Malcolm Imrie, The Guardian, Friday March 8, 2002.
The artist, writer and co-founder of the Situationist International, Ralph Rumney, has died of cancer at his home in Manosque, Provence, aged 67.
Interviewed in The Map Is Not The Territory, a study of his life and works by Alan Woods, he said: "I think the trick, as far as possible, is to be sort of anonymous within this society. You know, to sort of vanish." Indeed, until the publication last year of that marvellous book, Ralph seemed almost to have been forgotten in his home country, except by those of us fortunate enough to have known him.
In 1989, the Tate bought one of his paintings, The Change, dating from 1957. And there have been a few retrospective shows of his work in the last few years, most recently in his home town of Halifax.
Ralph produced a vast body of work over the years - from informal abstracts to large canvases using gold and silver leaf, from plaster moulds to polaroids, montages and videos. But only now are these being reassembled and reassessed. As he put it: "They've been scattered all over the place. That corresponds to a particular way of life, to luck and different circumstances. Things are sold, things are lost. You could almost say that today I'm an artist without works, that they've become accessories."
Ralph's vanishing tricks were notorious, an essential part of a life of permanent adventure and endless experiment. He moved, as his friend Guy Atkins said, "between penury and almost absurd affluence. One visited him in a squalid room in London's Neal Street, in a house shared with near down-and-outs. Next, one would find him in Harry's Bar in Venice, or at a Max Ernst opening in Paris. He seemed to take poverty with more equanimity than riches."
Only latterly, and partly because of ill-health, did Ralph settle down in Manosque, where he shared a flat full of his paintings with his cat, Borgia. For The Consul, another book of interviews with him soon to be published in Britain, he chose, as an epigraph, a phrase from the French writer Marcel Schwob: "Flee the ruins, and don't cry in them."
For most of his life, Ralph was a nomad, wandering from country to country, into and out of trouble - in London, Paris, Milan, Venice, or on the tiny island of Linosa, south of Sicily, one of his favourite places. "I've always felt entirely at ease among the 400 inhabitants, regularly cut off from the world for long periods. Some people have accused me of having a morbid love of solitude, but I would claim that what I found there was, in fact, a small society on a human scale."
Claiming not to believe in avantgardes, Ralph none the less crossed paths - and sometimes swords - with just about every radical movement in art and politics of the last 50 years, made his contribution, and moved on.
He was born in Newcastle, and, at the age of two, moved to Halifax, where his father, the son of a coalminer, was a vicar. He endured boarding school, discovered de Sade and the surrealists in his early teens, turned down places at Oxford and at art school, ran away to Soho bohemia, and to Paris.
What followed was a long, erratic journey. En route, his travelling companions included EP Thompson, who gave him a room when he was 17 so he could escape his parents, and deepened his understanding of Marxism; Stefan Themerson, a collaborator on Other Voices, the magazine Ralph produced in London in the mid-1950s; Georges Bataille, with whom Ralph argued about eroticism; Yves Klein, whose work, like that of Michaux, Fontana and others, Ralph introduced to the London art world; William Burroughs; and the philosopher and psychiatrist, Félix Guattari, who gave Ralph sanctuary in his clinic outside Paris when he was, unforgivably, accused of murder.
In 1967, Ralph's wife Pegeen - whom he had saved from earlier suicide attempts - killed herself with an overdose of barbiturates in their Paris flat. Her mother, Peggy Guggenheim, who had always hated Ralph (for reasons he describes, with wit and a surprising lack of bitterness, in The Consul), took out a civil action against him for murder and "non-assistance to a person in danger". Already devastated by the loss of his wife, Ralph endured months of persecution before the action was dropped.
It was Ralph's involvement with the Situationists that was most important to him, and which has, in part, led to the rediscovery of his work. There is a set of photographs from the first meeting of the Situationist International, in the Italian village of Cosio d'Arroscia in July 1957. All the founding members are there: Walter Olmo, Michèle Bernstein, Asger Jorn and, of course, Guy Debord, smiling at the camera. Only Ralph is missing - because he took the photos.
His own description of the foundation of what some now see as the most lucid revolutionary grouping of the second half of the 20th century is modest, but accurate enough: "At the level of ideas, I don't think we came up with anything which did not already exist. Collectively, we created a synthesis, using Rimbaud, Lautréamont and others, like Feuerbach, Hegel, Marx, the Futurists, Dada, the Surrealists. We knew how to put all that together."
