Coignard does not burden himself with spatial dimension, perspective or anything else that has always been the essence of a figurative painting aiming to create an illusory system in order to recreate reality. His painting is almost exclusively spread out across the surface, probably because it uses a system of pictorial and verbal signs, visual writing torn between images and ideograms.
These strokes and blotches, without layers, hieroglyphs that are drawn as much as painted, seem to be juxtaposed rather than unified. We could almost talk about deliberately imperfect composition, how the shapes respond to each other while retaining their visual autonomy.
In other words, the work of James Coignard is able to avoid the trap of literary painting and seems to be the natural extension of a poetry that eludes any syntactical logic. The signs withstand a verbal translation, narration is dismissed, the event excluded, time stopped and reality vanishes.
But above all, the way in which Coignard works on the surface gives these works an exceptional lightness and places them in a state of weightlessness. In a manner of speaking, the shapes are on the front line, on the painting’s skin. Imprinted on the surface, they accost us and force us to confront them without being able to be objective.
There are paintings that gesticulate and those that scream, those by Coignard whisper. Instead of a shock effect, the artist prefers a slow and progressive penetration, an immediate and sensitive presence through the simplification of the sign that forces our concentration.
In a way, the artist invites us into a process of introspection where the most basic actions are brought to the foreground, both visible and poetic.
Professor of Art history, University Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne - France
Extract of James Coignard, Editions Galerie Capazza, 2014.
James Coignard was born in Tours in 1925, the only son in a family from the La Touraine region in France. His parents settled in Paris in 1928, his father was a mechanic in the navy and his mother a seamstress. As a teenager, he showed more interest in the city’s art galleries and vintage bookshops than his studies. On the breakout of war his parents divorced and James Coignard returned to the banks of the Loire with his mother. It was at this time that he met the painter Marchand des Raux. At the same time, he began a career in the French civil service becoming a treasury assistant in Langeais, where he remained until 1948.
He later transferred to Villefranche-sur-Mer, where once again he encountered his friend Marchand. This was a decisive move since the region’s artistic competition helped Coignard develop his painting and join contemporary artistic circles.
James began evening classes at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Nice, spending his nights being taught drawing and technique by Marchand des Raux in his studio.
In 1950, at the Ile-de-France museum in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, the young Coignard and his friend organized an exhibition, “École de Paris et Art sacré” (The School of Paris and Sacred Art). There, he met Matisse. His first
personal exhibition would take place in Beaulieu-sur-Mer in a disused office building with the help of a friend, the antique dealer Georges Androt.
In 1950, he won first prize hors concours for the Arts Décoratif, but it would be the meeting with the gallery owner Paul Hervieu in the same year that would launch Coignard’s artistic career. This was the beginning of a long collaboration with the Hervieu gallery in Nice, which began by exhibiting his works in Sweden from 1952.
In 1952, James Coignard left the civil service and moved to Paris. Together with Hubert Herzog, he founded a ceramics studio and immersed himself in the lifestyle of the young artists of the Parisian Left Bank. It was during this time that he was likened to the School of Paris painters and got to know Max Papart with whom he began a true artistic adventure and a great friendship. Papart encouraged and advised him: “Paint bigger, paint the object full sized".
In 1956, his first museum exhibition took place at Malmö museum, he had just turned thirty. This same year he married Mireille Poupart, a student who would also become his closest collaborator, especially on his carborundum etchings which he began to work on in 1967.
The young couple firstly settled in Nice then moved to a big apartment in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, where Coignard created his studio. The couple lived between Paris and Beaulieu since James Coignard still had his ceramics studio in Paris. He worked relentlessly; times were hard and Coignard worked as a sound effects engineer at the radio: “a job that he hated...” Ceramics became the artist’s livelihood and there are almost no pieces left from this period.
The exclusive contract that Hervieu offered him in 1958 allowed him to stop producing ceramics and close his studio in order to concentrate on his painting.
In 1957, James Coignard exhibited in the United States for the first time at the Collector’s Gallery in New
York. He travelled to Spain in 1958, a journey that would greatly influence him and his painting. He discovered the landscapes of southern Spain, the old Masters, the Catalan sculptures and frescos. This is the birthplace of Clavé’s work, an artist whom Coignard believed of vital importance, even though it would be several years later before he met the painter.
In 1959, their daughter, Pascale was born. Atlan, Borsi, Henri Goetz, Christine Boumeester, Verdet, Max
Papart were always to be found at the Beaulieu apartment.
In the same year he held his first exhibition at the Drouant Gallery in Paris. A second exhibition would follow in 1961. At an exhibition at the Ripagården museum in Båstad (Sweden) in 1960, Coignard discovered the Scandinavian countries. He would return several times a year as a result of the many personal exhibitions that would follow, organized with the help of Paul Hervieu, and later on, in the seventies, by Editions Sonet/Galleri Östermalm.
