ESSAYS, INTERVIEWS & REVIEWS
Xavier Noiret-Thomé - 2015 - Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre [FR, review],
The Mouth of Shadow
About a show by Xavier Noiret-Thomé
Xavier Noiret-Thomé (°1971) is a handsome forty something man. His eyes are so thickly fringed with dark lashes he looks as if he is wearing mascara. Which he is not. An exhibition of Noiret-Thomé’s work is on now at Roberto Polo Gallery in Brussels. The press text insists on telling us he is an iconoclast who is trying to paint himself a way out from under his masters’ influences. Which is not what I saw.
Noiret-Thomé is not destroying any images. He is creating paintings. To this end he draws on his impressive erudition and plays around with techniques, shapes and images that refer to existing paintings. The painter Damien De Lepeleire once told me this was iconoclastic. By that he did not mean Noiret-Thomé is trying to break free from the past, but quite the opposite: the way Noiret-Thomé deals with art-historical material is incredibly unselfconscious and candid. He lives and breathes art. Music, plastic arts, film, and literature: everything is being considered simultaneously; everything is interconnected. Conversations with Noiret-Thomé are whirlwinds. He talks fast, precisely, associatively, like a magician, firing off images in quick succession. Elsewhere in this edition I mention how he describes Ruby’s collages, now exhibited at Xavier Hufkens’, as ‘obese versions of Calder’s collages’. “Ce sont des versions obèses des collages de Calder,” he said, immediately adding: “Des variantes survitaminées”, “Souped-up variants”.
He paints the way he speaks. He allows things to happen, projects images on top of what is there and tells stories. This is how he coaxes new paintings into being. When we were standing in front of the painting illustrated here, and he told me it was entitled ‘Parentesi Romana’ (2014-15), I immediately recognised the stone pines at the Villa Medici, where he spent a year as an artist in residence in 2006 (Not just because I visited him there, but also because De Lepeleire had told me in 2005 that Poussin made some watercolours of these pines, which is why I looked at them more closely than I might have otherwise). But this painting was not created because the artist wanted to represent those trees, but because he happened to have applied green paint in three spots. It was only after lengthy observation of the green spots, that the idea came to Noiret-Thomé that these could represent the tops of stone pines, if he added trunks. After that, he covered the painting in varnish, and stuck four Moroccan paper napkins to it. When the varnish was dry, he added the grey and yellow parts. Next, he laid the canvas on the floor and trickled some brown wood varnish here and there. Finally, he coloured the napkins, added the two reflectors ‘because it was lacking in red’ and finished the treetops with two extra layers of dark green. Before the addition of the wood varnish, the painting was too ‘atmospheric’: it suggested a perspectival depth. The varnish, which congealed on top of the canvas as it was laid out on the floor, interferes with this perception of depth. To Noiret-Thomé, this is an element from the Far East, reminiscent of Chinese and Japanese paintings that lack perspectival depth, but which also refers to artists like Cézanne and Matisse, who were, of course, influenced by Eastern art forms. Noiret-Thomé detects this influence for instance in their still lifes, where a table top does not seemingly disappear into the depths, but rather looks as if it was folded up – just like the brown varnish spots in ‘Parentesi Romana’. The joy one feels when looking at his paintings is, as with Walter Swennen’s, intellectual rather than anything else, though it is also inextricably linked with the painting’s texture
On the ground floor, three monumental new paintings embody three different approaches. On the left ‘Non-Spot Painting: The Big White’ (2014), created by pouring white paint over a canvas laid out on the floor. A couple of hundred disc-shaped objects were thrown onto the wet paint – toys, or objects bought at the Moroccan shops near Noiret-Thomé’s workshop, or paint-pot covers, some of which have previously been used as palettes. The title refers to Damien Hirst’s ‘Spot Paintings’. Noiret-Thomé started adding beads and coins to his paintings when, after his daughter was born, he suddenly started noticing girly knick-knacks wherever he went. These are often monochrome paintings, morphed into starry skies by these additions. The second painting is entitled ‘La Desserte ou le bouquet final’ (2014-15). This is a figurative painting that shows affinity with ‘Parentesi Romana’ and ‘Hostages’. The title refers to the Matisse painting ‘La Desserte rouge’. Finally, ‘The Return of the Landscape: The Synthesis’ (2014), features ‘negative space’ MDF-cut-outs, each painted in monochromes and screwed onto a grey monochrome painting. He had found this leftover MDF in the bins at his workspace, where students had been sawing out shapes to compose ‘landscapes’ with. Yet again, in this painting, illusory depth is associated with flat planes.
Noiret-Thomé translates art history into shapes that come together in his paintings. The joy, felt while looking at his paintings is, as with Walter Swennen’s, intellectual more than anything else, though it is also inextricably linked with their texture. In ‘Hostages’ (2014) three main elements jump out: an apparently secondary red-and-white checkerboard pattern in the background, a bunch of green asparagus and two triangular shadows. Noiret-Thomé told me the checkerboard refers to a tablecloth in a Vichy-pattern (which looks quite different in reality: white with pink stripes, red where they cross). This tablecloth is viewed from above. Strictly speaking, this would mean that the bunch of asparagus is lying on the table, but the shadows suggest otherwise: the bunch is standing upright. Yet again, Noiret-Thomé is playing with perspective and a plane that folds up, yet this painting looks completely different from ‘Parentesi Romana’. The red and green complementary colours create a striking image. The asparagus, unexpectedly brought into existence by adding a few green strokes, refers, of course, to Manet. According to the author of the catalogue text, Martin Herbert, the chequerboard pattern refers to Duchamp, possibly an evil genius to a French art world that, burdened with Duchamp’s heritage, still seems to be struggling with the notion of people just creating paintings. Noiret-Thomé’s paintings have no fixed theme, just open-ended shapes that evoke a chain of projections. The exhibition title, ‘Ghosts’, refers to the poem ‘Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre’ by Victor Hugo. One sentence keeps being repeated: ‘Tout parle’ (‘Everything speaks’). This is a ghost, saying how all things speak of life. “It is a pantheistic poem,” says Noiret-Thomé, “so beautiful.” He may feel, quite understandably, that this poem is also about him - as the ghost in his head whirls like a kaleidoscopic storm wind, frequently scattering images, shaped by his hand…
Montagne de Miel, April 29th 2015