29 October 2013

Pierre Petit: Molinier, une vie d'enfer (1992)

né le 13 avril 1900 mort vers 1950
ce fut un homme sans moralité
il s'en fit gloire et honneur

This epitaph, on a simple wooden cross, which notes the death of a man 'of no morality' who revelled in the fact, and declares that it is 'pointless to pray for him', was in fact not only written by the artist and photographer Pierre Molinier himself, but written and erected many years before his death, which was in 1976. But I think the words on his cross tell us a lot about him.

This biography by Pierre Petit of Auckland University is a very scholarly work containing footnotes, details of his exhibitions and paintings exhibited, and a Bibliography. The only thing missing is an Index, which would of course have been useful.

There's something amusing, because ironic, about Molinier's description of himself as without morality, because this is more the way he saw how others saw him than how he saw himself: he was thoroughly against convention. Indeed, from Petit's fascinating account – which for a few readers is perhaps literally difficult to stomach – the sex-obsessed artist had little comprehension of morality in this area: emphatically, in terms of sexual behaviour that gratified the self but didn't harm others, then pretty much anything was par for the course. But Molinier did hurt his wife emotionally by bringing his girlfriends home for instance, and it's hardly surprising that she left him.

Molinier spent almost all of his life in Bordeaux, although he lived in Agen about 90 miles east during his childhood and early youth. There, his father was a painter and decorator of houses and his mother a dressmaker who ran her business on the ground floor of their house. When Molinier was about three he'd delight in settling himself under the work table and caressing the legs and thighs of his mother's employees: he loved stockings and suspenders and the lower parts of a woman's body, and it's easy to imagine that it is from these early experiences that his obsession with these clothes and body parts became a strong feature of his professional life – all the photos he took of himself and women in stockings and suspenders, the naked flesh in his paintings, etc.

Molinier first had sex with a woman at the age of twelve. He had already fallen in love with his sister – he particularly adored her legs – and although there is no question of incest when she was living, she died of Spanish flu when he was 18 and he locked himself in the room containing her coffin and masturbated on her belly: he even took a photo of it.

For some years Molinier's paintings were shown at a number of exhibitions at the Salon des Artistes Indépendents Bordelais, until the inevitable rift when his paintings became perceived as too risqué. André Breton became a great admirer of Moliner's surrealism and was responsible for a number of Molinier's paintings being shown in Paris, but although there was never any rift this time (even when Molinier told Breton that he was opening a brothel in Bordeaux), Breton certainly maintained a distance between himself and Molinier.

A major event in Molinier's later life was when he fell in love with the married 'Emmanuelle Arsan' (Marayat Rollet-Andriane, who later became famous for the soft porn Emmanuelle novels), who also fell in love with Molinier, and even met him and posed naked for his photos, although this was a platonic love and any sex was on the level of pure fantasy.

Later, Molinier met the much younger Hanel, who also posed naked for him, and this relationship was decidedly sexual. Molinier believed photography was more difficult than painting, and made photomontages, one being a graft of the artist's much younger, made-up face onto Hanel's body clad in just stockings, suspenders and high-heeled shoes.

In one erotic painting, La Communion d'amour (1971), in which two naked (but oddly fused in parts) women (with the heads of Emmanuelle and Hanel) French kiss, there is a surplus of hands, although two of them are tweaking the two visible nipples, and another is inserting a dildo into a vagina.

A confusion of writhing bodies isn't unusual with Molinier, and the painting that most offended people's sensibilities is Oh! Marie...Mère de Dieu (1965), a crucifixion scene in which the man is being fellated by a woman and (it appears) being sodomised by another dildo-wielding woman. Molinier (a mischievous atheist) had an idea of sending this to the Pope.

As the artist grew older his external sexual outlets inevitably became more limited, although he bought dolls and (although he perhaps only once had a one-off homosexual relationship) delighted in sodomising himself with a dildo. He even invented a device for auto-fellation, of which of course a photo exists. (Auto-erotic asphyxiation isn't mentioned, and it is quite possible that Molinier wasn't aware of the practice, otherwise he might have died much earlier.)

Molinier always used a condom: in fact he mixed his sperm in with the paintings, meaning that they were truly erotic, that he had given a great deal of himself in them. He fed his beloved cats the left-over sperm.

Another of Molinier's interests was firearms, so when life became too much for him he had a relatively easy (or at least very quick) escape route. After arranging things as neatly as possible, Molinier lay in bed and fired a bullet through his skull. He left his body to medical science, although it is not known if (as he had once said he intended) he left the world in gaudily painted finger and toe nails.

Bordeaux recently showed an exhibition of Pierre Molinier's work, and there is even a rumour that a city square will be named after him. If so, this would mean that Molinier would join the other three Ms honoured there: Montaigne, Montesquieu and Mauriac.

No comments: