Painting the Painter

Meta-Representation and Magic Realism in Joann Sfar's Chagall en Russie

in European Comic Art
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  • 1 University of Louisiana at Lafayette fleroy@louisiana.edu
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French cartoonist and filmmaker Joann Sfar has often used the comics medium to reflect on visual representation. His latest bande dessinée, Chagall en Russie ['Chagall in Russia'] (2010-2011), continues some of the meta-pictural elements previously found in his Pascin (2000-2002), which already featured Chagall in several episodes, as well as his acclaimed series, The Rabbi's Cat, where Sfar introduced the character of an anonymous Russian painter, whose biography and artistic stance seemingly referred to that of Marc Chagall. Although Chagall en Russie explicitly refers to the real-life Franco-Russian modernist painter, it is certainly not a standard biographical exercise. By offering a synthetic and often symbolic version of personal and historical events experienced by Chagall, Sfar takes certain liberties with the painter's life story as it was outlined by the artist (in My Life, his 1922 autobiography) and by many biographers and art historians. Sfar does not seek an authentic depiction of his subject's verifiable life journey, but rather views it through a metaphorical narrative, which is itself inspired by Chagall's artistic universe and raises questions about the figurative possibilities of comics.

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