The Often Monochromatic, Sometimes Off-Color World of Jacques Flechemuller at PDX Contemporary
It is an assumptive thesis based more on memory than research that proposes
color television brought about the demise of a perfect world. There was a time
when movie theaters showed newsreels and film shorts, and newspapers had fewer
photos and more illustrations. This was in the black and white world before
and after World War II. Oh, there was color in some media, but it was a rarity,
yet more of a harbinger. Technicolor, Kodachrome and other similar technologies
aided to the end of a wonderful, simpler era.
What would a perfect world look like? It would have young children sitting cross-legged
on the floor watching a small, 1955 television screen, laughing with glee. Chimpanzees
in dresses do tricks that make them look more human, and old Laurel and Hardy
films make monkeys out of everyone. It is a formative world for those children.
Sixty-five years later, chimps neurotically masturbate in real-world captivity
and, for Jacques Flechemuller
, Laurel and Hardy are naked and fairly well endowed.
How can one not chuckle?
What went wrong?
Of course, such an absurd notion must be met with a smile; still, a monochrome
world carries a certain authenticity, and one unfettered by the complexities
that color brings to understanding. The world is necessarily flawed. Only nostalgia
would keep a simple world, but the pain of that impossibility breeds entrenchment
or a wry subversion. Rarely does one wholly escape one or the other, and if
one is not careful, the flaws compound, and turn against one another.
RIALTO MERCATO, 2010
Fleichemullers subject matter seems often to address an earlier time,
and while Flechemullers paintings are done with wit and a painterly style
reminiscent of Gerhard Richter circa 1965, the fragile simulacrum begins to
oxidize in his artists statement:
In the country, in the south of France, on the road to the river, the peasants
have painted big signs that read: "MELONS 3 for 5 euros," or "TOMATOES,
ONIONS, POTATOES 300 meters," or "GOOD WINE" or "CHERRIES
AND STRAWBERRIES, HERE". Big white letters on panels of scrap wood. So
simple, so efficient. Hand made, not perfect, but... PERFECT. I always admire
these "objects." Always want to steal them and hang them on the walls
of my house. A bit jealous of their beauty?...perhaps! These peasants have no
idea how moving their signs are for me. So especially artistic because they
are not "ARTISTIC." I dream to have the guts to do Art like that.
So hard to be so simple.
It is entirely possible for an art reviewer to completely miss an artists
intention. Or (after an assurance that the use of the word peasant
is not considered a pejorative in the language from which it originated as paysant),
it may be that too close a reading suggests less of an intention and begins
to flush out a disposition. The peasants are producers of quaint objects and
not farmers advertising their products? (And the folks who own Queener Fruit
Farm outside of Stayton, Oregon wonder why their farm signs get stolen. Whos
to say vandals dont have a sense of humor as much as entitlement?) It
is not the farmers signs but the quality of what they are selling that
Of course, all Flechemuller has to do is paint one of these signs for himself,
even though such a painting would lose its authenticity. And to paint with such
who calls that art, anyway? It is a quandary. Whats more,
his statement is about painting technique more than the subject matter of his
work. Nonetheless, he appreciates the straightforward, not ARTISTIC
but Art. Nothing like Flechemullers work, yet everything about
his work. The man can paint but he downplays his ability by way of subject matter.
What seems to be missing in Flechemullers artist statement is the wit
that is present in some of his paintings. As in all humor, frustration leans
on irreverence as a saving grace, a satire. And there is no doubt that Flechemuller
has a streak of the funny, poking fun at himself as much as the characters he
repurposes for his coy ploys of social commentary.
However, such is not the case in all of his paintings, for some of what the
artist might consider funny or satirical, shows the same short-sightedness as
the romantic notion he has of the peasants lives. After all, what can
one say about Colette, a portrait of a woman pinching and pulling her
nipples upward? Naughty?
To Flechemullers credit, he attempts to add levity to what has historically
been serious business, that of painting. Yet it is the painterliness of his
work that seems out of place, as if Flechemuller is purposefully trying to remove
the dignity from his practice. When he draws instead of paints, whether on paper
or canvas, the work seems more successful in that those works are more fitting
to the cartoonish nature of much of his subject matter. On the other hand, paintings
such as Landscape, South 4th, My Nephew from Toulon,
or even Beauty Mask are the most intriguing for they suggest allegory
is at work.
Flechemuller has had five solo exhibitions at PDX Contemporary, and has been
in a few groups shows as well in the last fourteen or so years. To exhibit so
frequently, he must be doing something right that connects with the areas
art appreciators. Yet, in that time, there is precious little written about
his work. True, mention has been made regarding his ability as a painter; instead,
it may be that jokes are better left unexplained, or perhaps much of his subject
matter may not be something one talks about in polite company.