The mass riots of Jérôme Lagarrigue’s paintings in recent years have quelled and the focus has turned inward. Unmitigated physical expressions of psychic rage become, here, calm gazes emanating quiet ferocity. Internalized by a seismic emotional shift, riots become clashes of character, figures both flesh and fabricated, the weight of history worn like a cloak. In turning from large-scale altercation scenes to intimate portraits, Lagarrigue chose to liberate himself from what threatened to become rote. In the process of unlearning, he found different path to abstraction: taking apart his subjects, discarding all but one or two chosen elements, and reassembling them. Landscapes are invented, race is deconstructed and recreated. There is no narrative. From truth, fiction. Lagarrigue’s work has never been conventional, and in many ways these new works are even less so: simple portraits with nothing simple about them. His bold brushstrokes and violent, abstract interruptions confound precision with anarchy. His likenesses are uncanny—what should logically be a mess of oddly clashing strokes and splotches perfectly captures the friends, family, loved ones, and the odd one out in this collection: the great John Coltrane.
That he chose to paint someone he’d never met, working from a sepia photograph and portraying him in a landscape of sounds and notes and melodies translated into colors, recalls Francis Bacon’s interpretations of van Gogh’s “Painter on the Road to Tarascon.” (Bacon had never seen the original, which was destroyed during a World War II bombing, and worked from what were likely poor-quality reproductions.) Lagarrigue’s appropriation and reinterpretation of the image of an idol, like Bacon’s, speaks loudly for the exhilarating potency of inspiration.
Though Lagarrigue shares a personal connection with his subjects, he paints them in a way that invites viewers to stumble into them, fill in the missing pieces, connect with them, rewrite their histories. Follow their gazes off the canvas into your eyes, into the world: the stories they tell belong to you.
The artist lives and works in Brooklyn.
The gallery is pleased to present the fifth exhibition in France dedicated to Franco-American painter Jerome Lagarrigue.
With Red Hook Sonata , the artist scrutinizes and questions the soul of Brooklyn, the district where he has been living since the end of his residency program at the Villa Medicis (Rome) in 2006. In this series, which has evolved over 3 years, Jérôme Lagarrigue, through his portrayal of inhabitants or simple bystanders, anonymous or known, delivers a metaphorical portrait of the city. He often represents these people in very large formats, in a tight frame, stripped from their appearance, almost reduced to mere fragments of a face, where there only sometimes remains a trace of an expression. Expressions which lack self-awareness, which are oblivious to the act of being observed, that are absent of ego, and almost forget the artist’s presence.
These expressions represent the person in the present moment, without artifice, only absorbed in the flow of their inner thoughts. Jérôme Lagarrigue captures this most intimate part of a being, and renders visible the subtle whispering between the viewer and the model. This body of work, with its unique way of "framing" the subjects, invites to the narrative a suggestion that there is always much more that what the eyes perceive: This is the very moment where the imagination is invited to complete the picture.
A geology of the faces : here is Jérôme Lagarrigue’s central motive. In XNUMX, his exhibition at the Académie de France in Rome was already entitled Paesaggio del Viso (landscape of the face). From XNUMX, Galerie Olivier Waltman has followed him in the deployment of this pattern by devoting four personal exhibitions, Boxing, Portraits, Brooklintimate and Closer. Whether it is the face of a black or white person, a boxer or a fashion model, a self-portrait or an anonymous encounter in a cafe, everything that is visually presented escapes the limitations of identity, instead exploring themes of intimacy and universal humanity.
Your representation of faces makes us experiment a kind of new attitude, far from the traditional descriptions one can find in painting: as if your portraits aimed at penetrating an « elsewhere » of your characters.
Jerome Lagarrigue: (…) Intimate architectures such as faces, developed on a very large scale, become a territory of encounters where I get in relation with a person seen as an architecture which I ignore myself. (…) On over-sized dimensions, the brush-strokes, a shade of tone, a move of spatula, tell us what is hidden behind what we saw a thousand times. In this spacial context, one can feel the parallel between the idea of a portrait and that of an architecture, as if it were the right direction to try and answer the dilemmas each painter is supposed to confront himself with. Like this old story of the fragile frontier between abstraction and figuration. Sometimes, as I observe the way a look, a smile, a thought or a nose appear, through brush strokes, with immense zones to fulfil, I assume that we try to give human figures to what does have any.
