These days, if one thing remains more difficult than writing about abstract painting, it is producing it. Nonfiguration, this form of experimentation which has traversed the art of the twentieth century, having overthrown the consecrated system of representation, seems to have neared its limit. After innumerable possible variations, whether they be lyrical or geometric, gestual or biomorphic,...
These days, if one thing remains more difficult than writing about abstract painting, it is producing it. Nonfiguration, this form of experimentation which has traversed the art of the twentieth century, having overthrown the consecrated system of representation, seems to have neared its limit. After innumerable possible variations, whether they be lyrical or geometric, gestual or biomorphic, heavy-handed or minimalist, abstraction has often become repetitive, decorative and affected, not to say hollow. Somtimes it contemplates itself, inspects itself. Sometimes, it performs a self-autopsy. One needs a certain amount of courage or unconsciousness in such a landscape to choose this mode of expression.
In this context, Gilles Teboul’s aim is less to create a new esthetic order than to construct a personal work, composed of variations whose subject always remains the hidden side of the painting. Without having explicit recourse to a serial technique, the artist works in what could be called a « vertical » manner, not seeking to spread out on the surface but to plunge deep underneath. His sequences never become a goal in themselves, the demonstration of a coherent series, a puzzle whose parts all find their precise place. With rigor but no rigidity, each canvas in its own way, addresses the relationship between form and background, the full and the empty, opacity and transparency – all problems which appear simple but which are confronted by painting since time immemorial, a source of dispair and force. In the age of recycling, rough materials, mistreated by artists, the diverse assemblages often make museums ressemble storage spaces. Here, each canvas creates its own space and radiates a singular aura.
Quite logically, it is this discretion, this manner of entering the material which establishes itself for a long period at the heart of Teboul’s productions. Work by subtraction, where the erasures of part of the black matter which covers the canvases make the white traces rise to the surface. Painting by countdown ? In a chromatic striptease, the curves and scrollwork, both trajectory and process, sketch a drawing in the back and forth movements of the hand, constructing a serpentine motif.
Free flowing or recomposed, these undulations or paths of light are like the uncertain lines of a moving, subjective cartography. To use Jacque Dupin’s phrase about Giacometti : it is the strokes which « don’t outline anything, don’t clarify anything, but which cause things to emerge ».
In his latest works, the approach has become slightly modified, as Gilles Teboul says with great precision : « I superimpose the layers (the final one being gray) according to the drying times which are complex and difficult to control, then I proceed by REMOVAL, using a mechanical gesture, which maintains the painter’s gesture at a distance with this « non gesture ». The risk involved is maximal because I can intervene only once. »
As opposed to « black and white paintings », these « gray paintings » offer little contrast. In the same way, from the path of the lines which progress on the canvases like vectors of movement, a more unified treatment of the whole is substituted. The surfaces are covered over with open, trembling geometric shapes, with a network of irregular squares, like truncated mosaics. The colors, instead of remaining captive between the lines, begin to float lightly. Depending on the chromatic relationships, we feel like we are seeing an advance or a retreat or even the illusion of an overhang. The dusting of light into droplets, the strokes of black and white, form zones of uncertainty where the clear visual observation gives way to a fumbling gaze.
The experimentation with painting continues with gray silver monochromes, but they are ‘frustrated’. By taping bands on the edges of the canvas, by fixing a frame for the color, Teboul introduces a constraint in the pictorial variant which art history has consecrated as absolute abstraction without limits. Whatever the case, the artist ceaselessly questions his relationship to his materials, to the blending of colors, to their method of application to the canvas, to the spots of light, in short, to the pleasure of this tactile action which painting has always offered. Nonetheless, the principal tool used by Teboul to explore the flesh of the painting is located elsewhere, in photogaphy. Photography is a medium whose surface is smooth, almost disembodied, which transforms tactile into visible, but which makes it possible to reveal all the asperities contained in the pictorial matter, the least little hollow and the most subtile relief. This effect is all the more striking in that the artist has chosen to photograph the material as if seen through a microscope. However, it is not, as we might expect, simply a detail of one of his works, a ‘zooming in’ such as those often seen in art books. Teboul’s materials are found on both sides of the creative process : both the worn and conserved tools of production, (tubes, pots, gloves, palettes) ; and the crusts and opercula, crumbs gathered after an artistic feast, forsaken waste, in short, the leftovers of the pictorial banquet. The artist affirms that, by reframing these materials which are indispensable to painting, in his camera, he recreates a painting. Is it a ressurectional gesture to confront the prophecies which have so often announced the death of painting ?
One last look at painting. In fact, very little is required. We need only caress the color for it to give off a discretely sensual vibration. We need only introduce spots of light in the intervals between the forms in order to avoid rigidity. In short, very little is necessary to create a painting which breathes.
Professor of Art History at the University Jean Monnet, Saint Etienne - France