Corinne De Battista, Alexandra Duprez, Keiko Machida /
& Magic Spells
5th April - 18th May 2014
Looking at Corinne De Battista’s paintings is like looking through enlarged photographs drawn from an old album. But the artist retains only the substance of such yellowed and dog-eared images; the little girls of another age which she extracts from the original context and presents suspended in paint. And we are looking above all at painting, the photograph is simply a starting point. The painting is nearly monochrome, stamped with a patch of colour here and there. The black and white gives an illusion of the passage of time. It’s difficult to know whether the photos are drawn from the artist’s past but this is not, in any case, important because the poses demanded of children by professional photographers of the time were always the same.
These old-fashioned and mannered portraits of exemplary little girls, their gaze made serious and inward-looking because of the long exposure time, question the essence of childhood: its games and discoveries, its magical imagination and strange beliefs, its clumsy and therefore perplexing imitation of the adult world. Corinne De Battista asks about death, a vital element which is represented by the body of an animal on the one hand, and by the almost ghostly presence of these small apprentice women who seem to be fading into a past which is calling them back. The artist is also interested in the subject of the difficulties of identity for twins, or the complicit duality between brothers and sisters, and the relations mother/children presaged by the dolls. Gender is another related theme. A small boy is destined for a brilliant career as an army general, whereas the little girl is locked into her frills and furbelows and other conceits.
The paintings, almost drawings, of Alexandra Duprez, are as enigmatic as nursery rhymes which, apparently innocent, speak of ancestral fears and mythical quests. Woven from strands of forgotten tales and legends, these stylised images show human figures in silhouette, structured by repeated parallel, reticular or radiating lines which hold them on the surface. Space is not important in this world of sketched volumes where flat colours predominate. The artist does not seem to use a preparatory drawing but prefers to be guided by a movement which repeats straight lines, curves or dots in an almost ritual manner, to the point where transparent architectures emerge, girls and boys with vacant gazes. When eyes become the subject they become animated, emerging to occupy the walls of a house or the folds of a dress, like tiny sentinels.
In other works, Alexandra Duprez isolates the hands. They can sometimes become a face, or perhaps the ends of their arms are joined into a single independent and triumphant organ. As with the hands, people are often split into two but joined by a mass which is nearly organic. Or they are perhaps transformed into strange mutants with multiple faces and limbs. A flow of energy seems to emanate from these demi-gods or demi-monsters shown by a cluster of lines which can take on the appearance of an immense star traversed by an atomic network. Everything combines in this monochrome universe, the infinite and the infinitely small, contour and structure, abstract and figurative. All that remains is the vocabulary developed by the artist which is repeated and answered from one composition to another whatever the technique or support. The water-colours on paper are free and airy and vibrate with light and undulating colours. In the paintings, however, we can sense the use of successive layers where the accretion has been scraped, the work repeated again from the beginning until vital and powerful images have been obtained, like raw metaphors or poetry.
The fragments of childhood that Keiko Machida recreates in her drawings and ceramics resemble the fleeting images of a dream which we have difficulty remembering. Sketched faces, gaunt tree branches and mysterious houses create an ambiguous and ephemeral atmosphere vacillating between the familiar and the troubling. A few splashes of colour are enough to release a tidal wave of fresh and carefree memories, without forgetting the shadows full of frightening tales. In the same way as a child is prepared to transform reality into magic, Keiko Machida operates on the fragile frontier between dream and memory, beautiful and ugly, tranquil and disturbing. A series of small ceramic figures illustrate this well. Arms are soldered to bodies or are absent, and the outsized head of an animal causes its shoulders to bow. Seated or prostrate, these enigmatic little people suggest the age of the chrysalis, a period already heavy with anticipated limits which weaken in the fantasy moulding the mind.
In the watercolours, the fragility of the images is matched by the lightness of line which captures the very essence of the childish bodies and bearing in their plumpness and clumsy movement,. She depicts with tenderness brief instances when the fragile silhouettes are bending to play, clumsily poking a small cat or throwing a doll like a shadow of themselves into the air.
The small house also has an important place in this work. Recognisable in its basic form with a pitched roof but without doors or windows, it shows different facets from the porcelain box with shadows of leafless trees to dolls’ houses reduced to their crests only and fitted one into the other. The dialogue between empty and full plays an important role in her works whether on paper or porcelain. Bodies especially are generally left white, outlined by a trace or drawn as an understudy wound around a shape formed by another figure. Volumes are conveyed in this way and, full or empty, they themselves become the space of the composition because they are placed on the white ground of the sheet and no other element is drawn. The vegetation, however, is full of denser colours which seem to suggest passing time through the aging of matter, even its decay, while snatches of childhood remain suspended like interrupted dreams. / N. Kunz