Emmanuel Pereire

Samia Saouma Gallery

Emmanuel Pereire’s work was first shown during the early ’60s in Paris, accompanied by a catalogue essay by Roland Barthes. Although he is a French artist, his work is better known in the United States; this recent exhibition of four large works was Pereire’s first show in his own country in 13 years. Nine years ago at a New York show at the Clocktower, his work was called “bad painting”—then a term used for the reaction against puritan formalist painting. Nothing of the kind could be said of his recent work. Painted on large black pieces of clothlike paper, human silhouettes or body parts seem levitated by the brightly colored paint. Like fragments of visual memories that appear and disappear within an empty space, the forms are alternately transparent and opaque, dynamic and still. Similarly, the entire painted surface stands precisely between illusion and material reality; it is both a “canvas” and a decorative cloth, both a screen for projecting fantasies and a flat surface. Simultaneously simply an object and an object of desire, the work’s surface can give matter to an image as well as make that image into (subject) matter.

Pereire is also a writer; his second novel, La Mise en Pièces (The making into pieces), was published in 1984 by Flammarion. His relation to language is as peculiar as his relation to painting and images. In France, when a moment of conspicuous silence follows animated discussion, it is said that “an angel is passing by?” For many years, Pereire’s work has dealt with angels; his 1972 project at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, included works titled “Angelic Program.” Immaterial existence and silent perception are among the strongest concerns of his art. Rough, painterly objects and historically determined paintings, Pereire’s canvases are both abstract paintings and concrete images that barely fit together. If the figurative elements in his work never become clear subject matter, if they hover on the canvas’ surface rather than occupy an illusionistic or pragmatic pictorial space, it is because meaning and form do not coincide in this world, which Pereire presents as substantially incoherent. Where form is projected, meaning is rejected, and vice versa. This Freudian fort/da principle of simultaneous contradiction impels Pereire to measure, inch by inch, the surface of the canvas. This surface is not a spatial principle; it neither represents nor conceals. It is a localized experience of appearing and disappearing visual events and, at the same time, a measure of thinkable and unthinkable linguistic reality. In this sense, Pereire’s work is like an angel passing by, right in the middle of a formalist/expressionist debate on painting.

Denys Zacharopoulos