Photography (in your process) is only a starting point…
One thing which I particularly like is using printed materials or their equivalent on a computer screen in order to fragment the portraits I paint. Division and fragmentation of the model are an aspect which has always been worth of interest and new technologies seem to push always more in this direction: watching deep within the substance of the subject. Artists have always been motivated by a desire to free themselves from a necessity to stick to reality but, paradoxically since almost a century, new tools such as photography, cinema and satellite views allow the artist to broaden his vision and pursue his personal quest.
"Extract from an interview with the artist on the occasion of his exhibition" Paesaggiodelviso "
This is a penetration of intimacy, raw like sex, soft like love.
This is a penetration of intimacy, raw like sex, soft like love. This is a thief, a hunter, a fierce detective of reality just as it slips away. This is a cap man whose cannibal ear swallows you in a black, deep abyss and stares at you like an eye at the end of the night. This is a back and forth between the small and the large. A tonic journey to disproportion. This is a junkyard where, under white slime and yellow pus you find maybe eyes, ears or cut fingertips. This is immoderation becoming passion. This is watching oneself to discover the other. This is watching the other to understand oneself. This is a woman, seated as if she was not in movement. A woman silent as if she was not speaking, legs crossed high in the blue of things. This is Rome, always present, and Balthus at the end of the garden. This is a method of advance and retreat. An oscillation against proximity and distance. An incessant movement in understanding what a body speaks. This is the stroke of a palette knife which will create a nose or the beginning of a smile. These are spaces kept empty so that others may be filled. These are traces of vivid colors on which texture transpires. This is disparity becoming playful. These are droplets issuing from the pressure of the flesh, the weight of the muscles, the density of the dermis. This is the emerald of a fixed eye in the pink sunset, capturing the liveliness of its black eyelashes, raised like nets. This is an aroma of coffee in the morning fog. This is the linen canvas which calls upon the oil for translucence. This is a gaze which meaning builds into the face and which the green ear did not want to decipher. This is permission, if one wants to join, to enter without violence through the base of the canvas. This is the familiar echo of a glass-blower. This is a face so sweet, so basically delivered to you, that it says everything and yet nothing of humanity. This is the inhalation of a giant, sucking in his pleasure, and the small exhalation of his melancholy. This is fragmenting to show the all. These are two legs, two arms, two feet, two hands. An interlacing of limbs which tell more than a look. This is black, this is white, the collision of opposites, without frustration. This is a bison in dancing slippers. This is Brooklintimate. This is Jérôme Lagarrigue.
It's a cap-man whose cannibal ear sucks you into a deep, black chasm and stares at you like an eye in the depths of the night.
Noëlle Châtelet, March XNUMX
It is a dump where under the white drool and the yellow pus of decomposition you may find eyes, ears or fingertips cut.
It is immoderation become passion.
It is to observe oneself to discover the other.
It is to observe the other to understand oneself.
She is a seated woman if she was not moving. A silent woman if she did not speak, her legs crossed high in the blue of things.
It's Rome, always there, and Balthus at the bottom of a garden.
It's a way of moving forward and backward. An oscillation against proximity and distance. An incessant movement to know what a body means.
It's a spatula that will make a nose or the beginning of a smile.
These are empty spaces for others to be full.
These are traces of bright colors for the material to transpire.
It's the disparity that has become playful.
They are degoulinades coming from the pressure of the flesh, the weight of the muscles, the density of the dermis.
It is the emerald of an immobile eye in the sunset rose that captures the living of its black eyelashes, erectile like nets.
It's a coffee smell in the mists of the morning.
It is linen that calls oil for transparency.
It is a look that is constructed to give meaning to the face that the green ear did not want to give.
It is the permission, for those who want to join him, to enter without violence at the bottom of the painting.
It's the familiar echo of a glassblower.
It is a face so sweet, so fundamentally delivered to you that it says everything and yet nothing of humanity.
It is the aspiration of a giant pulling on his pleasure and the tiny expiration of melancholy.
It's fragmenting to show the whole thing.
They are two legs, two arms, two feet, two hands. An interlacing of members who speak better than a look.
