Cobra and the tongue

Pierre Alechinsky, Asger Jorn, Corneille and the tongue

Asger Jorn tent Cobra museum
Asger Jorn tentoonstelling Cobra museum

Alechinsky and Cobra

Pierre Alechinsky : ‘What is so wonderful is that, at a special moment in time, Cobra has gathered together artists from different countries, with different cultures, with a different upbringing. Suddenly we all heard the same music at the same time, and it is still in the process of developing.’

The tongue in Alechinsky’s work:

Alechinsky . 1975. Aquarel op papier, 27 x 44 cm. Collectie Ambassade Hotel
1975. Aquarel op papier, 27 x 44 cm. Collectie Ambassade Hotel

What is typical of Alechinsky in this piece, is his use of the diagonal, which divides the surface into a light side and a dark side. Other characteristic features are several figures from his Cobra period, such as the snake and the man sticking his tongue out. It seems as though he is about to be attacked by mythical monsters.

Men and snakes sticking their tongues out frequently appear in his work. It is therefore no coincidence that Alechinsky illustrated the book by Amos Kenan entitled Les tireurs de langue (The Tongue Sticker-Outers) in 1961. Tongue sticker-outers had been a theme for some time already in ‘Cobra language

’.Tireurs de langue Alechinsky

The first prominent one was on the now famous front cover of Cobra Magazine 4 .

Cobra magazine nr 4 collectie Ambassade Hotel

And in the final Cobra Magazine (10) as well, you can see a man sticking his tongue out.

Laatste Cobra magazine

 Corneille embellished this further in an ‘Après Cobra’ collage which is part of the Ambassade Hotel Collection.

Corneille. collectie Ambassade hotel
Corneille, collection Ambassade Hotel

Cobra artists stuck their own tongues out too. A youthful Karel Appel had himself filmed whilst sticking his tongue out at the camera. And both Alechinsky and Wolvecamp were photographed with their tongues sticking out. All probably meant as a humorous gesture against the establishment and the authorities.

Tong uitsteken Karel Appel en Wolvecamp

As far as Asger Jorn went, it had been a theme in his work for quite some time and he had had a profound influence on the much younger Alechinsky after staying for months with Alechinsky in the mid 1950s. A raft of meaning can be given to the sticking out of tongues. The tongue, for instance, plays a part in eating, drinking, vomiting, kissing and speaking. But there is also the difference between language and speech, or, to put it otherwise: in what tongue is one speaking?

Besides, the tongue was stuck out against the power of the word or the theory. That was something the Cobra artists fought against.

In 1964, Jorn produced a book in collaboration with Noël Arnaud, entitled La Langue vert et la Cuite (the raw tongue and the cooked one). Jorn found the tongue as a visual subject in art so fascinating that it was important to show these images.

La langue verte et la cuite

From La langue verteThe Ambassade Hotel has another ‘tongue piece’ by Alechinsky in its collection. It depicts a dragon-like figure sticking out its tongue.

Alechinsky Tong 1
Alechinsky Collection Ambassade Hotel

Text and most pictures are from Cobra on the canal (published in 2013)

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