The Art Concept Rhapsody

By Jean Couteau

1 February 2012

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Jean-Philippe Haure’s spir­i­tual sub­li­ma­tion of the real


The eye is first drawn to the soft-hued, red­dish or bluish drip­pings and hazy wash layers spread over the paper sur­face. Blots appear here, a gravel-like tex­ture there; vague shapes stand out and then melt away. There emanates an impres­sion of calm and peace. It is hap­hazard “ab­strac­tion” at its best: a lan­guage of purely visual emo­tions expressed through a seem­ingly sur­real color world. Yet, as the eye rests longer on the paper, another reading reveals itself, this time fig­u­ra­tive: behind the pastel wash colors lurks the vague, yet finely drawn con­tours of a Balinese dancer or a clas­sical Balinese vil­lage scene. Our emo­tions, awak­ened by the abstract side of the work, are now guided toward the visual enjoy­ment of what is a real­istic image of Bali, yet, at the same time, an unreal world that is more than simply “Bali.”

Here is an artist who is obvi­ously inter­ested not in formal con­sid­er­a­tions per se—his com­bi­na­tion of abstrac­tion and fig­u­ra­tion is only a tool—but by an endeavor, one should almost say an urge, to express what is to him the pristine and the pure. Which he finds best embodied in Bali, and in the Balinese woman. Not because they are icons, but because both are to him the best avail­able man­i­fes­ta­tion of this ideal, in their nat­ural ges­tures and fem­i­nine sim­plicity. Had he been born in 15th cen­tury Italy, he would prob­ably have painted Madonnas and Tuscan land­scapes, the ideals of painting of that time.

Jean-Philippe Haure always begins painting with the “hazy” abstract beige or brown color char­ac­ter­ized above, to create an atmo­sphere that dampens realism to take us some­where beyond it. This “haze” can be con­strued to rep­re­sent the “un­know­able” that remains the realm of each of us in our irre­ducible sep­a­rate­ness. It may also bring to mind the dreams of dancers or the suf­fering of the elderly. At a deeper level, it evokes the “be­yond” that links sep­a­rate­ness, dreams and pain, and even­tu­ally all of us, into the same Unknown that calls us to med­i­ta­tion and prayer.

How does he achieve his ide­al­istic kind of rep­re­sen­ta­tion? By an orig­inal com­bi­na­tion, in his tech­nical cre­ative pro­cess, of both abstrac­tion and fig­u­ra­tion, which he turns for this pur­pose into a dia­logue of line and color, each with a well-defined and sep­a­rate func­tion. Color defines the mood, and gen­er­ates the desired “feel.” It does not shape objects or char­ac­ters, nor does it follow an under­lying graphic struc­ture. This mood is achieved very eco­nom­i­cally, with only two, at most three basic colors (brown and gold, and some­times blue) applied in an array of hues spread in tachist patches, which defines space and com­po­si­tion in a semi-auto­matic, semi-intu­itive, never pre-orga­nized way. Thus, in Jean-Philippe’s works, it is color that struc­tures the painting, in an abstract way, after the manner pop­u­lar­ized by American Abstract Expressionism and French Tachism.

His first thrust of color aims to create a cer­tain visual rhythm. Of course, he does not always suc­ceed. If so, he then dis­cards the piece under way and takes up another one. “If I don’t like the wash sur­face I have made," says Jean-Philippe, “I just don’t carry on. I don’t draw any­thing. I leave the work unfin­ished.” When he has found the basic rhythm, he reworks it over and over, as images sug­gest them­selves to him. These images are all pho­tographs that he has made while attending the pageant of ritual life in Bali. They con­tribute the lines, and even­tu­ally, the ideational con­tent of the work. But how can a pho­tograph do this? By lending only some of its lines, the most evoca­tive ones, while let­ting go of any overly nar­ra­tive, detailed con­tent. Of the pho­tograph, there will even­tu­ally remain only the min­imum needed to sug­gest a scene, and through this scene, a cer­tain under­standing of sen­si­tivity, ten­der­ness and love. Everything is sug­gested rather than affirmed. As a flowing mood than runs beyond the colors into the lines of the sub­li­mated real.

From the point of view of con­tent, as will be seen at a deeper level later, Jean-Philippe’s paint­ings are any­thing but exotic. Exoticism is basi­cally a misun­der­standing. It under­lines the out­ward dif­fer­ences of a cul­ture, as if these dif­fer­ences rep­re­sented its core, whereas they are simply details. With regard to Bali, exoti­cism hovers around cer­e­monies, offer­ings and the like, all that has con­tributed to the island’s par­adise image.

This is not what Jean-Philippe is after. The char­ac­ters he rep­re­sents in his works do not sur­prise us by their oth­er­ness, but instead, by the inti­macy they emanate. What he sees in them are ordi­nary bodily ges­tures and a sense of togeth­er­ness. Innocent humans as we all should be. This per­cep­tion of Bali as a land of inno­cence is very per­sonal: Jean-Philippe does not impose it upon us, but rather reveals it, little by little, as the back­ground of his color wash. The main quality of the artist here appears, beyond his style and tech­nique: his sen­si­tivity as a man of faith, open to other men and Humanity as a whole.

Jean Couteau

  J-Philippe, Bali The artist The Art Concept (...)

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