The seductive colours and familiar subjects of Sébastien Mettraux’s canvasses nevertheless quickly evoke an uncomfortable feeling, heightened especially by the absence of humans. Idyllic villas, nuclear shelters and, more recently, enlarged industrial machines, all seem suspended in an indeterminate time at the interval between what has already occurred and what is to come. The artist’s recent series entitled “Ex Machina” features industrial machines which he himself has worked with or observed.
Presented in such a way that their large size is not an issue, their sculptural beauty is enhanced by flamboyant colours drawn from reality. The surprising shapes of the machines clearly fascinate the artist and, taken out of their production context, it is difficult to guess their original purpose. Through their perfect immobility and unaccustomed silence, they have become enigmatic and the work resembles a mysterious still life.
In “Derniers Paysages” (Final Landscapes), Sébastien Mettraux takes us into nuclear shelters portrayed with an almost scientific rigour. The confined spaces within grey concrete walls are made to appear like labyrinths which deny any dreams of escape. Presented in small and medium formats, they are enlivened by coloured elements such as piping, boxes and other containers, which become reliquaries in an emprisoned landscape. These places are not simply abandoned, they seem to be waiting, frozen in time, stripped of any narrative. The various elements contribute to the construction of the whole like a series of geometrically organised and overlapping planes. The artist is envisaging a post-apocalyptic reality, the last that we would see.
The luxury dwellings of the Derniers Paysages III (Final Landscapes) series, are inspired by the images found in the housing brochures addressed to the rich. Using a purified aesthetic these images have replaced, in Mettraux’s opinion, the codes used to project paradise since the Renaissance. Oscillating between ideal and artifice, the buildings are surrounded by improbable greenery under an equally unlikely sky and reflect the architectural ideal of Corbusier as well as the traditional paintings which sublimated the shores of Lake Geneva. We are shown how the future is sold as paradise, as a way of warding off its uncertainties.
The forms the artist presents in his engravings are drawn from images which already have a mass existence. Mettraux produces deliberately imperfect craft versions. He gives them a surface texture and an interesting topography. The choice of form is determined by the shape of the original which must, essentially, be abstract in order to allow different interpretations: an example is the ice-cream cones which sketch, in truth, a nuclear explosion.
Whatever the subject, Sébastien Mettraux is interested in the manufacture, style and the technology itself of the objects. Painting in oils is an inherent component of the subject of these pieces allowing, as it does, subtle variations in tone. The imperfections of the strokes which is visible on close observation, play an equal role in the sublimation of the pictorial quality of his works. Humans are absent, but we are reminded of them through the imperfections in the artist’s gestures which exemplify the delicate and unattainable frontier beween representation and reality.
/// Sébastien Mettraux