity.

In The Garden, 1978
Oil on canvas,
63 x 51 in. (162 x 130 cm)
I may ask myself according to what criteria my successive propositions are rejected, at least in part, or tried in some other way to be finally adopted. I do not start a new oil to verify what I already know; quite the opposite, I try to put myself in an equation with the unknown. I must cancel the emptiness of the canvas like an opening gambit in a game of chess. There are several choices, but the most important consideration is to leave room for as many future moves as possible. I have to manage each consecutive move knowing that, if successful, it reduces proportionately the number of possible solutions. Following my inner compass, I am able to orient the progression and decide when and where to make the necessary sacrifices.

For shorter or longer periods I harbor within myself a tendency underlying my realizations. It allows me to direct my choices, to come closer and closer to an as yet unrevealed goal. As I proceed, my subconscious intention achieves more precision and clarity until it becomes self-evident.

Once the underlying intention becomes conscious, it facilitates the realization of several pictures issuing from the same general idea. In each case, even if ignorant of the precise design, tonality, or other particulars, I am aware of the main thrust and proceed accordingly, introducing all kinds of variations, expansions and permutations to bring the initial intuition to its full potential. All this unfolds over time and furthers itself as more work is accomplished.

– Françoise Gilot

The Waves, 1986
Oil on canvas (two-sided screen),
64 x 104in. ( 162.5 x 264 cm.)

Theseus, 1963

Oil on canvas,
51 1/4 x 31 3/4 in. (130 x 162 cm.)
Collection Aurelia Provvedini, New York

The Labyrinth Series of paintings, which filled the years of 1961 – 1963, has proven to be one of Gilot’s most original and important sequences. This cycle is the crystallization of a distinctly personal style and content. The theme revolves around the retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur within the context of symbolic resonance. The myth is presented emblematically rather than figuratively with frequent interweaving of references to Gilot’s own personal mythology.

Volatile in its rhythms, this particular large canvas is the visual statement of Theseus’ knowledge gained in The Thread (1962.) (Image of The Thread depicted on Myths and Mythology theme page.) Initially, the painting was entirely black, white and red. Gilot repainted it with grays dominant – the color of warriors – but allowed the red undercoat to seep through in many areas. This is one of several paintings where Gilot used such a limited color range, this greater color severity coinciding with the more serious, less lyrical moments in the myth.

Annotated captions by
Mel Yoakum, Ph.D., Director,
The F. Gilot Archives.

Next - »