A reverse genealogy
Throughout my artistic career, I have painted many images of women.
Women close to me, unknown women, pioneer women, different women, women figures of desire, feminist intellectuals, representations that were either very direct and immediate, or that I wanted on the contrary ambiguous.
A look back at my paintings, from the most recent to the oldest.
In the exhibition "La Poussières des Météores" in September 2019, I invoked a series of intellectuals and artists who impressed me by their writings or works, by their ability to transmit a more human speech, more anchored in a sensitive reality. Unlike Gerhard Richter, who does not give space to women in his series "48 portraits", which critically takes up the nationalist glorification of a certain Germany, I have painted Rebecca Solnitt, Sally Mann, Kate Tempest, Marguerite Duras... All these emblematic figures have had a lasting and optimistic impact on my vision of the contemporary world. They were followed by two portraits of pioneers in journalism and aviation from my 2010 series "The Wanderlust Appreciation Society", a series that already mirrors that of G. Richter.
My last body of large format paintings that formed a homogenous whole and featured female figures was presented in Los Angeles in 2018 at Patrick Painter Inc.
The paintings, sometimes monumental, showed women in situations where associations can lead to multiple interpretations. Composed of collages of images borrowed from Anne Theresa de Kersmaeker, Ingmar Bergman and animal documentaries, the scenes became allegories: The #metoo campaign was in full swing, and the world seemed to be discovering the almost continual harassment of women. Atmospherically, this topicality materialized in each of these paintings.
An image chosen for a particularly fascinating piece of clothing became my first "Mother" in 2008, a pastel on paper drawn in Australia during a residency, which I then associated with a "Father", whose source image is a photograph of my maternal grandfather.
I then created a series in which each drawing bears the same title, small watercolors chiselled in watercolor according to the same principle, a disfiguration of the object of desire, a disfiguration of love.
A series filled with "Mothers", the projection power of a universal title.
I worked mainly with set photographs of big movie stars, during my collections of images from second-hand booksellers. These images resonate in several places, a certain fascination for the plastic beauty, the pageantry, the play of light, expressions both stereotypical and human sometimes, magicians of the image at work. Rhinestones and sequins, the height of faux and blush. I am at the same time attracted and repulsed by the mastery of the eyes of these makers of fascination. Effective propaganda that models our representations of life, love, desire and finally our lives.
A stubborn stereotype.
The image and representation of women is found throughout the history of images. From the Venus of Lespuges to the goddess Iris, from the Virgin Mary to Lady Gaga or Isabelle Huppert virtually embalmed by Frederik Heyman, a hyperrealistic and cybernetic representation, the image of woman is used for everything, everywhere and anyhow.
But not for just anything.
In my series Cipher for example, I create a mixture of beings and/or fluid spaces composed of pictorial matter in relation to characters, often heroines. The association is astonishing, as the images chosen showed characters in distress, or in a situation. Hollywood or classical cinema abounds in this situation: a woman in distress, who needs man to exist. An image of the woman imposed on the woman, the man, the children. The LGBTQ activist movement that is currently taking shape succeeds in supplanting these binary notions because the human being can define himself as non-binary, fluid...
Living sculpture is the promise of a liberation of the being, of the possible, of the imagination, of the future.
Gender issues and stereotypes have worried me since childhood, from the first fight in kindergarten to the study of the misdeeds of patriarchy in our troubled times. The production of the images that surround us in the media and public space reveals itself to me as a constant reminder of order and normality. I worked from 1998 to 2004 from two distinct sources: intimate photographs (friends, love, family) and as opposed to photographs from the field of popular media (pop culture, advertising, diy books, pornography, encyclopedia). In retrospect, I must note that the imagery used in these series involving women constitutes a large part of the subjects (in equal proportion to male and animal imagery).
My way of working was very simple, I was in reaction with the world of images. The images were perceived as entities that addressed me, that assaulted or charmed me. Very sensitive to this relationship, I painted directly what came to me, through the prism of the painted image. The way these paintings are made is in line with the direct side of the images; by freely handling the pictorial material, alternating blur and frank touch, the play on the gaze and voyeurism slides from one treatment to the other.
Mother is the name of the ship in Ridley Scott's Alien, and the work that touches the depths of H.R.Giger's psyche impressed me greatly, although it is absent from my library.
At the age of fifteen, I painted in black and white the image of a beautiful woman, whose tragic fate I discovered ten years later, Sharon Tate.
I painted Marilyn Monroe in tears, an image stolen from the film "the misfits", planted on a man in a tetany crisis, horizontally between two chairs.
I painted women's bodies shaped by the effort.
I drew naked models for ten years to exercise my gaze, when apples would have sufficed. I never liked to draw apples.
Mother Sally Mann, witness of a beautiful, short and sublimated childhood.
The mother Kathe Kolwith, carrying the child of war.
Mothers mingle without fathers.
Stephan Balleux, Sunday, June 14, 2020, Father's Day.