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PARIS — The daft drawings and paintings of pascALEjandro are candy cute, but there is a tarotologist and occultist evocation to these bonbons that is powerfully seductive. The images have been produced collaboratively by the avant-garde, psycho-magical, Chilean-French poet, composer, and filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky and his wife, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky (their nom de plume unites the spouses’ first names via the three letters they share). The duo’s new exhibition at Galerie Azzedine Alaia, L’androgyne alchimique, purportedly features work that addresses alchemy and androgyny. These are deep, intertwined themes that André Breton addressed in his 1953 text “On Surrealism in its Living Works,” writing that in art it is essential to undertake the reconstruction of the primordial androgyne within us all.
Montandon-Jodorowsky’s paintings are abstract and lyrical. In 2005, she created some beautiful minimal set designs and costumes for choreographer and dancer Carolyn Carlson’s piece Wash The Flowers. Jodorowsky, for his part, was a founding member of the Parisian anarchistic art happening Panic Movement, which flouted conventional morality in Surrealist fashion, and is the creator of some of the craziest, most incomprehensible, and most transgressive films in the history of cinema. The unseemly acid Western El Topo (1970) is intense, mind-bending, and aesthetically gripping, but I’d argue that The Holy Mountain (1973) is his best, with its high-baroque timbre, hyper-magical exuberance, and vivid pop palette. Both are over-the-top masterpieces that (trigger warning) blend religious provocation, bloody violent images, and heavy mysticism into what Jodorowsky calls psychoshamanism. I place Jodorowsky high in my pantheon of artists who deliver satiating surreal excess. For that reason, when I first came to Paris in 1995, I attended one of his psychomagical lectures on spiritual alchemy, the tarot, Zen Buddhism, and shamanism.
In light of Jodorowsky’s philosophic and filmic interests, I had expected something a bit, well, wilder in terms of drawn shapes and style from pascALEjandro. These watercolors appear to be amusing illustrations (with panache), but what they are illustrating is far from evident, hence their curbed seductive charm. I initially searched them for tarot card references, but found no clear relationships, though some look as though they might have been inspired by the sum total of an entire tarot deck. In “Alegria! Alegria! Alegria!” (2017), for example, one sees hints of the Magician, Death, and the Two of Pentacles cards. Speaking with Jodorowsky at the opening, he clarified that the imagery has no direct connection to tarot, but springs from his imagination whole — an imagination that has been marinating for years in tarot practices. He regularly gives open, silent card readings, so his mind is immersed in tarot imagery that in turn is nutritious for his unconscious art mind.
I asked Jodorowsky if he might one day create art for his own tarot deck, as Aleister Crowley and the artist Lady Frieda Harris did with their beautifully painted Thoth tarot card symbols, but he dismissed the idea. He proudly uses the Tarot de Marseille deck from the Marseillais Master Cardmakers tradition and said he follows the method of Philippe Camoin. The theoretical part of Camoin’s method embraces the intellectual intuition of synchronicity, a concept first developed by Swiss analytical psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, who maintained that events are synchronic ‘meaningful coincidences’ if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related. The problem for me is that synchronicity is suspect within cognitive science, an error of inductive inference and a form of confirmation bias (a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and avoids interpretations that contradict prior beliefs). But this is art, not science.
As Jodorowsky explained to me, the Tarot de Marseille deck teaches the user to see through its level of non-sequential complexity. In tarot spreads, discrete details set up a scenario for divinational gazing, such as I have previously discussed in terms of Dada’s use of chance ocular techniques. This is a method that takes the indeterminate seriously as a conduit to meaningful probabilities. As documented by historians, ethnographers, and cultural anthropologists, non-sequential magical gazing is a global and persistent aspect of human cultures. And here it is again.
That magical gaze is always gratifying, but I found something else lacking in pascALEjandro’s works. I found little in these romantic (if iconoclastic) images that was intensely alchemical or androgynous. Mostly they evoke a hyperbolic celebration of a particular heterosexual couple in love. This is highlighted by isolating their first collaborative drawing, “Nous deux/Nosotros dos” (2009), which Montandon-Jodorowsky colored at the outset of their romance. The very pretty and cheery multicolored images that romance inspired are charming, but they don’t deliver much of a metaphysical punch.
Most of pascALEjandro’s drawings, far from being transgressive or even challenging, are inoffensively joyful. There is much gravity-free floating going on here, evoking the ‘high’ of falling in love, as seen in “La vérité entre deux langues” (2016). The imagery has more to do with the loveliness of Marc Chagall and Francesco Clemente than the obscurity of alchemy or perplexity of androgyny. The ‘magical’ core here recalls the straight love and passion evident in Jodorowsky’s two recent Spanish language films, La Danza de la Realidad (2013) and Poesía Sin Fin (2016), for both of which Montandon-Jodorowsky designed the costumes. The music from Poesía Sin Fin, by son Adan Jodorowsky, plays in the gallery, where stills from those films are also being projected. On the occasion of the exhibition, the paperback book pascALEjandro has been published by Azzedine Alaïa and Actes Sud, ensuring that the love and poetry never end, even while psychomagical intensities fade.