Kim Foster Gallery
September 5 – October 5, 2013
By Robert C. Morgan
I have followed the paintings of Lyon-born French painter Jacques Roch for nearly 25 years, basically as long as he has dwelled in Williamsburg. He has always lived in a chaotic raging mess, reminiscent of snaps I’ve seen of Francis Bacon’s studio. Jacques doesn’t seem to know where things are, where he put them, or how to find them. There is a remarkable, eccentric and unpredictable aspect to his work – in general. I discovered his bleak, though titillating poetic obscurity in 1989. Then, four years later, his painting, The Bridge, would grace the cover of my early book, After The Deluge (1993). I still remember this painting as one of his two or three masterpieces (also one of his largest). The quality of his errant gestures and splotches running down the edges was immense, inexorable, bold, and, in a certain way, seductive, if not lascivious.
In some ways, Roch continues to function like a total artist. He takes the art/life paradigm seriously - perhaps too seriously. Different from Rauschenberg, there is no gap between art and life, or if there is, the gap is very little, there is simply art/life. I am fairly certain he can’t tell the difference from one to the other. When life gets too oppressive – as in recent years has happened, health-wise, more than once – Jacques manages to transform the occasion into an imaginative incident, a dull rancor of sorts, fraught with humor. Seething with memories of the Paris days in the late 1960s during a time of revolution with endless manifestations against the Gaullist regime, he remembers his surging strides as an artist, his mounting anticipation of what an artist’s world would be and how he might enter into it.
This period had a remarkable impact on the artist. It was the time when he discovered the work of painter/writer Henri Michaux. It was the moment when conversations could occur anywhere at any time, scented with the vibrancy of change, reeking with the havoc of transubstantiation from art to life and life to art. Paris was the breeding ground for all of this, and it is still his breeding ground, even as he has resided in Williamsburg for a remarkable space of time. His imagination as an artist stems from a raging interior, a portentous nostalgia, deeply embedded within his paintings, including this most recent exhibition.
Mysteriously titled (as usual), The Kiss and the Castle, I believe this is Roch’s sixth solo exhibition at Kim Foster, and one of the best ever. Finally, this insouciant, albeit brilliant artist manages to layer the bright patches of color under filigree-style drawing (French Rococo). In doing so, he transpires with encrustations and gnarled fauna, sordid jellyfish and hapless tendrils creeping throughout his dense pictorial surfaces, Organic creatures resembling unicellular foraminifera abound, and are overlaid with ravishing swirls of jet black ink. The content in these paintings, such as the unctuous Scheherazade and The Fountain assert blind assiduity mixed with a dosage of gestural intrigue. This is Jacques at his best. The romance and the fortress cling to one another beyond recognition. They are layered within a linear stridency patterned with direct color, one layered resolutely upon another. In The Fountain, one catches spindly blossoms shooting out or cuddling within, raw expulsive lines and abstract tracings, bewildering at times, yet internally heroic, grasping for air, cultish, bluish niches, in search of added sustenance. (How to describe these paintings any other way?) They languish as they glorify. A corpuscular magic resides within these forms, which is what Jacques’ work is forever trying to achieve.
Technically, I should mention that the acrylic color beneath the overlapping screen prints works sumptuously. This is a technique Roch has developed for more than a decade, a method of working he has truly mastered. The glut of cavorting apertures and stems is a nearly indecent marvel to behold. As, for example, in Le Belle Dame on a square 24 x 24 inch canvas, brushed with yellow, orange, and blue elicits an utterly squeamish romance, if there ever was one. These metaphoric layering between color and line open new thresholds of blithe lyricism, a gliding chromatic rhythm pulsating on and off the surface. The Kiss and the Castle is both an exhibition and a tale from some lost fairyland, pushed asunder after Roch’s Parisian debacle. These paintings expose an interior sanctuary, where darkness still produces light.
Robert C. Morgan is an artist, scholar, poet, teacher, and author. Considered an authority on early Conceptual Art, Dr. Morgan has lectured widely, written literally hundreds of critical essays (translated into twenty languages), published several books, and curated numerous exhibitions. In 1992, he was appointed as the first critic-in-residence at Art Omi International Artists Residency, where in 2016, he was honored as Critic Emeritus. In 1999, he was awarded the first ARCALE prize in International Art Criticism in Salamanca (Spain), and the same year served on the UNESCO jury at the 48th Biennale di Venezia. In 2002, he gave the keynote speech in the House of Commons, London on the occasion of Shane Cullen’s exhibition celebrating the acceptance of “The Agreement” by the UK. In 2003, Dr. Morgan was appointed Professor Emeritus in art history at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and, in 2005, became a Senior Fulbright Scholar in the Republic of Korea. In 2011, he was inducted into the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg; and, in 2016, the Department of Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame, purchased The Robert C, Morgan Collection of Conceptual Art. Much of his work since the late 1990s has focused on art outside the West in the Middle East and East Asia where his books have been translated and published into Farsi (Tehran: Cheshmeh, 2010), Korean (Seoul: JRM, 2007), and Chinese (Beijing: Hebei, 2013). Dr. Morgan has worked extensively in China with contemporary ink artists and has authored many catalogs and monographs on Chinese artists. In addition to his scholarly, he continues a parallel involvement as an artist and abstract painter (since 1970) with a major survey exhibition at Proyectos Monclova in Mexico City (March 23 – April 29, 2017). His work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and is included in several important collections.
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