In 1961, he exhibited in Venice accompanied by Manfredo Borsi, there he met Egidio Costantini who asked him to join the team of his “Fuccina degli Angeli”.
Following Cocteau, Arp, Tobey, Picasso, Braque, Ernst, Chagall... He created several sculptures in blown glass.
Peggy Guggenheim bought some pieces from his collection through Costantini. Coignard’s sculptures were exhibited with the “Fuccina degli Angeli” in the United States and German museums.
In 1962, his son David was born, followed by the birth of his daughter Emmanuelle in 1963.
With his first important exhibition in New York (Alessandrio Gallery) and the many exhibitions organized by the Hervieu Gallery in southern Europe and the Scandinavian countries, his career began to take off. In 1966-67, the exhibition at Wolfard’s Gallery in New York was an immense success. And it was at this time that he met Georges Benichou who would strongly influence his painting and help promote James Coignard. In the 1970s, his son François Benichou created his own publishing company, with which James Coignard worked closely.
In 1967, his friend Henri Goetz showed him his research on carborundum etching. Coignard’s work on the carborundum technique was immediately applied to the publishing of several artists’ books. From 1969, he worked with the poet Jean Marcenac on the book “L’amour du plus Lointain”. The book resulted in a magnificent exhibition at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Saint-Denis. During his career, Coignard published some 50 artists’ books. This “encounter” with carborundum coincided with an increase in his fame and during the 1970s his career “exploded”. Several American museums bought his works, such as the Museums of Modern Art in San Francisco and San Diego. His American catalogue was essentially based on his etchings. Vision Nouvelle, the gallery and publisher, was the first to promote his work in American art circles. From 1972, he worked closely with the Nahan Galleries in New York and New Orleans. In Sweden, he was represented by the Östermalm gallery (owned by Editions Sonet) in Stockholm. In Italy, the team behind Fucina degli Angeli and Vincenzo Dona represented him.
His works were also exhibited in Israel, Switzerland, Paris and on the French Riviera. In 1970 he finally met Clavé through Paul Hervieu and the two painters became close friends.
In 1975, he created a collection of 14 tapestries at the Art Protis studio in Brno in Czechoslovakia for editions Sonet. In 1984, Coignard produced a new series at the Halaska studio. Sonet constitute the first volume of the annotated catalogue of his etched work (1959 - 1976).
In 1977, Coignard started to work with Editions F.B (Paris) on a series of bronze sculptures and once again created a series of glass sculptures for La Fucina degli Angeli in Murano. He was travelling a lot; exploring Algeria, Israel and Egypt.
He exhibited in France (Galerie Camille Renault, Vision Nouvelle), Australia, South Africa and Switzerland (Galerie Cour Saint-Pierre) and every year took part in the Wash’Art fair in Washington and the Art Fair in Basel, while of course exhibiting in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Canada...
In 1978, Coignard founded an etching studio in Paris with Pascal Gauvard and Nicolas Dumesnil Dubuisson, two young friends interested in this technique. This was the start of the Pasnic studio on Rue Martel and a collaboration lasting over 25 years. Artists like Kijno, Pincemin, Barceló, Clavé, Messagier, Haas worked at the Pasnic studio.
In the 1980s, James Coignard met Sylvia Uryn and moved his studio back to Paris. This was a new phase and Coignard returned to the capital’s artistic competition.
His career grew increasingly especially in the United States where he exhibited in numerous galleries including the Nahan gallery in New Orleans and the Alex Rosenberg Gallery in New York.
From 1982, the Coignards spent most of the year in New Orleans. This is the beginning of the « Windows » serie. In 1983, Coignard produced a large panel for the Rothschild Foundation in Nice. In the same year, Sylvia Uryn created the Editions Sémios which worked with James on many books.
In 1984, he married Sylvia Uryn. The couple remained in the United States until 1988 while making long trips to Europe. Coignard’s work was experiencing a buzz in the United States, which it lacked in Europe.
In 1988, he once again settled in Rambouillet in France. His youngest son Simon was born in 1989. He held an
important exhibition at the French institute in Stockholm and another in 1990, at the Museum of Modern Art in
Shiga, Japan. He returned to live in Cannes where he met the gallery owner François Vecchio, with whom he worked until his death. The 1990s saw exhibitions in Germany and of course Switzerland, the United States, Canada and northern Europe.
Two museum exhibitions were held in France at the Château-Musée in Cagnes- sur-Mer and the Château-
Musée in Tours. It was during this time that James Coignard began his Repos (Rest) series, the result of a long
period of reflection.
In 1995, James Coignard moved his studio to Antibes where he continued to work until his death. He produced a new series of glass sculptures with Berengo in Venice. From 2006 to 2008, 47 new etchings were published (from a total of 1261).
Since 2002 the Capazza Gallery from Nançay supports James Coignard's work.
The GKM Bergström gallery has represented James Coignard in Scandinavia since 2003. It published volumes V and VI of the annotated catalogue of Coignard’s etched work. Many exhibitions took place in Sweden to celebrate these works between 2005 and 2008.
