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Raoul Ubac 1910 – 1985


Raoul Ubac was a non-figurative French Painter of Belgian origin, born in August 1910. Growing up in Belgium, his mother’s family were tanners while his father was a magistrate. He studied in Belgium in his young adult life and travelled parts of Europe on foot before making his first stay in Paris in 1928. Ubac enrolled at the Sorbonne there to study literature. However, he soon decided he wanted a different career path and chose to attend the Art Academy of Montparnasse instead. It was here that he established contact with the Surrealists and his career had begun. 

Ubac was especially passionate about Surrealist photography and drawing. Therefore, he chose to enrol at the School of Applied Arts in Cologne where he worked on developing his skills. At this time he distanced himself from painting, distracted with the art of photography. He took to travelling and took many photographs during this period. He would also draw the objects and places he had photographed. By 1934, Ubac had published a collection of poems and photographs, under the name of Raoul Michelet. After this he devoted himself to lithography and engraving. Between the years of 1936 and 1939 he regularly visited the workshop of Stanley Hayter who trained him to engrave using chisels. Ubac shared these activities with many of the Surrealists, including Hans Bellmer and Victor Brauner. In terms of his work, he had begun to combine negatives and double expose his photographs, using techniques, similar to pioneering photographer Man Ray, such as solarisation. His works created a smoky effect, nicknamed ‘Burnouts’. They showed an evolution in his work towards abstraction. Some of his works were published in magazines and leading Surrealist Andre Bréton hired him to photograph models, which would be presented in the Surrealist’ International Exhibition.


In 1940, Raoul Ubac was busy running the Collective Invention review alongside René Magritte. At the time he was meeting many other artists such as Paul Éluard, André Frénau, Raymond Queneau and Jean Bazaine. This was a time for great excitement and progress in his artistic career as Ubac felt the influence of the other artists. That year he also had his final photography exhibition, paving the way for a new stage in his artistic development. 


During the tumultuous years of the Second World War, Ubac moved further and further away from Surrealist and began to draw still life pictures before completely abandoning photography in 1945. In 1946 he experimented with engraving again but this time combining it with gouache, therefore creating prints that combined sculpture and painting. He researched the forms and colours used by his fellow artists and as a result his work developed character with new perspectives. 


From 1951, the Aimé Maeght gallery frequently exhibited Ubac’s gouaches and canvases while editing engravings and lithographs too. His serious and profound work was creating a name for the artist, his creations becoming aligned with the primitive arts with its new-found simple style. 


In the 1960s Raoul Ubac continued to experiment. He was particularly prolific during this latter part of his career. He made large paintings on notice boards as well as high reliefs and murals for public and private buildings. He also learned how to stain glass, collaborating with fellow artist Georges Braque. He also worked with publishers to illustrate books and covers. He had created a strong reputation. He died in 1985, leaving a large output that continues to be exhibited in France and internationally today, including at the MOMA New York. 

Slade House collects and owns original lithographs, giclees and limited edition prints by all of the artists represented here - only some of which are for sale online. Please get in touch if you would like to see our wider collection. 

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