With this latest exhibition, Bernard Garo closes the ARIL cycle dedicated to the frontiers of the western world, with a portrait of four symbolic cities: Alexandria, Reykjavik, Istanbul and Lisbon. He worked on the Turkish capital with the sculptor Jo Fontaine who accompanied him there.
For many years, Jo Fontaine has developed a language of understatement and essential lines. Under his sculptor’s tools, serpentine stone seems to find the form that would result from natural erosion: a swirling curve and a circle. But here the silhouette is sublimated by the philosophical and poetic thought, guided by aesthetics and harmony, which controls the gesture. Everything seems obvious in the lines of the rings which sketch an apparently concentric dance from a centre already animated by asymmetry. We can discern maps of astral pathways as might have been made by an ancient civilisation.
In the series entitled Ciels d’Orient et d’Occident (western and eastern skies), the stone is polished to different degrees or left completely natural. Reduced to a bas-relief, it becomes a drawing, a canvas for an infinite number of shades of grey suggesting the infinity of the universe, and revealing the shadow of a star, constellations and nebulae. Volumes flatten while opening on virtual depths which almost seem painted, but which are the result of the contrast of substances and the play of light.
Istanbul’s architecture also seduced Jo Fontaine. He transformed it into small alabaster temples of imagined shapes which retained, nonetheless, stairs, towers, ogives and domes. Unobtainable because they are perched on high wooden masts, these small sculptures recall the immensity of some of the Byzantine and Ottoman structures.
In his large works, Bernard Garo emphasises the complexity of architectural structures and their imposing succession of colonnades, arches and domes. The whole is bathed in a golden light in the hollows of which we can detect Byzantine mosaics. His effort to strip out decoration in order to leave only curves and surfaces has not entirely eliminated the overwhelming richness of these places. They appear in his paintings like the resurgence of a past which dissolves again little by little. We can sense the artist’s fascination with the programmed loss of the remaining traces of the extravagant riches of the East.
Garo’s fragmented vision of this world, frozen in its ancient beauty, reminds us of the inevitable end of the city, located as it is in an unstable seismic zone. Time seems to stop as in the immense dome seen from below which stretches over the canvas like a celestial map, or in the architectural assemblages from different periods which constantly send modernity back into the background. But time also becomes mythical when the artist stretches swords into towers, or when he reduces walls to the scale of a strong-box. The observer is then transported into a theatrical and desolate universe which has transcended the photographic images of its origins, and has reconstructed simply the appearance, the evanescent splendour, but above all the nostalgic light, of a world which decomposes in a final magnificent somersault.
/// Jo Fontaine
/// Bernard Garo