Robert Combas

Robert COMBAS is a French artist that brought a new figurative painting movement in the early 1980’s, also known as the Figuration Libre/Free Figurative movement. He comes from a modest family and grew up in Sete in the South of France. At seventeen he started studying painting and in 1979 he graduated from Les Beaux Arts in Montpellier. His first works were a subtle mix between ‘popular culture’ and ‘legitimate’ culture. He is soon driven by the need to create something new, trying to become an ‘expressionist from the 1980s’. His work rapidly draws the attention of Bernard Ceysson, director of the museum of Saint-Etienne, who offered Combas his first participation to a collective exhibition in 1980. After this first success he moved to Paris, where he still works today. Through the ‘Figuration Libre’ movement, of which he remains the spearhead; Robert Combas developed a very personal and nonconformist style, claiming to be to the painting what punk is to the music. It is the street art against the establishment. This movement is often regarded as having roots in Fauvism and Expressionism and is linked to contemporary movements such as Bad Painting and Neo-expressionism. It draws on pop cultural influences such as graffiti, cartoons and rock music in an attempt to produce a more varied, direct and honest reflection of contemporary society, often satirizing or critiquing its excesses. Bright colors and black lines delimiting the different figures characterize his work. The ‘Combas style’ wants to be free and spontaneous, the result of the gesture fun, and not one of an intellectual research. His sources of inspiration are multiple and nonhierarchical (comics, advertising, religious or ancient mythologies, magazines, History, TV, news...). The cultural industry is the basis of his creative process. His work has always been strongly rooted in depiction of human figures, which often took place in volatile settings. Usually on large, often outstretched canvases, Combas crowds his flat pictorial space with a teeming proliferation of bodies, street poetry and designs reminiscent of the compulsive patterning in much folk and outsider art. He creates hectic narratives as a constant critic of modern life. In recent years a strong autobiographical strain has been evident in his work, which was present only on a subliminal level, if at all, in the earlier work. Robert Combas also tried different visual arts, sculpture and more recently music. Through the course of his career, Combas has been the subject of numerous solo and collective exhibitions throughout the world (Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, New York, Geneva, Seoul, San Francisco, London…). Retrospectives of his work have also taken place in different museums in Korea in 2007 and in France in 2012.