Sunday, February 12, 2017

Front to Back

Snow in the Desert, 2017, acrylic on canvas
Half-way between the vibrant exuberance of Rebecca Campbell’s images and Luc Tuyman’s clinical stroke-by-stroke reproductions lay the gliding, neutral toned figures of LA based French painter Claire Tabouret. In Eclipse, the artist’s first solo exhibition with Night Gallery, portraits and scenes are transcribed in a loose, assured line. The monoprints and canvases reveal a casual draughtsmanship unhindered by any photographic flatness. Despite the contrasting patterns that come together to form figures and backgrounds, every moment of detail in Tabouret's pictures is merely suggested. These suggestions contribute in different ways depending on the body of work. In the Frosty Morning depicts a figure in a coat, suit, and hat. More information would be required to make out this individuals face. This lack of info creates mystery; mystery invites narrative. The withholding of key bits of information is at work in Snow in the Desert and The Wanderer, both of which feature figures (characters?) whose backs are turned to the viewer. In other smaller portrait works, the suggestive line work serves to de-personalize the figures. The smears of paint across their lips highlight the interpretation of these largely imagined figures as more like mannequins than models. This is an engaging and wise riff on the notions of the subjects artists paint vs. literal “painted subjects” of models wearing cosmetics, and the problematic generation of images of them as mannequin-like objects.

Installation view of Claire Tabouret: Eclipse at Night Gallery, Los Angeles CA. Image from

The press release of the exhibition attempts to diffuse any viewer-generated narrative momentum by spoiling the ending in several of the works. The figures in the larger works and monoprints are characters from history, of various levels of obscurity and notoriety, and knowing a little bit of their stories imbue each scene with a poetic fascination. With this info, the turned backs, snowy scenes and desert wanderings dovetail into themes of isolation, obscurity,  and operating with one’s “back to the world”, to paraphrase Agnes Martin, one of Tabouret’s up front subjects and inspirations. The portraits and group scenes have their “front” to the world, and consequently seem less individualistic and more anonymous than the obscured figures of the other works. If there is an incongruity within the exhibition it is with the two group scenes, the titular The Eclipse and The Viewers. Both are reminiscent of earlier, more assured group portraits of debutantes, one of which was scene here in LA last year at SADE in Lincoln Heights. The anonymity of the faces in these two newer group scenes confuse their effect next to the smaller portraits, which make better use of such depersonalized blankness, their faces serving as canvases within the painting. 
The Wanderer (Blue), 2017, acrylic on canvas
In The Frosty Morning, 2017, acrylic on canvas

There are more aesthetic lineages at play in Tabouret’s work that reference some of figure painting's all-star team. Elizabeth Peyton comes to mind with some of the portraiture, and the visual wonder and abstraction surrounding the figures in some of the larger works has a Peter Doig feel. In some instances, Tabouret transcends the superficial qualities of her influences for deeper, more genuine effect. Functioning in all of the canvases is a disarming, restrained and informed use of neutral hues that serves to contextualize the images as having a life before they were references, and imparting a slower, more contemplative read. The paintings are apparently begun with brighter colors that are muted over time, and some of this higher intensity color remains in the monoprint works. Many of these articulate Tabouret’s themes better and more immediately. The mediation of the monoprint process contributes a beneficial layer of abstraction and simplified color that deepens and enhances formal cues of narrative, isolation, and mystery. While there are select passages in the canvases that glide with painterly insight, some of the monoprints’ entire compositions exude this quality. Delicate renderings of fleeting light and cast shadow just coalesce in these works, suggesting even less specific information than the paintings.

The Stains (Brown) 2017, acrylic on canvas

The Stains (Garnet) 2017, acrylic on canvas

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