Gérard Traquandi

Galerie Roger Pailhas

Looking at Gérard Traquandi’s pictures, one cannot help thinking of the famous story of the Greek painter Zeuxis whose paintings of grapes were so realistic that birds came to peck at them. Traquandi chose the theme of grapes in order to demonstrate a metaphor about the illusion of figurative painting; he titled this series “Nature Morte” (Still life, 1991), emphasizing the paradox of the immobility of death versus painted objects imitating life, as nature vivante, living nature.

Although Traquandi is interested in the problem of representation, his still lifes are not altogether realistic. He decided, in his most recent works, to return to late-19th-century photographic techniques, some of which were used by the Pictorialists. He has converted and complicated these techniques with a kind of jubilation, obtaining images of disquieting strangeness, before which the eye wavers between the recognition of a photograph or a painting. The negatives of bunches of grapes are treated with a two-color process, a mixture of gum arabic, pigment, and ammonium bichromate. A calculated dose of light brings out the black and white tones, without accentuation or contrasts. The same technique is employed in the representations of large earthenware jars in Sans Titre (Untitled, 1991), where each piece is treated, like paint, with a dominant color. Despite the photographic origin of the images, they have acquired a sensuality, even a spirituality.

Photos of landscapes in the Marseilles region are treated with resin-pigment and soot, which gives them a color that is dark but soft, with off-white gaps, like the sky just after the rain. Paysage à Carpiane (Carpiane landscape, 1991) evokes one of Cézanne’s paintings of Mont Saint-Victoire, 1888–90, testifying to the artist’s predilection for a nature not yet polluted by massive, chaotic construction. With Vélia, 1991, a portrait of the artist’s grandmother—retouched again with soot—Traquandi dares to present the simple human figure in all its psychological complexity.

Why doesn’t the artist choose a more contemporary photographic technique to say these things? Traquandi borrows routes from different mediums—painting to express the preeminence of the spirit, photography to stay in touch with reality. He is attempting to rediscover fundamental values that few artists today explore, seduced as they are by the facile “gadgetization” of art.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll