by Robert J. Hughes
A chilly peace infests "L'Écho du silence," a show of Camille Cloutier's drawings at Galerie Marie Cini in Paris, through June 4.
In one, the hollow figure of a faceless man dangles from a green ribbon. In another, a man similarly blank is festooned with feathers and peers off into a distance while standing atop a pile of tendrils. Two figures, one with his head on the other's shoulder, stand on the slippery edge of a cliff that drips colors. These are faces imperfectly beheld, the hermetic memory of barely living.
Cloutier defines her figures by a thin line, the sketch of a presence, ethereal beings in a trancelike universe. The colors in these drawings – a combination of ink and paint – are the representations of a strange physicality, as if dew sufficed itself and the triviality of life amid the vastness of an unknowable eternity becomes a question never asked, never answered. These dreamlike drawings have an unsettling calm that is at the same time rather sad, a day emptied by the sun into the sea and eternally unknown.
But at the same time, these drawings edge away from tragedy, accepting the unknown quantity as a given in our existence. No one really knows anything; even our senses observe what is around us through faulty lenses. There is no interaction, really, between people, to allow for the misunderstandings that lead to personal downfall.
The details here are in the colors, not the figures, rendered as absent clouds of what might have once been human. The colors are vibrant, articulated against a background of inarticulate humanity that annuls an image of what it cannot ever achieve.
The crush of personal aggrandizement at the expense of others is evident, here, though, as in Sans que meurent les jours (or, without the days dying). A blank figure, robed, crowned, holding a scepter, stands atop a pile of bodies equally blank, the rubble of fallen humanity in a world where power is ultimately meaningless.
But it says something for the delicacy of Cloutier's conception of reveries of despair that her drawings of faces and figures devoid of love or grace feel as thoroughly at ease to our eyes as if they were old acquaintances. They're unsettling, but familiar.
-- Robert J. Hughes, a writer living in Paris
(Images: Camille Cloutier, Les heures silencieuses, 2011, Gouache and pen on paper; L'entre-deux, 2011, Gouache and pen on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Marie Cini, Paris)