Marc Couturier

Galerie Claudine Papillon

Marc Couturier’s work brings to mind Paul Klee’s well-known phrase, “Art does not render the visible, it renders visible.” With a great economy of means, using ordinary objects, some as prosaic as a fishing boat, Couturier manages to make us see and feel a poetry that is inherent to the object in its natural state, suggesting a flood of concomitant memories and connotations that can be variously interpreted. We recognize in this work what we know is there.

But the objects, although they have been picked from the day-to-day, are not derived from the industrialized or technological universe. Couturier chooses objects that are laden with nostalgia, such as riverboats. A surprising installation of these boats, suspended in midair along a wall, was presented in Paris in 1986, at the Salon de la Jeune Sculpture. Through the levitation of the boat, Couturier transposed the quotidian object into a recognizable symbolic universe—the boat that carries dead souls to the world of the sun god Amon, or that steered by Charon into Hades, or Noah’s ark, assuring the survival of the living—an emblem that has figured throughout the course of art history, here represented as a real object. The access to the metaphysical plane is further affirmed in works composed of large Communion wafers—the very substance of the host in the Catholic church—presented in the “Magiciens de la Terre” exhibition in Paris in 1989, as in Hostia, 1988, in which a sheet of Plexiglas is inserted between the wafers.

The current show confirms Couturier’s remarkable ability to create material analogies with mental representations of the spiritual and of the sacred, images that seem to emanate from the world of the invisible. In this way, although Couturier uses different materials, his progression resembles that of Wolfgang Laib. But Couturier allows chance to play a larger role; he selects wood found in the course of his travels, and transforms it just enough to expose the interior poetry that is attached to its surface, to its skin. A spiritual sensuality—as far as those terms can be placed side-by-side—is revealed in a simple panel of blond African wood in which “drawings” that have been invoked by wear and by rain are accented by a trail of wax; they suggest a landscape made by the movement of clouds, or a Japanese Zen watercolor in which the infinite horizon is conflated with the foreground. The title of this work, Redressement (Re-placement, 1991) speaks of the subtle shifting brought about by the artist: one modest gesture and everything changes. Another piece of wood, darkened with charring, also entitled Redressement, 1991, has been placed like a sculpture on a pedestal. This piece scarcely needed the hand of the artist to seem like a primitive idol, unattributable to a given civilization, as if it represented in itself the universality of religious feeling.

The show ends with a novelty in Couturier’s work. Fifty-six pencil drawings, executed without model, are lined up on the floor, suggesting a meandering stroll through some shrubbery. The pencil-dreamer has enacted another re-placement here, from the real to the figurative, perhaps to bring our attention to the omnipresence of nature via his sensitive deployment of an art that reflects interiority so well.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.