Sigmar Polke and the yellow vests
The Pirate's Fiancé and his Lawyers, Richter Vache Period... The paintings are not only worth for their title and some of them do not have any. I write "painting" rather than postcard because it is about painting. But they could also be interpreted as theatre or opera paintings: moments when the scenery changes on sight, without the action being interrupted by a black or a drop in the curtain. Since we are not in the theatre and even if there are also "moments" in the painting, we should rather talk about states: when the yellow vests intrude into an image of Sigmar Polke or when Goya's dog heats up a Mondrian, it is a story of layers, colours, composition... and above all a very great joy.
I believe that it is linked to my relationship with art, and more notably with painting, during my childhood. It's not very personal: I lived in a world where Derain filed a few pages after Raphael and a little before Magritte, in the encyclopedic notebooks of the daily newspapers. A vast corpus that, from aviation to the fauna and flora of our country, constituted the Wikipedia of the 1980s. The trick was to be conscientious enough to have the complete collection, a single lack would have ruined the whole thing. The value of the object was only in the patient's mind to constitute it, to have it complete and if possible connected. We kept all this for a while, but never really went back. This was part of a documentation that could always be used for the school - but the school was not asking for so much.
Many of us, in the 1970s and 1980s, lived between a reproduction of a Buffet rooster and a boy with a tear. Dead and ugly images whose frames, rather baroque, justified that we look at them with a minimum of deference, in any case as objects a little precious. In any decoration, it was rather a garnish, as kitsch as a sugar rose on a birthday cake. Essential things, however, such as a tie during communions, Sunday roasts or a Letter to Elise without a typo. Because from Beethoven to typing, the step has always been taken quickly: in preschool classes, Mondrian now serves the cause of geometry, Calder or Miro to the "graphic reproduction of elementary shapes to be coloured without exceeding".
Religious rites have never required us to understand them, we reproduce them and it is even better when they are pretty. In doing so, art is everywhere and above all nowhere, in Andy Warhol eau de parfum, Virgil Abloh's claimed duchampian design, at Zeeman and Vuitton. It's different and ultimately the same: you don't see anything behind the soft plexiglass of the Ikea frames. It's not made for that, but it fills the room, exactly as before: Matisse in the kitchen in the colour of the time, like a navy on a flowery wallpaper. Not art, then, but signs, which together form the domestic ethos of an ill-defined middle class with which almost everyone is invited to identify.
If Xavier Noiret-Thomé's painting has provoked in me the joy I mentioned above, it is because of his fabulous ability to untie this bond, to fold the cards by thwarting the traps of my eminently social dispositions, to no longer be able to see a painting on canvas. And it does so in a way that is as direct as it is pleasing. The question is not to "question" the painting, nor to make a joke of it and even less to shoot it, but rather to get rid of the cultural mess darkening with a bad varnish the small red spots smearing the Giverny field, and to make it, finally, the hectic and crazy affair that it must never stop being.
If there is an iconoclasm, it is against these frames of incorporations which, from hotel rooms to waiting rooms, hide sex in Manet's house or the outrages of a Schiele until they disappear: only the gaze one can have on her is petty bourgeois in painting and it is difficult to escape this. The virus is endemic, like a kiss from City Hall in an Airbnb apartment.
It is precisely for this address that this series of postcards is intended, as if to cleanse the eyes and swap the cultural implicitness that moves away, much more than they value, the public and painting.
It is because the stakes are above all pictorial that this set works. It is a story or rather stories in painting, about painting. It is not Rauschenberg meticulously erasing a drawing by de Kooning, a conceptual strategy of reappropriation or symbolic rupture. More than painting on or against, it is painting with, in a generous, turbulent and mischievous way. To join the other without giving up anything, and thus to make happen vagabond, crazy or funny who seemed frozen forever.
The most curious thing is the full presence of these reproductions, as if the mask that Xavier Noiret-Thomé made them wear injected them with new energy. By diverting them from the used reception frames without ever totally compromising them, there is more than just farce and disguise. The mixture would not last a second if it were not educated and skillful: each of these scenes can be read in millefeuille, both pictorially and conceptually. This is full of clues about new directions to take: art history does not say that Picabia understands himself better by listening to Captain Beefheart, but it is not inappropriate to try, like associating Klein with sunflowers, backdating an On Karawa at his own convenience, seeing Western sets in De Chirico. I believe that it is under these conditions that art acts best, below or beyond the authority it is attributed, in this vast moor where one can still be Indian.
