Los Angeles

Jean St. Pierre


The two series which make up the body of Jean St. Pierre’s third one-man show are both concerned with movement between poles: of chaos and order, the luxurious and the austere, the “natural” and the “artificial.”

“Creation” is a series of six Rimbaud-inspired mixed media works on paper, most mounted on untreated plyboard in shallow, plexiglass boxes which let the viewer realize the presence of layers of mysterious hidden content—painting upon painting—beneath the surface or hidden by paper flaps.

The series gains in interest as it progresses. In the fourth, a still uncertain geometry blooms as a rectangle fills the lower two-thirds of the sheet beneath a representation of man as the Dying Gladiator. In the fifth, this rectangle is filled with a lovely scraffito like some ur-alphabet, and in the sixth becomes a blank, black slate, physically covering (and metaphorically canceling out?) layers of meaning beneath it.

An untitled series of four encaustic panels mirrors the concerns of “Creation,” progressing by stages from a dark, tripartite work reminiscent of the somber, late Rothko to two panels on which the highly colored surface is built up in natural-looking, lichenlike clusters and waves of growth. These latter are not, on the level of meaning, to be perceived as man-made objects: art has been broken down and replaced by “nature” in a seemingly “natural,” entropic process.

Something of a relief after the grand intentions of these two series (in which, also, weaker links have had to be included), the individual works in the show are smaller in scale, less assuming and, I think, more satisfying.

In Silver Star a rectangle of white-painted canvas is pasted on a plywood panel. By contrast with the wood-grain, the “empty” painting takes on a great purity, while the grain itself—by contrast with the canvas—seems charged with natural design. Purity/complexity, austerity/luxuriance: very neatly stated.

In Arjuna, a small, square canvas is built up with stroke upon thick stroke of semitransparent, blood-red encaustic, the strokes so brutally applied that wax has splattered suggestively across the surface. In Seasons, twelve pages from Un Saison d’Enfer are pasted—three down, four across—on a canvas. Brushed with the same thick red wax, the edges curl and warp suggestively. In these two pieces geometry (the constrained, square canvas, the grid of pasted pages) combines with the expressionistic, violent brushwork and Romantic “charge” of nemesis (the illusion of blood) to produce works as luxuriant and frightening—and titilating—as a Baroque martyrdom.

It’s not really a surprise to learn that St. Pierre spent time as a Jesuit seminarian, for in its concern with mystery, blood and martyrdom, with Mass-like opulence and the austerity of suffering, this seems an intensely Catholic art. These paintings are cathartic testaments to the painter’s spiritual struggles—unless you’re on St. Pierre’s particular wave-length the weight of meaning can tend to obscure them as art. Yet in some pieces he is able to achieve a fanatic, Savonarola-like purity which is both beautiful and chilling.

Bjorn Rye