Jean Hélion (French, 19041987)
Oil on canvas; 57 1/2 x 44 7/8 in. (146.1 x 114 cm)
Gift of The Joseph Cantor Foundation, 1982 (1982.148.1)
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Jean Hélion was born to a working-class family in Couterne, France. After studying architecture at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and working as an architectural draftsman, he shifted his attention to the visual arts in the mid-1920s and taught himself to paint. He created his first abstract painting in 1929, the year he and Theo van Doesburg founded Art Concret (Concrete Art), a group dedicated to the promotion of abstract art. Art Concret later expanded to become Abstraction-Création, a similar association that included Jean Arp and Franti_ek Kupka. In 1936, while living in the United States, Hélion was also a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group, which counted among its members Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Willem de Kooning. Hélion served in the French armed forces in World War II; after living briefly again in New York, he spent the rest of his life in Paris, exploring a range of figurative as well as abstract styles.
Hélion painted Standing Figure in New York at a time when he was a central proponent of nonrepresentational art in the United States. Although the standing nude is a timeless subject in Western art, Hélion's abstraction of the human figure is inspired by the quick-paced life of the city streets and the presence of new technology in urban settings. The body of his standing subject is interpreted in curved forms, shaded in tones of gray so that they resemble metallic mechanical parts.