Impressions of light enriched, crossed and bandaged
A few words on a series of paintings by Reniere & Depla
In a secret, high place within range of the hill from which Marshall Foch, on clear days, viewed the lack of troop movements from his comfortable hotel room, live two artists who jointly create sculptures, drawings and paintings under the name Reniere & Depla. Over the past two years they have been working on a series of paintings that they call, for the time being, ‘The fragility of the shadow’. I did not ask them what this title means, but obviously each painting is an object essentially drawing its texture and raison d’être from light. As such, each painting is a play of shadows, in which the fragile and fleeting appearance of reality is evoked or re-enacted both clumsily and wondrously, starting from the suspicion that reality itself is a strange, wayward film showing in which impressions of light are being enriched, crossed, bandaged and betrayed by our way of watching, our words, our thoughts and our conscious and unconscious memories. In the midst of this sound and light programme we dream about real meetings, with objects, animals, people, thoughts or paintings showing and offering themselves to each other and to us. In such meetings, we briefly seem to exist and to escape from our ghostly, superficial wanderings.
Every attentive observation nervously goes from the object to the way in which the light makes the object appear to us in an undetermined shape. The more attentive the thing, the more present it is, but also the more present the ever-changing light that pushes the thing into space, changing its volume, shape and colour, eating into it, making it uncertain and making it disappear again. As a result, we recognise a kind of reassurance or security in the present paintings by Reniere & Depla, besides intimations of unrest, oppression or threat.
One of the most striking characteristics of these paintings is the way in which the light seems to appear from the depths and seems to be woven into the whole construction. The objects represented have a certain mistiness or instability to them, in spite of their being in the way. Indeed, our view of the reality invoked is often immediately blocked by walls; yet these are not real walls, not only as they have been painted, but also as they pose as a yielding, porous surface slowly corroded by thousands of incidents.
These paintings are realised by putting acrylic paint, layer by layer, on a relatively new kind of plywood, which tends to absorb the layers of paint to a large extent. The white passages are repainted time after time, so that they really stand out from below. They are alternated with layers of glaze that tint the white and are applied with thin, broad varnish brushes. Superfluous passages are wiped away with a piece of cloth. ‘It is like the procession of Echternach,’ the artists joke, ‘three steps forwards and two backwards.’ The result of this technique is a very special construction that so rarely shows any irregularities that one single visible brush stroke immediately seems sensual or funny.
The compositions of these paintings often include at least one slanting line. In general, this involves cut images, and often even ‘crookedly’ framed images, which traditionally do not come from the art of painting – where such cutting was exceptional until the twentieth century – but from photography. Indeed, the paintings are based on photos, usually made by the artists themselves. They gladly talk about how they travel together or just wander around, discovering images they want to convert into paintings. The longer they do this, the more images in the world will force themselves on them as potential candidates. Their work sharpens their observation and makes the world more tangible, defenceless, poetic, funny. In this way they organise their world in crooked framings in which objects are being caressed by light. In the enclosed, corroded spaces evoked in their paintings, viewers would always be able to recognise the tottering, unsteady world they vaguely remember from their childhood, when things did not yet have a fixed name or shape, or from the world of their dreams, where this unsteady world continues to lead an unhampered existence.
In one painting, we recognise an antique three-piece shaving mirror. The right-most part is cut off by the edge of the painting. The middle part reflects the sky outside and the left part has mysteriously adapted the colour of the wall behind it.
Intimacy is the acceptance of fear of being close to something or someone; it is the acceptance of presence. Each intimacy entails the immediate, albeit only potential, danger of being wounded or hurt, and the certain danger that the meeting will end at one point. Without acceptance of this future loss, intimacy is impossible. One of the beautiful aspects of these paintings is the fact that they give a shape to the meeting between two artists and their joint confrontation with objects and spaces they have recognised and recorded in photos. We come home to a considered reflection of countless meetings, which at the same time evokes a memory of the countless fears and confusions that usually prevent us from meeting other people, animals, plants or objects.
Montagne de Miel, 27 March 2009