It's a black, it's a white, the shock of opposites, without annoyance.
It's a buffalo in dance shoes.
It's Jerome Lagarrigue.
Noëlle Châtelet, preface of the catalog Brooklintimate
At first hand, Jérôme Lagarrigue seems to fully reveal his infinitely complex and yet infinitely simple nature. His roots are composite: he is French and American, his education and *spirit roaming freely between two continents. He owes his artistic sensibility to his father, Jean Lagarrigue, whose work is a great influence. The two now seem to be passing the torch back and forth, Jerome in return influencing his father, with whom he shares a fascination for what lies in the depths of a man’s glance.
Everything in his painting becomes tinged with humanity, the walls of the Coliseum seemingly turning and revolving around themselves, much like the Earth itself. In the manner of a tightrope walker, Jérôme is constantly seeking out the balance and bond linking the different origins emanating from him, which dance to the sound of swing or be-bop and can be sensed as much in his vision as in his way of moving, speaking, observing, painting and portraying the world.
Perhaps it is this internal rhythm that guides him along, bringing his soul’s temperaments together in harmony, the various viewpoints livening his gaze and assembling the vivid identity that is his, which far from being artificial and contrived is revealed to us as something quite straightforward, natural and spontaneous.The paintings created by Jerome during his stay at the Villa Médicis in 2006 were the result of his study of the human face, and more particularly that which resides in the eyes of men, in relation to the architecture and the geography of the urban landscape; he roamed the city of Rome and the Romans’ faces, tamed them through his hypnotic movements, painted their portraits.
The Villa and the city were somewhat of a live working laboratory to him, a constant source of inspiration, creation and freedom of expression. The result was stunning; larger-than-life sized portraits and landscapes, each containing several paintings within, each piece part of a larger ensemble of work and yet all stemming from a different perspective: the emphasizing of light or of shadow, of depth perception or color, blurredness here and contrast there… he seems to want to gather together all possibilities in one single solution, constantly approaching and then backing away from his subject as if to better grasp it, searching for everything in a detail and the detail in everything, practically physically confronting his subject as if to possess it while constantly maintaining eye contact, as if in dance, or even and precisely so, in combat.
To never let one’s guard down, to never look away, to scrutinize the opponent’s slightest of moves in order to guess his/her thoughts, emotions, weaknesses as well as the forces that will him/her to exist.This may be the origin of the new series of paintings that Jérôme will be showing in his Parisian exhibition. It’s as if his search, which during his stay at the Villa Médicis was still in an exploratory phase and moving in different directions of attraction and sanctum, has finally found its true course and a more defined objective. He seems to have taken a step back from the heart of the action, no longer residing in the midst of combat, his perspective having changed to that of invisible and privileged spectator to the most intimate and hidden moments, and movements. Jérôme’s vision has moved closer to the subject at hand, poring over passing glances, perceiving and transcribing a pause for breath, the variations of heat emanating from the flesh, as well as the feelings that bring it to life. There is once again the longing to penetrate the canvas’ space and render it accessible as well as vibrant, as if the image itself isn’t enough on its own to satisfy his desire for understanding and portrayal, as if he wants to incorporate other possibilities to the painting such as theater or film.
We are constantly penetrated by the intense and even violent passion of his work, the faces’ and shoulders’ features, his touch and workmanship as well as his choice of colors and very unique way of “framing” his subjects, extremely forthright and often stark and brutal. And yet, there is always a strong sense of tenderness and goodness in his paintings, feelings that resemble his true nature. In the depth of his own eyes can be found an element of surprised and sincere curiosity, detailed attention to and a particularly profound respect for that which, and those whom he paints. Far from conveying the rambunctious animality of hand-to-hand combat, he chooses to transmit a spare and silent image, just like the memories one has of a dream: the detail of a wounded eye, the white of a towel against a dark nape, the choreography of two souls facing each other in the dark: breathless and tense, fastened together, skin on skin.
The day he presented his work to the Academy of France in order to become a resident, Jérôme was smiling; a powerful yet light physical energy, also to be found in jazz musicians, dancers and boxers, sprang from within him.
Text by Richard Peduzzi & Cecilia Trombadori, Villa Médicis, Roma