Philippe Favier

Yvon Lambert

Philippe Favier draws minuscule figurines or borrows tiny images from encyclopedias, then paints or glues them under glass, appropriating a popular Central European tradition. His subjects are thus painted backwards; and though they require the viewer to examine them closely in order to decipher them, the glass becomes a screen that displaces the figures to far-off regions, where the eye cannot follow. Each of these little tableaux—from the series entitled “L’Archipel des Pacotilles” (The archipelago of junk, 1991–93)—placed all around the gallery—renders a solitary, focused pleasure to the gawking spectator/wanderer: when we stop before the image, we recognize certain things, but cannot perceive all the details. We find ourselves faced with the enigma of an interior landscape that belongs only to its creator.

L’Archipel des Pacotilles” evokes the trinkets brought by seafaring voyagers to sell in faraway countries (“pacotille” is also the word for the personal baggage each sailor had a right to bring with him). Swords, glassware, seals from wine bottles, hats, ladies’ shoes, birds, camels, and exotic plants, ancient vignettes and fragments of postcards are pictured side by side with maps of the world and written words such as “geography,” and “Aeolus.” They transport us on imaginary voyages without a goal, the memories of which would have been within the artist’s reach, a bit as in Voyage around my room by Xavier de Maistre: taking an inventory of the furniture and objects around one, in order to meditate with irony on the benefits and vicissitudes of this world. Favier has a recurring taste for old ornamental argenterie and for decorative rococo patterns; or allegorical figures from the late 19th century that glorify industry; or for medieval ecclesiastic architectural elements; all this denotes a nostalgia for good craftmanship, becomes a metaphor for a great painting which has disappeared.

The diversity of the images, and their fantastical combination here, all indicate a desire to appropriate an imaginary territory that is as vast as possible; they speak to a method of execution in which the shape of one object calls to that of another through formal or linguistic proximity, through the annals of memory. In one of the tableaux, a flock of winged feet flutter about a school notebook, inscribed in a circle of a map of the hemispheres, as if Favier remembered precisely that childhood thirst for discovery. This art owes much to the marvelling surprise of the child who easily associates the antinomies of fiction, but Favier brings to it a disquieting sophistication.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.