Georges Rousse

Farideh Cadot Associés

Perhaps the most significant esthetic innovation of the early Renaissance was the emergence of perspective as the central tenet of European art. Instead of a flat picture plane on which religious subjects were arranged hierarchically beneath an all-seeing God, “reality” was focused on the eye of the beholder as if it were a beam of light. Esthetics, paralleling the simultaneous rise of humanism and merchant capitalism, came to express a reciprocal relationship between the timelessness of the image and the fixed position of the viewer.

The subsequent invention of the camera (film theoretician Dziga Vertov’s roving mechanical “I”) destroyed perspective’s hegemony by freeing time and space from the dictates of the human eye. By moving the camera, reality could change relative to the viewer’s position, becoming infinitely mutable, a phenomenological revolution that both Impressionists and Cubists were quick to exploit.

The work of Georges Rousse proposes a radical reassessment of this scenario. Rousse paints distorted, foreshortened figures and, more recently, geometrical forms on the interior walls, floors, windows, and pillars of abandoned buildings. He is careful to balance the rooms’ irregular surfaces and shifting planes by paying painstaking attention to trompe-l’oeil perspective. The resulting pseudo-three-dimensional arches, crosses, and tripodal structures, with their cross-hatched shadows and highlighted "surfaces,” resemble holograms. At first glance the works appear to be more about the characteristics of site rather than image, the simultaneous denial and exploitation of the rooms’ contours serving to accentuate architecture while underlining the absence of man. Rousse also draws attention to the fallacy of the image (and by extension of his own role as artist/perpetrator) by revealing its ephemeral nature in a context of decay.

More importantly, however, Rousse reevaluates the role of the camera by making his paintings indecipherable without its intervention. This is a direct reversal of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the destruction of the aura of the painting through mechanical reproduction, for it is the very act of photography that imbues Rousse’s paintings and their environments with significance. The uniformly fixed position of the lens creates the necessary linear perspective to draw the disparate strands of the image together.

This becomes particularly evident in Rousse’s latest experiments with mirrors, which not only disrupt traditional Renaissance planar perspective but also allude metaphorically to a fourth dimension, beyond the looking glass. Rousse begins by painting a geometrical form behind the camera. This image is reflected in a mirror suspended in front of the lens and extends across the walls and floor behind the mirror, so that the camera frames both real and reflected images. In a Modern reinterpretation of classical anamorphoses, it is only the mirror and the camera that create the necessary planar continuity for reconstructing an otherwise fragmented image, placing the “magical” prop and mechanical eye at the center of the artifice. Rousse has thus turned Benjamin on his head, draining the original painting of aura only to restore it through mechanical reproduction. Renaissance perspective is simultaneously deconstructed and put back together again via the very instrument that threatened its existence.

Colin Gardner