What is it about the unpredictable sea, that we wistfully mistake for calm when it is really very, very unrelenting? Its rhythmic surface belies an entire unseen world, an overwhelming number of dangerous contingencies. We will never find order in it, only in the depiction of its surface, pointed loops that calm our fears of its disorder.
Consider the lazy curve of the young bather’s back in the hum of the midday heat. How it mirrors his own crooked nose, the smoke stacks and those pensive working men who relax in the background. A man and his dog once lounged in the foreground too.
They have been cut out of Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884) by Loïc Raguénès. What happens to the scene’s composition, its mood, its meaning in their absence? With whom does the agency of decision lie? Seurat’s painting, of course, is hardly his own anymore. Raguénès has edited the image via an exhibition poster, reproduced a million times, thus asking the image to continue reverberating through time, mutating—its focus shifting.
Payne’s Grey, here, masquerades at first as black, its dilutions gradually giving way to a brooding grey-blue: the colour of the Atlantic on a cloudy day. There is no true black in its pigmentation, but a muddle of ultramarine (or indigo) and sienna: vibrancy rendered mute when paired. Most crucially, it is a colour that exists for the background, originally formulated in order to better reproduce progressive desaturation in atmospheric perspective. Like Seurat’s scene, it asks us to focus not only on what is in front of us, but what may be to come, that which is just out of reach on the horizon or the edges of a painting.
Truffaut’s La Peau Douce (“The Soft Skin”) is the story of an extra-marital affair. Of off-kilter decisions. Is it the matchbook that Nicole (Françoise Dorleac) writes her phone number in for Pierre (Jean Desailly), or is it Pierre’s woefully misunderstood interpretation of her commitment to him (in the form of the apartment he finds for them) that leads to his pathetic demise? How can spontaneity, choice, self-determination be so haplessly stifled in the name of love? What is contained in a romantic gesture?
Loïc Raguénès asks us to meditate on these disparate elements as they mell with the seeming simplicity of his paintings in gouache and tempera. They are methodical, rhythmic, and serene. And yet, one suspects a certain entropy about to give way to the moment in which our ease in digesting the work will falters. Raguénès’ practiced geometry and measured colours are decisions that mask slippage into an intriguing, and much murkier world.
This, perhaps is what is contained in a tulip. The product of a bulb, like an onion, whose translucent layers contain as many possibilities as the decision to offer its flower to a person you think you might love.
- Written on the occasion of Loïc Raguénès exhibition at CLEARING, Brussels, 2018