THE QUIET STRUGGLE
For Xavier Noiret-Thomé’s second solo exhibition in Roberto Polo Gallery, The Quiet Struggle, the artist, who was born in Charleville-Mézières, France, in 1971, lives and works in Brussels, shows a recent series of fifteen paintings on canvas and paper. These paintings are the result of simultaneous research on genres and styles. They clearly reveal a thirst for renewal of his practice, which, although inspired by the history of art, neither recycles its images, nor directly quotes them. Thus, fleeing cliché Postmodernism. As such, Xavier Noiret-Thomé’s work defies any sort of aesthetic synopsis. It is more about clearing the air than about historical re-visitation. Painting can be this extendable geography, the concrete expression of unmarked, surprising, and sinuous paths.
There is a Belgian word for ‘curl’ that is more expressive than boucle in French, which is crolle. No hair is said to be bouclé in Belgium. It is crollé, which does not mean ‘frizzy’. It is freer, a bit heavier and tousled. By nature, it resists combing. Between painting and a strand of hair, between Mondrian and l’Oréal, there is just a short leap: it is the missing link of a story that has already been set, the closing of the loop of Postmodernity. Straightened by the dictates of fashion, ‘conditional’ painting, as described by the art sociologist Nathalie Heinich, has been released from the confines of bourgeois domesticity in favour of institutional spaces. It espouses necessarily gigantic formats. It also inevitably operates in the field of irony or childish imagery, as if to exonerate itself from any pretension of expressing interiority. Nathalie Heinich sums up this short and simple description with an apparently definitive phrase: “It is painting for contemporary art specialists, rather than for amateurs of modern art.”
Except that is not true. The history of painting only provides examples to the contrary. Anyone who has come into contact with it, however briefly, will know that like hair, it curls up, kinks, stands out, and resists. The tufts are not merely epiphenomena, but more the daily life of studios, or even museums. We only have to compare Ingres and Delacroix, or Barnett Newman and Sam Francis. We might also focus the same precise attention on Ad Reinhardt’s monochromes and caricatures, Guston’s two lives, and Richter’s ten… and even judo in Klein’s work. In short, from the wondrous incongruities of the Déjeuner sur l’herbe to Buren the Elder’s architectures, Twombly’s Peony Blossoms and Alÿs’ falsely naive miniatures, painting requires a subtler sociology and more detailed historical analysis, for its protagonists are neither straight, nor well-behaved, and in the complicated game they play, they are too free to avoid contradicting one another.
This is literally the case with Xavier Noiret-Thomé’s paintings, which are particularly hirsute and unruly, bringing together Malevich’s false vacuums and Leroy’s density, Mondrian’s grids and Ensor’s jocular insolence… The artist knows how to weave together a painting, suturing at every possible opportunity, cannibalising or conscientiously dishevelling a story in which he sees himself as a happy, orphan monster. For the references captured here are not direct quotations; they are in no way the authenticated deeds of an inheritance. If it were the case, Xavier Noiret-Thomé would be a commentator (of Postmodernity) rather than a painter. We have to forget the motifs and the images—which we believe we see—in favour of the method, which is more essential to painting. For the letter is never the envelope.
Anyone who substitutes gesture with image has understood nothing, seeing a mark as a mountain, or a flat tint as a pipe: the problem remains as relevant as it is misunderstood. For the dice are indeed loaded. What mattered in the Chauvet cave paintings, and what still matters today, is to strive to use the right hand, select the right brush, the right filbert, to make the line, the space, and the colour relevant… Also, and just as importantly, you have to find a good title, in other words the right nail, the semantic catapult. The thing that makes a painting hang on the wall is never the narrative literality, and even less the little aesthetic housing in which we believe we can preserve it. The history of painting in Xavier Noiret-Thomé’s work is never strictly conceptual and typological. Instead, it fits into an ample, highly extendable space and time. It is entirely performative and seems to promote a syncretic, hybrid regeneration of even the most well worn motifs: a mouth, an eye, a tree… All of these would be dead images if the artist had not turbulently, and radiantly, reconfigured their authenticity.
This, I believe, is the secret of a good painting, a wild strand in the thick mane of ideas that can be seen in it: pure dis-abstraction. It makes life difficult for symbols. This is what resists all scenarios.