From 2005, the Bogena Gallery in Saint Paul de Vence supported the artist’s work in France until his death.
In 2007, Musée Faure in Aix-les-Bains dedicated an exhibition to James Coignard.
These final years were full of travel, a real source of inspiration and a test for his artistic thoughts. Coignard worked tirelessly until the end, influenced by the canvas, paper, paste, tools and materials strewn across the floor of his studio.Read more
Rollin Jean, Catalogue de l’exposition L’amour du plus lointain, Musée d’art et d’histoire de Saint-Denis, Saint-Denis, 1969.
Bénichou François, Coignard, Le Musée de Poche, Paris, 1973.
Renevier Frank, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé 1956 -1976, t. I, Editions Sonet, Stockholm, 1976.
Bohbot Michel, Coignard. Délimiter le territoire..., Paul Hervieu, Nice, 1977.
Bohbot Michel, James Coignard. Y-a-t-il des mots pour la peinture ?, Paul Hervieu, Nice, 1978.
Bohbot Michel, Quatre clés pour l’OEuvre de James Coignard, Paul Hervieu, Nice, 1979.
Bénichou François, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé. 1976 -1980, t. II. Editions Sonet, Stockholm, 1980.
Bohbot Michel, Frisson en surface, Paul Hervieu, Nice, 1980.
Robinson Jeffrey, James Coignard, Paul Hervieu, Nice, 1981.
Pleynet Marcelin, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé 1980 -1986, t. III, Editions Sonet, Stockholm, 1986.
Bénichou François, Entretien avec James Coignard, Editions Sonet, Stockholm, 1986.
Pleynet Marcelin, Mémoires... Silences, Editions Daniel Papierski, Paris, 1987.
Pleynet Marcelin, James Coignard, La mémoire des Signes, Editions Daniel Papierski, Paris, 1989.
Schwarz Alexander, Immanence de l’invisible, Editions ECA, Paris, 1988.
Rollin Jean, Un peintre et son miroir, Editions ECA, Paris, 1990.
Bohbot Michel, La main interroge, Editions Navara, Paris, 1990.
Rollin Jean, Un peintre et son miroir, Editions ECA, Paris, 1991.
Verlinden Frédérique, Cornéa Iléana, L’OEuvre de 1956 à 1996, Château-musée de Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cagnes-sur-Mer, 1997.
Tabaraud Georges, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé 1986 -1998, t. IV, Editions Sonet Stockholm, 1998.
Cornéa Iléana, James Coignard l’oeuvre de 1950 à 2000, Château-Musée de Cagnes-sur-mer, 2000.
Reut Tita, Langage évolutif du graveur, Editions F. Vecchio, Cannes, 2002.
Corenski Sylvia, James Coignard, Editions Galerie Capazza, Nançay, 2004.
Persson Johan, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé 1998-2005, t. V, Edition GKM, Malmö, 2005.
Cornéa Iléana, Catalogue raisonné de l’OEuvre gravé, 2005 - 2008, t. VI, Edition GKM Malmö, 2008.
Capazza Gérard, Hommage à James Coignard, Editions Galerie Capazza, Nançay, 2010.
Berengo Adriano, James Coignard à la lumière du verre, Editions Berengo studio 1989, Murano, 2012.
Caprile Luciano, James Coignard, Editions San Cristoforo, Lucca, 2012.
Itzhak Goldberg, James Coignard, Editions Galerie Capazza, Nançay, 2014.
Clémence Houdart, James Coignard, Editions Galerie Capazza, Nançay, 2014.
Kitchener Waterloo art gallery, Ontario ON / Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Montréal
Château musée de Cagnes sur mer, Cagnes sur mer / Espace Chubac, Tourette-Levens / Musée Faure, Aix-les-Bains / Musée de l’Abbaye de Sainte-Croix, Les Sables d’Olonnes / Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris / Fondation Datris, L’Isle sur la Sorgue.
Kunstmuseum Wilhelm - Morgner Haus, Soest.
Israël Museum, Jérusalem
Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, Luxembourg.
South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
Kunstmuseum - Basel
British Museum, London
Fulton Montgomery College, Johnstown NY / New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe NM / University of Miami - Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables FL / University of the South, Sewanee TE / Montana Museum of Art and Culture, Missoula MT / Oklahoma city Museum of Art, Oklahoma OK / Northwood University, Midland MI / Picker Art Gallery- Colgate University, Hamilton NY / High Museum of Art, Atlanta GA / Rutgers state University - Janes Voorhes Zimmerli Art Museum, New Brunswick NJ / University of Alabama - Sarah Moody Gallery of Art, Tuscaloosa AL / University of Pennsylvania - Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia PA / Cincinnaty University, Cincinnaty OH / University of Minnesota - Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis MN / The San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego CA / Syracuse University Art galleries, New York NY / Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton FL.