Henri Michaux

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Henri Michaux is a name which defied common critical definition, the Belgian born Frenchman was not only a versatile painter but poet and writer as well. Art critics have compared his work to greats like Goya, Klee, Beckett and Kafka. Names like ‘genius’ are closely associated with his name and some have even gone as far as to say that Michaux’s work is without equal in the literature of our time. All of Michaux’s works – regardless of whether they have been paintings, poetry or writing has been based around him examining the parallel world via dreams, and fantasies. He even went as far as to taking hallucinogenic drugs in order to witness these stark dimensions himself. For many Michaux was an eccentric poet who preferred to write in the French language. Michaux was also a free spirit, travelling from India, Japan to China in order to experience life; he tried various careers in his life and experimented with drugs a lot. In fact it was his drug use which resulted in him producing two of his greatest works which were Miserable Miracle and the Countless Minor Ones.

Henri Michaux was born in 1899 in Namur, Belgium to a lawyer. The rebellious youngster initially wanted to become a priest but gave into his father’s wishes to study medicine. However it still wasn’t strong enough to hold him and he left his university midway and enrolled with the merchant marine which enabled him to travel to India and China. After this the next few years saw Michaux working odd jobs including teaching, it was only when he became a secretary to a poet where he was exposed to the world of art and words. Within a few years he published his first book of poetry which was followed by some travel books. Michaux wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry and prose throughout his 20’s and 30’s and retook up writing again in his 50’s. It was a few years after his first publication when Michaux held his first solo art exhibition, by then he had already established his name via his poetry and writings. Michaux preferred to pain in mostly ink, water colors, oil and acrylics, and he drew a lot of inspiration from great artists like Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Giorgio de Chirico. Michaux’s painting style can be linked to the Surrealist style with strong elements of abstraction; his subject matters were mostly around the notions of eternity and the irrationality of human nature. Michaux worked extensively as an art critic as well and was a staunch supporter of artistic independence; he infamously refused the France’s Legion of Honour award – the highest honor of the country – as he thought it would hinder his independence.

Michaux’s originality as an artist is what set him apart from the rest of the artists; from his writings to his paintings everything was strangely original and mystifying. His rich imagination coupled with his fascination of the parallel world and human nature made him a force to be reckoned with. He was eccentric yet a true genius.

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