If an ultime proof of the inconsequence of artists’ « careers » was necessary, just remember that there has been no solo exhibition of Dominique Figarella’s paintings in Paris since 2000 (that was in Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery). This absurd retirement is neither arrogant nor eloquent; simply, it is beyond understanding. Besides a hesitant look at painting, to my mind, this absence is the result of a series of misunderstandings, which this new exhibition may be the opportunity to reduce, if not clear up, thus allowing his artistic project to be considered in its very topicality, and in a complexivity which is never specious.
For some years, Dominique Figarella has sometimes stuck on his paintings digigraphy prints of scenes, which seem to have been taken in the studio, inhabited by a human presence, never strictly appearing as the artist himself. These scenes always look Eden-like: sunlights, paintings carried like surfboards, crossed legs you guess with feet up… Dominique Figarella obviously gives the looker-on the image of a “practice” which has nothing to do with “work”, but also that of an “object” which still remains an “adventure”. The anarchists of the end of the nineteenth century, Mallarmé and Fénéon circle, Incoherent Arts, Dada, Fluxus, situationists, are the members of the genealogy he indisputably proclaims, dominated by Kurt Schwitters and George Brecht. Dominique Figarella means to take his revenge on bourgeois, even aristocratic painting, to substitute it for craftsman painting. To Dostoyevsky’s ambiguous motto, “beauty will save the world”, apparently, Albert Einstein echoed, “ craftsmanship might well save the world”. Between the two of them, Dominique Figarella has found room for a studio.
The process and the act of making are determinant for Figarella.
On aluminum plates, he first spreads a more or less homogenous layer of black or red acrylic paint with a roller; then into that monochromatic field, he randomly pours white paint that arranges itself in various shapes, from large, thick spots that crack as they dry to small droplets and fine speckles. Finally, after letting the canvas rest, so that it can dry but also so that it can be reviewed, the artist partially masks these splatters using geometrical flat colors (squares or rectangles) painted with a brush, with the same paint used for the background. A strong tension arises between the various strata of paint, as well as between flatness and relief. The areas of flat color in fact bring the background color to the fore, carving shapes into the thickness while seeming to level the surface. And what might at first appear to be a mask is revealed to function on the contrary as a developing bath: not only does the final layer emphasize and transform the cracks that then become outlines on top of the color, but these simple geometrical shapes, often touching one another, follow the curved movements of the material and form structures – even figures – there.
No doubt the colors Figarella employs—black, white, and red—are what make one think of Malevich’s Suprematism; it could also be the eclipse that is suggested here, echoing the Russian painter’s black square, the objective world obscured behind the objectless. But in a subtle reversal it’s the masking itself that makes the idea of a figure appear, conjuring the highly mechanized figures of an El Lissitzky; it’s the black bar of anonymity that brings a certain determination to the formless structure of spots, much more reminiscent of the universe of Miró. There is an exhilarating tension that animates these paintings: in the emergence of a geometric order from the apparent randomness, rectilinear forms that structure an always overflowing dynamism.