Bernard Rancillac was born in Paris where he still lives and works. He is the eldest of five children, one of whom, Paul, becomes the sculptor Jean-Jules Chassepot. Rancillac can be classified as one of the political artists of the « Figuration Narrative » movement. For him all events are political and the artist is permitted to revert images of Mickey Mouse (« Bloody Comics » 1977) or jazz players (« Miles Penché » 1997) in order to make a political statement. He believes that it is an artist’s duty to discover the essential in his time and to pass on a message rather than to succumb to egocentric expression or the pursuit of purely aesthetic aims. He uses the methods of his time in order to break with a painting tradition that he considers paralyzed. He often uses the technique of cartoons or comics in his art. It is only in this sense that he can be compared to artists from the Pop Art movement as he uses the same techniques as them in order to create his figurative world. He also uses photography and the episcope in order to create extreme depth in his compositions. The extraordinary effect of his fragmented foregrounds and backgrounds is reinforced by the application of bright colors and bold effects of light and shade.
Rancillac favors large formats in which he creates numerous points of interest so that the eye has to take in the various details before coming to grasp the composition as a whole. He sometimes uses collage and the addition of photographs. Rancillac manages to give his works a sense of rhythm and speed while always preserving the spatial composition. There is also a cinematographic dimension to Rancillac’s works whereby the dynamic dramatic scene is open to a second interpretation. The result is always well constructed and controlled but without the static cold quality sometimes found in Pop Art.
Although motion is clearly central to Rancillac’s work, the notion of the temporality, a trademark of « Figuration Narrative » artists, is also omnipresent ; the famous work « Le Dernier Whisky » (A last Whisky) 1960 is a good example of the use of Pop Art techniques but the addition of an emotional dimension, suggesting a before and after to this goodbye scene between a young couple close to an airport, differentiates the two styles.
With high insight and the dissolution of the impact of actual historical events over the course of time, one wonders if the political dimension of Rancillac’s work is not relegated to second place behind the quality and the visual explosiveness of his work. It is as though the theme of painting itself becomes central and the drama of the historical references becomes secondary. Perhaps one should also recognize the sacrifice that Rancillac made, putting his convictions before his personal interest.
Rancillac reconciles art and politics without weighing the viewer down with dialectic arguments. The force of his work lies in the freedom the viewer has to find a subtext in the work should he desire. Whether one chooses to do so or not, there remains an incontestable visual pleasure.