The Jazzmen is a section of what Jacques Villeglé termed affiches lacérées, posters torn down from the walls of Paris. These particular ones were taken on 10 December 1961. Following his established practice, Villeglé removed the section from a billboard and, having mounted it on canvas, presented it as a work of art. In 'Des Réalités collectives' of 1958 ('Collective Realities', reprinted in 1960: Les Nouveaux Réalistes, pp.259-60) he acknowledged that he occasionally tore the surface of the posters himself, although he subsequently restricted interventions to repairs during the mounting process. The large blue and green advertisements for Radinola (at the top right and lower left) provide the main visible surface for The Jazzmen. These establish a compositional unity for the accumulated layers. Overlaid are fragmentary music posters and fly-posters, some dated to September 1961, including the images of the red guitarists that lend the work its title. The artist's records give the source as rue de Tolbiac, a thoroughfare in the 13th arrondissement in south-east Paris. Villeglé usually uses the street as his title, but has suggested (interview with the author, February 2000) that the title The Jazzmen may have been invented for the work's inclusion in the exhibition L'Art du jazz (Musée Galliera, Paris 1967).
Villeglé worked together with Raymond Hains (b. 1926) in presenting torn posters as works of art. They collaborated on such works as Ach Alma Manetro, 1949 (Musée nationale d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris), in which typography dominates the composition. They first showed their affiches lacérées in May 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy, Paris, in a joint exhibition named Loi du 29 juillet 1881 ou le lyrisme à la sauvette (The Law of 29 July 1881 or Lyricism through Salvage) in reference to the law forbidding fly-posting. Villeglé sees a social complexity in the developments in the style, typography and subject of the source posters. He also considers the processes of the overlaying and the pealing of the posters by passers-by to be a manifestation of a liberated art of the street. Both aspects are implicitly political. As Villeglé points out, anonymity differentiates the torn posters from the collages of the Cubists or of the German artist Kurt Schwitters. In 'Des Réalités collectives' Villeglé wrote: 'To collages, which originate in the interplay of many possible attitudes, the affiches lacérées, as a spontaneous manifestation, oppose … their immediate vivacity'. He saw the results as extending the conceptual basis of Marcel Duchamp's readymades, whereby an object selected by an artist is declared as art. However, this reduction of the artist's traditional role brought an end to Villeglé's collaboration with Hains, who held more orthodox views of creative invention.
In 1960 Villeglé, Hains and François Dufrêne (1930-82), who also used torn posters, joined the Nouveaux Réalistes group gathered by the critic Pierre Restany (b.1930). Distinguished by the use of very disparate materials and techniques, the Nouveaux Réalistes - who also included Arman (b.1928), Yves Klein (1928-62) and Jean Tinguely (1925-91) - were united by what Villeglé has called their 'distance from the act of painting' as characterised by the dominant abstraction of the period (interview February 2000). In this way, Klein's monochrome paintings (see Tate T01513) and Villeglé's affiches lacérées conform to the group's joint declaration of 27 October 1960: 'The Nouveaux Réalistes have become aware of their collective singularity. Nouveau Réalisme = new perceptual approaches to reality.' The Jazzmen, of the following year, embodies Villeglé's understanding of his 'singularity' as a conduit for anonymous public expression.
1960: Les Nouveaux Réalistes, exhibition catalogue, Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris 1986, pp.253-4, 259-60
Jacques Villeglé, Urbi & Orbi, Mâcon 1986
Alfred Pacquement, 'The Nouveaux Réalistes: The Renewal of Art in Paris around 1960', in Pop Art, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1991, pp.214-18