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Axel Pahlavi, Peindre dans tes yeux, oil on canvas, 290 x 300 cm, 2016private collection, CH, courtesy Galerie Eva Hober Paris
THE POWER OF FRENCH CONTEMPORARY PAINTING – New beginnings Part 1
Following the lead of painter Thomas Lévy-Lasne, we are happy to introduce some of the most exciting Contemporary French Painters. Lévy-Lasne recently organized a conference called ‘The Vitality of Contemporary Painting’ at the Villa Médicis in Rome (Youtube Link at the end of the article), and I am now shamelessly following his steps.
As a French painter myself, I’ve wanted to tell you more about the scene for YEARS. Many are missing – Lévy-Lasne’s conference included about 120 artists – so a tough selection was made. In this article, I will introduce a panorama of the scene from my humble position without elaborating on each painter. Please check websites and links for more information.
French Painting is still mostly associated with modernism – or even impressionism. And indeed, when New York replaced Paris as the Capital of Contemporary Art after WWII, the painting scene started to seriously wilt – excepting lyrical abstraction that I am willingly setting aside. In the ’80s, few were still talking about painting in France anymore. The Art Schools (Écoles des Beaux-Arts) in the ’90s and 00’s only taught seriously drawing and painting for one miserable year. Even when the students were interested, the teachers regularly pushed them over to other media. This is my experience, but also one of many colleagues I’ve encountered over the years. The Beaux-Arts de Paris kept some painting and drawing classes accessible, but they were clearly not the stars of the school.
But, surprisingly, painting survived and is now burgeoning with strength. As if this time of latency had prepared for a new beginning.
Some painters had held the flame high, such as Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), Gérard Fromanger (b.1939), Martial Raysse (b.1936), but overall the painting was un-innovating and frankly quite depressing (and I AM setting lyrical abstraction aside as a personal choice). Leonardo Cremonini (1925-2010) came from Bologna in Italy to save us from utter boredom in between.
From the mid-fifties until the sixties, a new generation of painters was born and lead the way to the rebirth we are now witnessing :
Philippe Borderieux (b. 1952) has a luscious production filled with the utmost sensitive form of painting
Bernard Frize (b.1954) and his transparent conceptual abstraction ;
Philippe Cognée (b.1957) reviving encaustic wax painting as well as figuration ;
Marcos Carrasquer (b. 1959), master of the grotesque and a virtuous technician ;
Sylvie Fajfrowska (b. 1959) painting bold free figures set in strong compositions ;
Marc Desgrandchamps (b. 1960) with his large melancholic figures (who represented by the gallery Eigen + Art – famously Neo Rauch’s gallery – which pushes him on the international scene).
Nina Childress (b. 1961) has a special place in my heart as a punk female painter. Born in California, she has played with Enstürzende Neubauten in 1983, was a member of the painter gang with questionable taste called Les Frères Ripoulin,and is now a teacher at the Art School in Nancy.
Philippe Mayaux (b. 1961) is also very important as he’s one of the few French artists to work simultaneously in different media, alternating installations, objects and new surrealistic gouaches that are in fact all the heat this year. There’s a clear filiation between Mayaux and Julie Curtiss for example.
You probably knew a few of those painters, amirite? Knowing about Philippe Cognée or Marc Desgrandchamps during my studies (in the 2000’s yay!) certainly motivated me, and I’m not alone.
The emerging scene in Paris is now budding, and even more so since the mid-2010’s, lead by Thomas Lévy-Lasne (b. 1980), Romain Bernini (b. 1979), Laurent Proux (b. 1980), Farah Atassi (b. 1981), Henni Alftan (b. 1979) and Iris Levasseur (b.1972). They are followed at the speed of light by the 80’s kids Amélie Bertrand (b. 1985), Mireille Blanc (b. 1985) and Claire Chesnier (b. 1986). I’m also adding Thomas Auriol (b. 1987) who is the only one not based in Paris, but in Bretagne.
The French Contemporary Painting is also incredibly European and International. For my part, I started to desert Paris for Berlin in the middle of the 2000s, because there was close to ZERO painting shows there, and I wanted to see and meet colleagues. In Germany, the New Leipzig School was in the middle of the market storm, Germans knew all the cool old techniques that no one had bothered to teach me, they knew about composition, mixte technique, monumental painting… how exciting!
We are therefore a whole bunch navigating between France and an elected country, usually, bi-monthly or monthly hopping around.
Let’s start with the Berlin-based painters: Damien Cadio (b. 1975), Axel Pahlavi (b. 1975) and Florence Obrecht (b. 1976) are pushing realism with deep intense productions that are actually close to some contemporary Romanian productions (I’m thinking about Flavia Pitis and Radu Belcin here). Michel Castaignet (b. 1971) cultivates a strong relationship with abstraction, while Emmanuelle Castellan (b. 1976)’s works are in essence conceptual. I am also there – Fleur Helluin (b. 1983) with whatever weird thing I’m working on at the moment.
In Brussels, Hervé Ic (b. 1970) is cultivating his double view in a fury of transparent layers. In Moscow, Celine Berger (b. 1972) follows a mystical and primal path in naive compositions. Nathanaëlle Herbelin (b. 1989) enjoys the beauty of Tel Aviv since her studies at the Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her painting is one of my favourites, maybe because it is balanced and clear. Painting stars Claire Tabouret (b. 1981) and Julie Tuyet Curtiss (b. 1982) both chose the USA, the first one in LA and the second in Brooklyn. I will add the Swiss Louisa Gagliardi (b. 1989) and her post-painting images that are haunting me.
The diversity of practices is pretty wide, but in the selection, I hope you can appreciate how the different painters propose a fresh view on figuration (and more).
Did I miss anyone? Let’s discuss!
You’re a collector looking for an exciting market? You’re welcome.