Sign Comes Before Meaning
George Mathieu – Extract from his theoretical statement published in 1951 (translated from the original French)
Just as there are approximations such as empty and full, permeable and watertight, light and dense, which are some convenience in communication, so it seems, there are two possible and rather decisive aspects of the means of expression: poetic and significant. Through an almost total devaluation of poetic, these two aspects, which were once intimately bound up, are in certain extreme current approaches completely separated.
The poetic, being irrepressible, had to take refuge in a sort of atonal super-poetic in order to find, in our Western mentality, a few traces of justification. It allowed the signifier to invade almost every area (even its own) at the expense of any secondary gratuitousness. This signifier for its part, can no longer merely signify; it attempts to transcend meaning in order to attain effectiveness.
It has been stated elsewhere how much potential had been restored to the sign by the Gestalt theoreticians: There is no longer any need to make references to a previous sign in order to explain effectiveness – the fact that it existed is sufficient. The phenomenon of meaning is bursting forth: From now on, effectiveness would issue from the sign and not the signified.
If this theory can be applied to figurative works, it is only one to recognise the power of nonfigurative sign to convey meaning. Indeed in a figurative work, effectiveness enters into in the relationships of the signified, as signs are tainted with references that from acting autonomously and directly. In the nonfigurative work, on the contrary, the sign are not charged with resonances. Therefore, if they are effective, they have only themselves to thank. The laws of semantics are suddenly reversed: Until now, given a thing, a sign was invented for it. From now on, given a sign, it will be viable and hence a veritable sign if it finds incarnation.
Note ´sur le poetique et le significant. GM
The Psychic Non- Figuration of George Mathieu
The artist was born into a rich Banking Family in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1921. He studied law and philosophy and didn't take up painting until 1942 creating mostly landscapes and portraits. George also taught English, served as interpreter for the U.S. Army and worked as professor of French at the Université Americaine, in Biarritz, France. By 1947