Niele Toroni at the Fondation CAB in Saint-Paul-de-Vence

864 imprints of a no. 50 brush repeated at regular intervals of 30 cm

The Fondation CAB in Saint-Paul-de-Vence presents an exhibition devoted to the work/painting of Niele Toroni, whose pictorial protocol has remained unchanged since 1965.

Niele Toroni was raised in Switzerland and moved to Paris in 1959. It was here that he developed the unwavering visual concept that instantly distinguishes his work. He explains his idea, very literally, in the only title that he finds relevant: ‘Empreintes de pinceau n° 50 répétées à intervalles réguliers de 30 cm’ (Imprints of a brush no. 50, repeated at regular intervals of 30 cm).

His work consists of meticulously positioned and repetitive imprints of an invariably flat, 50 mm-wide brush. Always in a regular pattern with an interspace of exactly 30 cm. In order to position the paint imprints, Toroni measures out pencil crosses with a compass. Every print is the result of a manual act and is thus unique. Yet they all combine to form a larger picture, a pattern. The only variables are colour and support. Toroni uses different shades, unmixed, just as they were manufactured. But he limits himself to one colour per work. Even so, the results are always different because no two supports and spatial context are the same. For example, he paints on supports including canvas, paper, walls or floors, enamel plates, newspapers, diaries, or even a metro map or posters.

The 864 imprints of a n° 50 brush repeated at regular intervals of 30 cm that will be presented at the Fondation CAB in Saint-Paul-de-Vence are a tribute to the work/painting of Niele Toroni. The fact remains that each of his prints is unique, i.e. it does not resemble any other.

The ambition of this exhibition is to show the diversity of the painter's visual proposals, which are not confined to canvas or paper, but which can be inscribed on the most varied supports (glass, wood, oilcloth, objects, fabrics, etc.).

The works presented come mainly from French and Belgian collections. It should be noted that the collectors closest to Niele Toroni have loaned historical pieces for this exhibition, which provide an original perspective on the approach of a painter whose radicalism is exemplary.

Niele Toroni

Niele Toroni’s strict serial method turns his work into a semi-mechanical activity that engenders a carefree formalism. He always considers himself to be more of a painter – in the sense of someone who applies paint to a surface – than an artist. His work has no narrative content and is utterly self-referential, revolving solely around the imprint of the brush, the space, and the architecture of the location in which the piece is exhibited. From the mid 1960s, Toroni participated in many international exhibitions and created numerous site-specific works. He joined his name to the artists’ initiative B.M.P.T. in 1967, the initials of which refer to Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni. Reacting against what they perceived to be the bourgeois nature of art and the art world, the painters created public campaigns, manifestos and argued for a more impartial kind of art. Buren painted vertical stripes, Parmentier horizontal ones, Mosset circles and Toroni made brush prints. Unlike Buren, who adapts the space to suit his purpose, Toroni is uninterested in transformation. He uses the space as it is, disregarding its architectural or social connotations. 

Toroni’s oeuvre can be framed within the tendency of many artists from the 1950s onwards to seek out a more objective art with an ever-greater reduction of visual media, as a reaction to the emotional art of the expressionist movements. This was a modernist aspiration to expose the essence of an artwork and the conditions that elevate it to the status of art. The criticism of what preceded this is somewhat destructive: the eradication of every superfluous form or colour. Toroni takes the question about the essence of painting to the extreme. His oeuvre is akin to a summary of all modernist dogmas of evenness and purity: the essence of a brushstroke on a surface.

Extracts from interviews (1988 – 1990 – 2010)

My great Utopia, my great folly, is to believe that even after Pollock there is still something that can be done without using a pre-existing form – either by debasing it or by making it more precious. What I call “imprint of a no. 50 brush”, is a form that does not exist. I called it that because it is the result of a work of painting: apply the hairy part of the brush, the bit used for painting, to a given surface, so that the colour is deposited there and becomes visible. Now a spot of colour can be seen, obtained by applying a brush to a support. But, according to the Petit Robert dictionary of the French language, the verb appliquer – to apply – means to put one thing on top of another so that it covers it, adheres to it or leaves an imprint on it.” It is there- fore not I who leaves an imprint, it is the no. 50 brush!

So, rather than talking of spots, of vaguely quadrangular forms or of brushstrokes, it seemed obvious to me that it was simplest to call the “thing” “imprint of a no.50 brush”. Which is what it is. The imprint is just there to be seen. It originates from a 50mm wide brush. The imprint is the form that this pictorial tool, laden with paint, leaves on the support to which it is applied. So this form only exists because there has been an act of painting and not because I woke up one fine day and said: “Ah! That’s a beautiful form!” That is why cutting out some form or other, either in the style of Matisse or geometric – since that is trendy again now – and repeat- ing it indefinitely doesn’t interest me at all, whether it is cut out, imprinted or collage.

Practical information

Niele Toroni
864 prints of n° 50 brush
Fondation CAB Saint-Paul-de-Vence
5766 Chemin des Trious ​
06570 Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Opening: Wednesday, 22 March 2023 from 18.00 till 21.00
Exhibition: from 22 March until 29 October, Mo-Su 10.00-18.00 ​
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