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The Painted Place

Project proposal for 1996-1997



The ties between painting and place arise from specific histories and geographies. Each tie embodies a pathway, a series of choices by the artist and by the cultures he or she mediates. Through my own experience, and that of my painting, I wish to explore the relationship between images, culture, and physical space. This inquiry is guided by the underlying belief that "form" is not an abstract notion, but rather intimately connected to patterns of thought and behavior.
In the present project I wish to use displacement - a return to New York City - as a lens to focus in upon the structuring elements of my painting in their relation to place. Towards this end I have begun a series of roughly twenty canvases in the continuation of interiors I completed between 1993 and 1994. The entire unfinished series will be sent to New York, where I will spend a year developing this work of translation from place to place.
Over the following two years, therefore, I will be painting, thinking about, and documenting the connection between the painted place and the place in which we paint.

Trajectory:

My own story is marked by these exchanges, movements from place to place, culture to culture. Jewish roots reach back: to Eastern Europe, to Holland, to France. They meet in New York.
My parents met there, but only stayed long enough to grow up. In 1962 they left for India where they spent the next seven years. I was born in 1964 in Ahmedabad, son of an architect and a schoolteacher. The family moved again in 1969, to stay longer would have been to stay forever. Return to France. My own journey had just begun. From then on there were frequent trips to visit the family in the United States, two years of study in England (1979-81), a college education in Massachusetts (1983-88). I imagined a career for myself in the States, but after graduating I suddenly realize that a whole part of my self had stayed behind in France. I therefore decided to return and recover it. This was the summer of 1988.
Since then there have been periodic trips: Spain, Morocco, Rumania, Bosnia, the U.S. Each time a short journey, each time a ripple effect which spreads through my painting, tinting its light, shifting my course towards new shapes and concerns. Each trip leaves its mark.
Suspended between them, there is an adopted home to which I return again and again. "Les Suérats", a house my family bought in 1975 in central France, gradually becomes the imagined home of my ancestors, and since 1992 the main focus for my painting.
Through the movement between places another emerges: the place of painting.

Story, history, place:

My painting bears a material echo of social resonance. It is shaped by the places I have traveled through and by the memories they carry. The projected return to New York City imposes itself as the continuation of a journey which started long before me and of which I am but an active point of passage.
New York. Every time I arrive in New York I discover the place anew. Despite its frequent comparison with European cities, the difference is staggering. From the stereotypical "bigger than" to the overwhelming reliance on the right angle, the shape of the city astonishes me by its apparent simplicity. Progressively, my eye slides over the cityscape. I take in the masses and the spaces in between, which together form the rhythm of the city. I perceive a certain presence of the sky, hard shadows cast across the streets and walls. This right angle vocabulary asserts itself at every intersection. Hopper appears in a new light.
Typically American or not, the history of New York City is written in its walls. Nestled on the edge of the American continent, it became one of the pivotal points for immigration. The urban density, the verticality of its buildings, embodies the accumulation of people before the westward migration.
Through this history my own family passes, because New York is also the city of my parents. City of refuge after flight, be it that of 1941 or that of an earlier era, a place where a family could attempt to set up a new life. The city is a receptacle for family memory, a place to rest. For me, it was a place of summer, where I would visit my grandparents, reestablishing for a short while the continuity between generations.
Paris. Marked by the layering of history, etched in stone, Paris exists as contrast. From Lutecia to the medieval city, through the drastic modernization carried out by Baron Haussman in the 19th Century, inventing the Paris Avenue. Its medieval scale is cut through by the age of rationality and a propensity for crowd control. To me it is the city of "return". The place my parents came to after their Indian voyage. It is the city of my first steps in France and in the French language, the place of my second childhood.
For the past six years I have had my studio in Montreuil, a working class suburb on the eastern edge of Paris. From here I have begun to elaborate my reflection on the relation between painting and place, between movement and belonging. It has led to several works: paintings for an abandoned chapel in Die (1992), for the church of Saint André in Montreuil (1993), a commissioned series of bas-reliefs and paintings for a kindergarten in Montreuil (1994). This artistic activity has developed parallel to work of a social nature: the organization of artists' Open Houses (since 1989), work with children, both in and outside of schools (since 1992), fund-raising and exchanges with artists from Tuzla in Bosnia (1994-95). For the first time I became a full participant in a city's life, and simultaneously, a direction and a place come to define themselves in my work.
Between these two cities my own history oscillates, in a dual unsynchronized movement which invents movement itself as a place of identity.

Painting:

These places and their histories, the material or insubstantial traces of human passage, offer multiple sources of resonance. In sympathy or dissonance, they ring, forming, together with others, the echo of the place I paint. Each trace of human passage carries the latent stroke of the brush.
My painting tries to focus on the memory of these places and to connect them to the "here and now" of conception. Painting thus becomes a link between my past and that of the viewer. The canvas becomes a meeting place, a space of self-positioning. "If this is his story, his place, then what is mine??
If I look at my painting in terms of my place, my past, I discover two interrelated influences. Born of an American tradition, it nonetheless evokes a profoundly European space. Its relation to scale and place is closer to Rembrandt, Matisse or Morandi than to Hopper or David Park. The Suérats farmhouse lends me the thickness of its walls and the darkness it holds within. By contrast, the formal concerns underpinning this evocation stem from American painting (more specifically to Abstract Expressionism), particularly in its relation to the body. Its consistent refusal of ?intellectual? criteria pulls it away from much of contemporary French art. The canvases are large and marked by a clear abstract construction which draws on the radical choices of Franz Kline, and the discreteness, the allowance for the presence of a metaphysic, which is so strong in the work of Mark Rothko.

Physical space invades my work. From one country to the next, within one, the other. I oscillate between two lights, two stories, to finally paint a state of being. My eye moves the brush, the painting moves me. A tension arises, an in-between, which suggests and directs. It is this tension I wish to follow. Not to make explicit but to explore, to follow the full extent of this dual inspiration, anchored as it is on both sides of the Atlantic, both moving and dynamic.