Le Faux Rire (Image Tragi-Comique)
As its title might suggest - translating as "The Fake Laugh (Tragic-Comic Image)" - this painting represents laugher. An abstract, multi-colored, two-faced figure is shown in an awkward, half-reclining position, apparently holding one arm up in the air. Above this figure hovers a smiling yellow-orange face. The depiction of these forms, as with so much of Jorn's work, seems at once conspicuously crude and to allude to a nuanced ontological position of some kind. The critic Karen Kurczynski notes that this work likely bore a relationship to Jorn's famous painting Stalingrad, which he began later that same year. The original title for Stalingrad was Le Fou Rire ("Mad Laughter"), which, as Kurczynski points out, may not simply refer to "the 'mad laughter of courage' in an epic battle". As a fan of puns, Jorn probably saw a link between "Le Faux Rire" and "Le Fou Rire", "Fou being a reference to an authentic expression, faux indicating irony and inauthenticity". As such, the state of emotion depicted in both works can be seen as highly complex, with few secure inferences to be drawn about their stances on their relative subject matter.
The complexity of human emotion is a central theme in many of Jorn's works, including La Double Face and Le Cri ("The Scream") (both 1960). For Kurczynski, this mixture of the comic and the tragic or repulsive is exemplary of the "grotesque", a quality associated with medieval artists and writers such as Rabelais. But complicating the duality of the tragi-comic in Jorn's painting, as Kurczynski adds, is a third "dimension", "the question of 'fake' laughter. The issue of something fake destroys any notion of authenticity and cuts through any attempt to securely define something." Indeed, this quality of ambivalence is, as Kurczynski adds, central to the particular form of grotesqueness that Jorn sought to present: "[i]t is grotesque because it fails to cohere as a recognizable group of figures. Instead it conveys the process of signification. Maybe it even conveys the process of creating humor itself, and its flipside, tragedy itself, out of the neutral facts of what happens in the world. There is also a recognition implicit here (but signified by the contradictions inherent in the title) that the process of signification is always social. So what one calls greatness, another calls tragedy, and yet another calls humor."
Another key quality of this piece is its emphasis on childlike or subversive play. This connects it to Jorn's wider artistic and political stance, and to the ethos of the CoBrA artists, for whom 'play' was a key creative and critical strategy. Kurczynski notes that "the main figure is not just laughing, but sticking out his tongue, ... a gesture of childishness, defiance, as well as disgust ... referenced earlier in CoBrA and examined in Jorn's later book La langue verte et la cuite."
Oil on canva - Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen