Philippe Mayaux — Æntre
Past: February 14 → March 29, 2014Philippe Mayaux — Galerie Loevenbruck Hantée par les figures de mort, la nouvelle exposition de Philippe Mayaux réussit une fois encore ce tour de force de la subversion... Critique
Philippe Mayaux is unusual because he never lets his judgement come to rest on the definitive character of things. He takes them from the world without a fixed hierarchy, but follows the principles that govern his way of torturing materials of all kinds and his convoluted science of their religion, a kind of extension of Robert Filliou’s principle of equivalence.
Perverted, cocky trees, impromptu coitus, diverted objects, suggestive mechanisms — from oddball modelling to explicit casts, the variety contrasts with the painted rigour of this little shop of horrors constituted by his series of paintings. If, as Picasso suggested, “sculpture is the best commentary an artist can make on his painting”, the parallel on the respective merits of these two practices, the paragon, cancels out and is resolved in Mayaux’s work, such, it seems, is his acceptance of chronic irresolution, combined with a degree of schizoid delectation. He produces counter-productive, absurd contraptions that contradict their utilitarian vocation. They splutter, cough, breathe and seem to have a precarious life that speaks of the vanity of all human mechanisms.
In glass tubes of the kind they use to sample strata in the ice of the Antarctic he encloses little collections of objects that are not discards, exhibited as an offering to greedy society, but samples mixed with an unknown culture, delicate leftovers, unnamed things that he enumerates, cylindrical display cases where matter ends up, accumulations without saturation, hermetic coffins where preserved vestiges lie rotting. These markers of our time are as vain as so many archaeological finds. It’s an intestinal kaleidoscopic vision of a horizontal scattering, a tubular packaging in which the procession of objects marks the edges of an uncertain imaginary, by distilling a degree of clinical melancholy.
But painting is constantly requisitioning his interest, too, leading him to make a few tasteful seizures in which, once again, a host of archetypes and unlikely images coexist in an exuberant congeries. It’s all monsters and frozen disorders, a disconcerting iconography that invites us to envisage these movie masks as the barrel-scrapings of a Hollywood starved of B-movies. He paints the disasters of the monstrous face looking us up and down, eye in the centre, the close-up too big, pornography mixing unease with humour, re-pulsion with attraction. In spite of the close framing there is always this opening, this narrow passage towards a hermetic yet piercing backdrop. The “meticulous school-boy painting” side is deliberate, but it looks as if the dunce stole the idea from his most brilliant classmate. Miniature theatres, small natural scenes, the work of an illuminator, the dexterity of a Lilliputian working doggedly away like those Flemish artists who worked without cease, on the easel of their patience. We are beside the porthole, not really in front of Alberti’s glass window. The image seems cruelly limited in this narrow frame which determines an edifying off-screen and invites us to mentally extend the fragment, that paltry sample, like a piece of fabric patched onto a giant’s knee.
Once again, he seems to adore everything that the world loathes and, passing up all conceptual remits, impelled by a kind of uninhibited scopic drive, he cooks up his hallucinatory and baroque Kippenbergeresque concoctions, a slab of kitsch steamed in Broodthaers’ wit and sometimes slathered in Peter Saul’s sharp optical sauce. Mayaux makes us sign up to the possibility of loving ugly things and transgress by putting a “return to sender” on received ideas and, above all, by actually using those things. Elsewhere, it’s all nocturnal explosions and sundry dilapidations, grabbing the attention with subversive allusions to the chaos of the world and the infinite variety of major upsets. John Martin joins with Magritte by the magic (imagineering) of these catastrophes in the form of tiny apocalypses, small formats with grandiose effects. His Dadaist invention moves towards an art playing on the ambiguities of language and the image. His half-hinted, watermark words, which cloud direct reading by their overprinting, confuse any literal entry into the work. He does not write, he paints letters, which in fact are a graphic motif interfering with the image, a licentious spectre. His little pictures nestling in their screens defy the laws of plausibility. The precision of his touch neutralises any kind of ideal distance, so that we need to take the predatory approach demanded by the canvas and its equivocal dimensions and it can summon us into its vain microcosm, this ravishment inducing the proper form of contemplation for an image made by man’s hand.
Out of laziness, and not without cynicism, verging on the “readypainted”, he frees himself of his sources by painting “any old thing”, joining with Hans Richter, who argued that working from photographs spared him, with a certain relief, the difficult obligation of choosing a subject. Another ironic way of getting away from traditional art and its ideological and aesthetic issues. For this reason the question of definition will not arise here. There is nothing definitive about Mayaux’s art, which slips the leash of all discourse, even the most well-meant and aesthetically favourable.