We have all heard the expression “painters are witnesses of their times”, and after all, how could they be otherwise? Art is always contemporary when it is produced, and artists, whoever they may be, act like a loudspeaker. In the pushy world we live in, more than ever the artist's role and function is to alert the collective conscience to things that are getting off track.
"What do you think an artist is?” Picasso once asked. “An idiot who has nothing but eyes if he is a painter, ears for a musician, or lyrics at every stage of the heart for a poet, or even for a boxer, nothing but muscle?” On the contrary, artists are 'political beings' at the same time, constantly aware of the heart-rendering, ardent and hopeful events in the world, shaping their expression from scratch in the image of those events.”
Barthélémy Toguo and Duncan Wylie follow this same path. We chose to bring them together in one exhibit, not only because they were both born and raised in Africa, before coming to France to continue their training and gain recognition. One is from Cameroon – he has developed multiform work using drawing and photography as well as video and performance – and spends his time between Bandjoun and Paris. The other has an Anglosaxon background, born in Zimbabwe, he draws and paints, dividing his time between London and Paris. Beyond their differences, they share a way of looking at the world. Not with the same creative drive, but with the same kind of humanitarian thinking.
While Barthélémy Toguo, whose background shows him to be a continual nomad, is always ready to go on site to take the pulse of the world and reflect it in all kinds of expression, Duncan Wylie for his part, is constantly listening, and by means of the vectors of the media, he analyzes our highs and lows to better symbolize them. Something in the two artists reveals their similar determination to portray the world, to make us think like Malraux about the human condition and to see it with eyes wide open, avoiding the trap of staying only on the surface.
While Toguo denounces inequality and injustice, defending minorities and questioning our values, Wylie mirrors the chaotic reality of the world, fingers the absurdity of power, and seeks a balance. Both bring us face to face with reality, and invite us to realize that the human condition depends on all kinds of political, economic and societal factors. As artists of their times, Barthélémy Toguo and Duncan Wylie are nevertheless “political beings” – to use Picasso’s words – and their works, whether figurative or conceptual, narrative, literal or symbolic, give us an image of today's world.
Barthélémy Toguo was born in 1967 in M’Balmayo, Cameroon. He studies at the School of Fine Arts in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and was then accepted at the Higher School of Art in Grenoble before finishing his artistic studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Düsseldorf. He works in video, etchings, photography, painting, drawing and sculpture, as well as installations and performances. Barthélémy Toguo uses his art as a means to decry inequality and to defend the values he believes in. His watercolours particularly question sexuality, pleasures of life as well as life’s problems and practices. Barthélémy Toguo is a staunch defender of contemporary African art, so to make up for the lack of cultural policy in his coutry, he has set up a museum at his own expense called “Bandjoun Station” in his native Bandjoun, Cameroon.
Duncan Wylie was born in 1975 in Harare, Zimbabwe. In 2005, he was naturalized French and now lives and works in Paris and London. After studying at ENSBA (the Higher School of Fine Arts) Duncan has devoted himself to painting. His work has been on exhibit in many public and private institutions in France and abroad. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Grenoble, the MUDAM in Luxembourg, as well as the CNAP, the FNAC in France, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and in Leipzig. Duncan Wylie has developed his art around the theme of architecture, particularly in ruins after all kinds of disasters. His contrasting work combines melancholy (in the subjects) with powerful energy (in a franc, refined style), playing on the opposition of construction and destruction, abstraction and representation, order and chaos.