It is around the dilemma between image and painting, between memory and fantasy, between good manners and forbidden games that Jacqueline Gainon’s exhibition in the space of the Galerie Eva Vautier is articulated. Placed under the sign of color, two series of large blue and red paintings confront each other in diametrically opposed registers.
Executed in a naïve, almost licked style, the blue series calls upon the artist’s childhood memories: it is based on a free interpretation of photographs of mountain excursions from a family album. The original images, taken by the artist’s father in the hinterland of Nice, are here the subject of a series of plastic operations. Their transposition in a monumental format, the passage from black and white to color and from the smooth rendering of photography to pictorial materiality gives them an undeniable sumptuousness. Finally, everything that was landscape is replaced by a pastel blue background that is more reminiscent of a child’s bedroom wallpaper than a summer sky. The picturesque elements still present in the first versions of the series – panoramas, rocky peaks or calvaries – have disappeared to give way to a space/time that is as abstract as it is timeless.
Between pious image and bad dream, these paintings show strange, incredibly peaceful portraits in which the artist, still a little girl, and her family members stand against each other in a kind of half-sleep. Their eyes are closed and when they are open, they seem definitely absent as if each one was looking inside himself ignoring the presence of the other. Sometimes their heads fall to the side or their faces fade away, while their bodies seem to float in this blue expanse. Their pale complexion suggests the worst.
If the strangeness of the scene is due to the collective standing sleep, it is counterbalanced by the tender gestures of this father and mother towards their four children. There is something touching, still vibrant that gives hope for a happy ending. The mind likes to imagine this ideal family, alive and well, eyes open to the photographic lens because these images have something universal, they could just as well be ours. But here the optic is replaced by the artist’s gaze, which obviously treats his childhood memories in a psychoanalytical way through the operations of displacement it imposes on them. Thus, these fragments of the past reappear as moments lost forever, as if the artist was unable to restore the joyful temporality of his childhood, but instead offered him eternal rest. The photographic evidence is replaced by the opacity of the painting with its lumpy and tormented materiality.
With tenderness and humor, Jacqueline Gainon distorts the idea of family happiness all the more obsolete as it has gone to hell, thus affirming something of the order of unbelief in the family. Behind the initial naivety of these great icons, which are so many variations on the theme of the Virgin and Child, but which could also be likened to the popular practice of ex-votos by their deliberately clumsy side, lies an inexorable sense of loss. No, painting is not reassuring, it is harsh and impure. And isn’t the role of the artist to confuse and disturb? So be it.
As for the red series, it is infinitely more gestural and expressionist. It obeys a very fluid pictorial treatment that leaves room for colored drips and juices. If the material is more transparent than in the blue series, this series of paintings is also darker literally and figuratively.
It depicts a disturbing huis-clos in which a little girl dressed in a red dress becomes the prey of a group of young boys armed with bats and guns. We find the girl who appeared in the images of the blue series with her fifties dress and who is assumed to be the artist’s sister. But whereas in the previous series the child was as wise as an image, here she is represented in movement, in perilous postures induced by the violence inflicted on her by her torturers. Blindfolded, she is bound and beaten. Her small body can barely stand upright because she is so badly mauled. She ends up falling to the ground.
It is difficult not to be touched by what appears to be a distant trauma, especially since the girl seems to be pushed out of the picture. If only we could be given the opportunity to help her.
But who exactly are her aggressors who barely come out of the shadows and whose silhouette seems to belong to the dark background of the paintings? Why are they attacking the girl? They look like members of an anonymous child militia. Their features are erased as if violence has no face. The eye, it is true, is entirely turned towards the red dress that twirls in the space of the painting and ends up distracting our attention. We then forget that the boys are still in short pants and that their gestures, if we subject them to close scrutiny, are a bit clumsy and borrowed. What if it was just a game? Jacqueline Gainon sows doubt. So secret militia or a bunch of scouts?
We end up wondering if the object of desire of these young people is not also ours. It must be said that the artist has organized her compositions by dramatizing at will these playlets with their folded perspective and the plunging light which come to stretch out to us on a plate the almost erotic body of this child with the pink flesh all dressed in red. Here we are in the skin of the wolf. Between abuse and forbidden games, these nightmarish and suffocating scenes thwart the imagery of Épinal of the blue series and all that she could state of reassuring and ideal on the notion of family but also and especially on the idea of painting. They involve us in the erotic game of representation of which we become the voyeurs.
Opposite this very intense pictorial series are extraordinary small drawings in Indian ink and gouache felt pen where the fight seems to be rebalanced in places. It happens then that the girl manages to keep her aggressors in respect. The victim thus becomes the executioner for the greatest delight of us viewers. To finish, the little red riding hood in her light muslin dress, which one would like to see in muslin, hoists herself up on an enormous skull where she manages to keep herself in balance, thus making a fist at death. So be it.