“Having come from nothing, I did not get anywhere,” wrote Jacques Sternberg. Born in Antwerp, he moved to Paris at the age of 25. There, he fought to get his first novels published, eventually living there all his life and pursuing a career as a writer.

An author of short stories and novels, as well as a journalist, Sternberg is less known for his collages and photomontages. When he was young, browsing through compilations of etchings would spark his imagination. After experiencing WWII and its atrocities, cutting out these old prints no longer seemed sacrilegious to him. He enjoyed dedicating himself to the task all the more since this work allowed him to create the dream or nightmare encounters which he kept alluding to in his writings. Such collages, belonging to a Belgian private collection, are exhibited at the Association du Patrimoine Artistique. Made from cut out 19th century engravings whose elements are juxtaposed and pasted, these creations take us into an imaginary, poetic and absurd world, where men and women are absorbed by individual or collective tasks in incongruous places. Whether it’s a rainforest, a raging sea or even an imaginary urban environment, these compositions are disturbing because of their consistent surreal element. Sometimes, simply introducing elements on entirely different scales is enough to produce this unexpected effect.

Another part of the exhibition shows Sternberg’s interest for black humour drawings and displays the many articles he devoted to them. After discovering British and American cartoonists like Ronald Searle (1920-2011), Virgil Partch (1916-1984), Saul Steinberg (1914-1999) and Charles Addams (1912-1988) published in The New Yorker, Sternberg naturally turned to their French or foreign counterparts who, like him, had come to Paris to be published. While contributing to various newspapers and magazines such as Plexus, Arts, France Observateur, L’Express, Le Magazine Littéraire, France-Soir and Hara-Kiri, Sternberg would incorporate cartoons created by his friends into his articles. Selecting texts and illustrations from 1964 to 1971, he contributed actively to many anthologies published by Planète. We owe him “Chefs-d’œuvres du Sourire “ (1964), “Chefs-d’œuvres du Crime”, “ Chefs-d’œuvres de l’Erotisme” and “Chefs-d’œuvres de l’Epouvante” (1965), “Chefs-d’œuvres du Rire” (1966), “Chefs-d’œuvres du Fantastique”, “Chefs-d’œuvres de la Bande dessinée” and “Chefs-d’œuvres de l’Amour sensuel” (1967), “Chefs-d’œuvres du Dessin d’humour “ (1968), “Chefs-d’œuvres de la Méchanceté” and “Chefs-d’œuvres du Rêve” (1969), “Chefs-d’œuvres de la Science-fiction” and “Chefs-d’œuvres de l’Humour noir” (1970) and finally “Chefs-d’œuvres du Kitsch” (1971). In the case of some of these cartoonists, Sternberg was the first to notice their talent, encourage them and create their biography in the form of a portrait. He also wrote the forewords to their solo publications and introduced some of them into the Paris art world, Roland Topor for instance.

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Fortunately, a portfolio comprising many original drawings by French and foreign artists was found in the office of Jacques Sternberg. By organising them by theme and making them interact with excerpts from Sternberg’s writings, one is immersed in the author’s mood and humour. It revives in an unexpected way the memory of a 1960s-70s France whose caustic wit one would be tempted to regret nowadays. Echoes from Sternberg’s penchant for the absurd, his dislike of mankind, his rejection of modern society, the horror of war and the absurdities it entails, his eternal fear of death, but also his eternal passion for women…

Among the biographies of these forgotten or famous cartoonists, some are accompanied by a few cartoons conveying black, absurd or caustic humour. Next to the best known, such as Maurice Henry, Testu Chaval, Mose, Jean Gourmelin, Bosc, Siné, Fred, Sempé, Wolinski, Folon, Reiser, Topor, Copi, Tomi Ungerer, Desclozeaux and Picha, many other cartoonists will be rediscovered, namely Richard Aeschlimann, Agnese, Allary or Arroyo, to mention but a few.

Collages et humour noir
Jacques Sternberg
Artistic Heritage Association (Association du Patrimoine Artistique)
70 rue Charles Hanssens
1000 Bruxelles
Thursday from 12:00 to 16:00
Friday and Saturday from 14:00 to 18:00
Until 1 November 2014
www.association du patrimoineartistique.be

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