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Hélène Delprat: "To Sleep To Die, No More" at Carlier Gebauer Gallery, Berlin

The artist Hélène Delprat

Hélène Delprat: “To Sleep To Die, No More”
29 September – 17 November, 2018
Carlier Gebauer Gallery, Berlin

By ZEKE GREENWALD, September, 2018

            Berlin gallery, Carlier Gebauer, is presenting its first comprehensive exhibition with French artist, Hélène Delprat. After a fifteen year break from painting, Delprat has re-emerged in recent times with exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen (2018) and la maison rouge, Paris (2017), among others. Add to those, now, her current show, which is opening during Berlin Art Week. Sometime in the mid-nineties, a sudden pudeur or reticence beset her to pursue what she has called her “submerged practices,” a shifting experiment in writing, film, and other mediums. The ornamented inside jokes that characterize her canvases, now, might be indicative of that more secluded disposition.

            The macabre cartoons which figure her paintings are almost all of them references to existing characters or known doodles, whether it be from Tex Avery cartoons or sketches by fled Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, but almost no viewer could be pressed of their own knowledge to say to what exactly they refer, if they had ever seen such cartoons or doodles before at all. The artist admits to drawing freely from her sources, but makes no effort to indicate them as such. Maybe all the better. The show itself is called, “To Sleep To Die, No More,” an apparent Hamlet reference. But when asked, why she had tweaked somewhat Shakespeare’s immortal words, it was almost to her surprise that her title was different from the verse. Thus, it is hardly worth while to make close readings with the exterior sources of Delprat’s work, and all the more freeing to be a little lost in her unknowable allegory. For with the slightest bit of outside information one sees the liberties she takes with others’ works, to the point that it might as well be assumed hers.

            Upon viewing her paintings, eschewing from us the worry of exterior sources, there’s nothing barring us a happy look. Delprat makes her canvases adorable, and that they’re lugubrious, inviting all the more. 

 Hélène Delprat, Le mascaron du Pont-Neuf, 2017 Pigment and acrylic on canvas, sequins, 200 x 297 cm

“Le Mascaron du Pont-Neuf”

            This tableau presents us a loose design, a black mat, gold and silver paint drippings, floating orange line-designs. Delprat insists that she likes cold art, art that is maybe contrary to feelings. In her words: “during a long time, I was very afraid of painting itself because I thought, c’est… comme on-dit, indiscreet, because I had a lot of reticence, and I couldn’t imagine taking pleasure with dripping. And now I discover the real pleasure of painting–– It is to be able to, to, comment…, d’être capable d’avoir le plaisir même de la technique de la peinture même… to be able to have pleasure itself from the technique of painting itself, of the material.”

            But it is obvious that this is not exactly the case. Delprat does not just delight in cold materials, just as most viewers do not delight in abstract splatters, for the viewer is not repelled from her abyss by its glittery emptiness. To allure us, as in this painting, Delprat adds a set of comedy-eyes, on the very extremity of the canvas. There is some marginal human joy here. There is wit. In the end, she keeps us further tuned in with a silly constellation shaped like a resting satyr or slack-jawed Neptune, hiding in the flat patterns of the canvas.

 Hélène Delprat, An apple a day keeps the doctor away I, 2018, Pigment, paillettes, acrylic on canvas, 243 x 293 x 4 cm

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away I”

            Then we stood in front of a more decorated canvas where elongated figures share their space with patterns and more gold flecks of paint, where ghost and mutant fairy do not meet, where a floating eye might only be said to be paired with something that is vaguely eye-shaped. We spoke more about allegorical figures, and how for the most part, no one is going to know what the hell she was talking about. I told her if there was going to be a great mystery, there must also be a great sense of sense. I asked, “If in a poem, like one by Baudelaire, where there’s an allegorical bent, he still picks a sense or rhyme for the structure. What is your sense?”

            She said: “If I can escape your question, there’s a word in French, which is fatras. Fatras has a bad meaning, like to say, quel fatras! That is to say, what a mess! You have your things everywhere! But it is a specific [poetic] form from the 13th century, to specifically mix high and low, knowledge and fantasy, culture and stupidity– fatras–have a look on that. It was very codified; now it is pejorative. And there’s a sentence I know from Virginia Woolf. I don’t know it in English, but, “de quel bric-à-brac sommes-nous faits…” And the bric-à-brac, it is also pejorative now, but it is also indicative of living things. With bric-à-brac, there’s important things, not important things, vulgar things. Like I’ve said before about myself, I like this style because there’s no hierarchy.”

            So we stood there before le néant avec les yeux, the repellent with a little humor, and I asked her further if she had any special fascination for hate, she was reticent to answer me. The picture we stood before had taken its main figure, its prancing white fairy, from a sketch by Dr. Mengele; other paintings had figures of goblins pinched from Nazi U-boats; a canvas, which was particularly on the nose, pictured the KKK. While she was defining bric-à-brac, she mentioned vulgarity, so I asked her to expand on that.

            She said: vulgarity, it isn’t a good state of things, it isn’t extreme enough. Vulgarity is, like, really negative, but extreme vulgarity, when it becomes kitsch or horror, then it becomes interesting, but vulgarity itself is too lukewarm. Vulgarity is the ordinary, and I hate the ordinary.” WM


Zeke Greenwald

Zeke Greenwald is a Berlin based writer.

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