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Fleury Joseph Crépin

French, 20th century.
Born 1875, Calais, France; died 1948, Calais, France

Joseph Crépin is one of the original mediumistic artists to be included in the art brut category. Born in Calais in 1875, he was a plumber and roofer by trade. As was his friend Augustin Lesage, Crépin was inspired by the grassroots, working-class Spiritualist movement to retire and become a mediumistic healer late in life. At age 63, Crépin began to draw and paint as part of his practice as a mediumistic healer. His signature ornate, symmetrical compositions produced in a trancelike state came to the attention of Surrealist artist Andre Breton, who celebrated mediumistic creativity, and attempted to claim it for Surrealism. Crépin and Lesage were included in Dubuffet’s earliest exhibitions of art brut in the late 1940s.

The circumstances of Crépin’s oeuvre are dramatic, and indeed challenge both Breton's and Dubuffet’s dismissal of his claims to be in contact with supernatural forces as simply a “Spiritualist alibi.” Crépin would begin a work by composing on the grid pattern of his sketchbook, his hand guided by entities he understood to be guardian angels. Using rudimentary tools of measurement, he transferred these symmetrical sketches to canvas to realize his vividly colored paintings which depict regal, otherworldly architectural forms. Illuminated by what seems to be an internal, supernatural light source, Crépin’s glowing palaces and temples are populated and enlivened by a range of animals and creatures. These paintings mesmerize the viewer by means of a unique tension between rigid symmetry and flowing, active lines.

The artist’s output was prolific—he painted 345 paintings in only 9 years. One hesitates to dismiss his claims of a creative partnership with the Beyond when considering his prophetic prediction that he would bring peace to the world upon completing 300 paintings, as ordered by angels. He achieved this goal on May 5, 1945, the same day the Nazis surrendered to Allied forces. He went on to produce forty-five more paintings before his death in 1948, which he aptly named “tableaux marveillieux.” Crépin continues to be recognized as one of the classic Outsider Artists not only for these powerful circumstances, but ultimately for the astounding visual power of his oeuvre. 

- Jenifer P. Borum

Selected Exhibitions

2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin

2005, Dubuffet and Art Brut, traveling exhibition, Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf, Germany; Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne; Museum of Modern Art Lille Metropole, Villeneuve D'Ascq

1999, Art spirite médiumnique, visionnaire, messages d'outre-monde, Halle Saint-Pierre, Paris

1992, Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

Selected Collections

Collection abcd, Halle Saint-Pierre, Paris
Collection de l'Art Brut, Lausanne

Selected Bibliography

The Museum of Everything,
exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin/Milan, 2010.

Dubuffet & Art Brut, exhibition catalogue, Museum Kunst Palast & 5 Continents, Düsseldorf/Mailand, 2005.

Art spirite médiumnique, visionnaire, messages d'outre-monde
, exhibition catalogue, Halle Saint-Pierre & Éditions Hoëbeke, Paris, 1999.

Deroeux, Didier, Fleury-Joseph Crépin, Idée'Art, Paris, 1999.

Tuchman, Maurice and Carol S. Eliel, eds., Parallel Visions: Modern Artists and Outsider Art, exhibition catalogue, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1992.

Cardinal, R., "The Art of Enchantment," Raw Vision, 1989.

Breton, André, Surrealism and Painting, Harper & Row, New York, 1972.

Breton, André, "Joseph Crépin," L'Art brut, Compagnie de L'Art Brut, Paris, 1965.

Loreau, Max and Jean Dubuffet, Catalogue des Travaux de Jean Dubuffet, Fascicule V: Paysages grotesques, Jean-Jacques Pauvert Editeur, Paris, 1965.

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