I lost my umbrella at the Kiraz exhibition last week in the Musee Carnavalet. It was that Tuesday when the storm we'd been warned about all weekend finally broke and the rain came down in the rue that Kerouac called 'the street of the Middle Class French People' the size of old franc pieces.
I ran into Carnavalet to get dry. Not that it ever rains in Kiraz's Paris watercolours. Sometimes it's night, sometimes it's Spring or Winter. Sometimes it's not Paris but Deauville or Biarritz, but it's always the same and it's always beautiful.
I walk up and down the ranks of his charmed Parisiennes all with the same, endlessly-repeated cute/shocked sex-doll face (it's no surprise Kiraz was asked to illustrate for Playboy) each topped by a differnt hairstyle (as Flaubert said: 'blondes; hotter than brunettes - see 'brunettes': brunettes: hotter than blondes - see 'blondes'; redheads - see blondes, brunettes').
His every-ready bachelors - goofy-toothed hicks perpetually on the edge of uncomfortable adolescence - are even more indistinguishable from each other - avatars for the artist himself?
The sugar-daddies and outraged older generation are generally out of the frame. There are some scenes from young married life, and a few stern grannies and disapproving matrons, but what happens to his girls during the time in which they grow from adorable Lolitas to comic redoutables?
Maybe they buy some of the products aimed at middle-aged women which his youthful drawings were used to promote: Candarel sugar-substitute and Scandale (an early form of 'magic knickers').
There always has to be a punchline to justify these semi-naked sirens. Kiraz frequently adds his own one-liners to his publicity drawings which, though changed for the final advertisement, work just as well. There's something interchangeable about the humour - just as there is about the girls.
So what - apart from the soft-porn element - makes Kiraz's drawings so attractive? What really sets them apart is his use of colour. The bottomless twilight of his indigo summer nights on the Champs Elysees and la Croisette. The sheer lace with which he drapes his girls, subtly altering the colour of their bodies; the transparent sheen of their reflections as they dive into a swimming pool, their feet skimming the water without ever getting wet (it seems appropriate that he drew advertisements for Perrier). He loves to show women with luminous, grey-shadowed skin, the sun behind them. Like Delacroix, he can paint "the skin of Venus with mud".
His fine art canvasses explore the Leger-like solidity of his heavy-legged, tiny-bosomed muses (not at all the build of most real-life Parisiennes I see) as he tries with Cubist symmetry, to turn his subjects inside out and get access to all sides of the girl at once.
This is some of the most lustful art I've ever seen.
Kiraz is the MacDonald's of sex (albeit with haute-cuisine execution) offering a reassuringly familiar experience again and again and again. Men are always horny, and women a combination of idealist and gold digger worthy of Anita Loos. The most sophisticated sexual situations become light as bubbly Perrier water because the his characters' feelings are never serious. Ideas, politics, business can never change anything as they all lead circularly from their motivating force to their ultimate goal: sex. It's an utterly charming, cynical, self-contained universe. But...
As I leave Kiraz's rainless paradise for the wet street, a final cartoon catches my eye: A BCBG mamie tackles her soixantehuitarde granddaughter on what odd ideas could have prompted her desire to move from her family's Neuilly townhouse to the Left Bank.
Mais, Francoise, je ne comprends pas ce qui t'empeche de vivre 'intensement' avenue Foch.
(But, Francoise, I don't understand what's preventing you from living 'intensely' on the Avenue Foch.)
In Kiraz's world, what indeed?