Galerie Claire Burrus

The history of the monochrome has never ceased to cause gnashing of teeth among those who attempt to historicize it (as if, in film, black and white had vanished with the appearance of color). Since 1965, Walravens has been working at delivering color from the history of art, that is, from the very idea of the monochrome, or, to put it another way, from its ideal solitude. His gesture could thus be said to populate the solitude with color.

He does so first by employing a range of colors that he fabricates both for his own work and for an industrial concern (Tollens). The original colors are then listed in color charts, in a kind of fan-format presenting a sampling of the available hues. For this exhibition, Walravens employs the color chart for Rotell Satin (“an alkyd satin enamel”), which he developed for this paint company. Then there is the multiplicity of marriages of colors among themselves. This exhibition, entitled “L’un dans l’autre” (One in the other) plays on the mixing of two colors drawn from the color chart. Walravens (re)appropriates two reds (numbers 11.24 and 12.01) and two greens (13.02 and 14.19), which he juxtaposes in order to make two series of three paintings each.

On the second floor of the gallery, he also presents one black and one white monochrome, the two extremes of the spectrum, which, when mixed, produce a medium gray—the color with which the back wall of the space and the frames of the works are painted. This is the only color not made by the artist for commercial purposes, and it signifies a kind of zero degree of vision.

Walravens’ strength lies in his various identities (each inextricable from the others): as artist and colorist, painter and engineer, and finally as an erudite expert in color, at once scientist, chemist, historian, and color psychologist. This intermediate posture allows him to affect the diffraction of color outside the field of art, outside the closed framework of the monochrome, outside its tautology (black is black). What Walravens does is animate the solitude of colors by examining their virtues, energies, and properties—physical, chemical, and plastic, as well as psychological, narrative, and curative.

But we should be careful not to misread his effort: if as an artist, Walravens reappropriates the colors he invents and commercializes, he does so not to ennoble industrial paint chips, not to confer upon them the title of “monochrome” or “readymade,” certified by the legitimating system of art. It is exactly the opposite that occurs: conceiving a color made in a professional context is from the start an artistic gesture. And if he commercializes his palette, he does so in order to displace, dislocate, and disseminate his gesture outside the art system.

Finally, if he recontextualizes the whole in the space of the gallery and in painting, it is in order to bear witness to this undertaking or contamination of painting. The monochromes in the exhibition are model paintings, in the sense that one speaks of a model home. The monochrome, according to Walravens, is for living in. It presents itself as empty, neutral, a smooth surface from which any trace of life, memory, or humanity is absent. Color, a virgin space to be occupied, awaits your histories, your hypotheses, and your behaviors. The artist is the only one to know the exact narrative of it origins, its chemical composition, its imagination, its name. . . . But it is up to you to explore its latent possibilities and virtues. Do not expect any ready-made discourse from Walravens. His painting does not say anything about itself; it remains silent, commercial and indifferent, in order to set a trap for your prefabricated reflexes (the sigh, “More monochromes...”).

––Olivier Zahm

Translated from the French by Warren Niesluchowski.