Ralph's membership of the SI did not last long. Debord expelled him - "politely, even amiably" - less than a year later, accusing him, wrongly, as it happens, of failing to complete a projected psychogeography of Venice. But his association with the Situationists did not end there. It endured throughout his life; he remained friends with many of them.
In the early 1970s, Ralph married Debord's former wife Michèle Bernstein, and, though they later divorced, the two remained close friends. To Ralph, she was "the most situationist" of them all, the one who fought to stop the group turning into an an ideology or a sect. In that case, they were perfectly matched.
A couple of years ago, with public interest in the Situationists growing, a whole slew of books on the movement were published in France. But it was The Consul that was, as the paper Libération put it, "the most lively, the most passionate". Ralph embodied the best of the SI, in his political intransigence and intellectual curiosity, in his playfulness and wit, and in his anger at those who are running, and ruining, this world.
He is survived by his son, Sandro, a well-known art dealer.
Ralph Rumney, artist, born June 5 1934; died March 6 2002.
Ralph Rumney est mort à Manosque le 6 mars. Il y a quarante-cinq ans, avec une escouade d'autres artistes imaginatifs, il avait fondé l'Internationale situationniste. Né en 1934 à Newcastle, Ralph Rumney a étudié à la Halifax School of Arts mais, à 18 ans, il quitte l'Angleterre pour échapper au service militaire. Débarqué à Paris, il fréquente le bistrot Moineau. Les autres piliers du lieu, les animateurs de l'Internationale lettriste (Michèle Bernstein et Guy Debord, entre autres), le surnomment le Consul en référence à l'alcoolisme du héros d'Au-dessous du volcan de Malcolm Lowry. En 1953, de retour à Londres, il publie la revue Other Voices, puis peint Change, un tableau aujourd'hui visible à la Tate Modern de Londres. C'est en 1957 qu'il participe à la fondation de l'Internationale situationniste, à Cosio d'Arroscia en Italie. Il y représente le Comité psychogéographique de Lon dres, dont il est à peu près le seul membre et dont les théories trouvent un écho dans la dérive debordienne. A l'époque, Rumney rencontre et épouse Pegeen Vail, fille de la célèbre collectionneuse Peggy Guggenheim. Il expose avec Yves Klein et Asger Jørn à Bruxelles, réalise le Guide psychogéographique de Venise, sous forme de roman-photo. Un an plus tard, en 1958, il est exclu de l'Internationale situationniste par Debord. Officiellement, il aurait rendu trop tardivement un texte à la revue. Mais «Guy ne donnait pas toujours les vraies raisons des exclusions», note Rumney dans le Consul, son élégant livre de mémoires (Allia, 1999). Il y ajoute : «C'était très décourageant. J'y croyais vraiment (à l'IS, ndlr), et j'y crois toujours. On ne tourne pas forcément casaque après excommunication...» En 1960, il participe à l'exposition British Abstract Art de Londres. Désormais, il partage sa vie entre Paris et Venise, fréquente de nombreux artistes et écrivains. A la fin des années 60, à Paris, il se lie avec François Le Lionnais, fondateur de l'Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle). Après la mort tragique de sa femme Pegeen, en 1967, il continuera de sillonner le triangle Venise-Paris-Londres. Il se remarie brièvement avec Michèle Bernstein, l'ex-femme de Debord. En 1989, Rumney s'installe définitivement à Manosque où il travaille sur ses oeuvres plastiques, l'ensemble l'Ecart par exemple, ou encore Des seins, fétiches sous forme de Polaroïd montés en série.
AFP - 08/03 18:32 :
L'artiste situationniste anglais Ralph Rumney est mort des suites d'un cancer le 6 mars à l'âge de 67 ans à Manosque (Alpes de Haute Provence) où il s'était retiré il y a douze ans, a annoncé vendredi sa belle-fille dans un appel téléphonique à l'AFP.
Installé en France depuis 1952, Rumney avait publié en Grande-Bretagne la revue "Other Voices" en 1953/54. Il avait intégré en 1957 "L'Internationale situationniste", en tant que représentant du "comité psycho-géographique" de Londres.
Mouvement d'avant-garde politique, littéraire et artistique de la fin des années 50, héritier du surréalisme et du lettrisme, le situationnisme, dont le chef de file était Guy Debord, s'est manifesté par des positions radicales lors des événements de 1968.
Marié à la fille de la collectionneuse Peggy Guggenheim, Ralph Rumney, qui avait notamment exposé à Bruxelles aux côtés d'Yves Klein, et fréquentait les fondateurs d'Oulipo, s'était installé à Manosque en 1989.