Hélène Delprat

Galerie Maeght

Lost in the labyrinth of her own dreams, Hélène Delprat has held onto painting in spite of the contemporary ascendancy of post-Conceptual art. She is aware that in this era the phenomenon of painting figurative images, of expressing a personal and singular universe, has become a rarity. For some fifteen years now, she has questioned the beginnings and ends of painting with humor, vivacity, sometimes naïveté, wit, imagination, and tenacity. In this process, she calls upon myths both ancient and modern: whether it’s the hunter Acteon—guilty of catching sight of the mystery of the goddess (i.e. painting’s) beauty—represented as a green man with a long tail in a deep forest; or Orpheus, well-loved by one of the heroes of painting, Poussin; or Manet’s Olympia, guilty of having introduced the contingencies and uncertainties of modernity to painting.

In this new series of works on wood enclosed in glass, which is sometimes painted, entitled Les Heures (The hours, 1994), the inscription “Où est la peinture” (Where is the painting), rendered in a style that recalls the typography used by Futurists such as Fortunato Depero or the poster-artist A. M. Cassandre, is placed over the characters in a central image, framed by an assortment of geometric figures: circles, crescent moons, and red diamonds from playing cards. “Les Heures” also refers to the hours Delprat spends in her studio pursuing “boxing rabbit,” a new tenant in her familiar pantheon. This malicious rabbit—evocative of Lewis Carroll but also of Barry Flanagan—stands in the foreground of these picaresque little scenes. Encircled by an immense bubble, as in abstract art, suggestive of Land Art, pinned as it is to the wall in a puddle of blood, reduced to the Conceptual stylization of a playing card—is it mocking contemporary art? But then Delprat hearkens back to her own previous works: in Saint Boxing, 1994, wearing a mask and surrounded by shields, the rabbit mimics the series of “Initiations” from 1985, and the “Rituels” (Rituals) of 1986 which were permeated by the primitivist art that was then in vogue.

Since that time, by appropriating archetypal multicultural figures, and figures from popular art (such as the Colombian saint in “Anima Sola,” the title of a series from 1990) and myth, mixing them very adroitly with things she’s read in an extraordinary conflation of the mental and the formal, Delprat has created a strange language, an original poetics, signaled by visual digressions and fragments of images within a compositional logic that is always successful. This surfeit of images is derailed by the imaginative and hilarious settings in which it is placed and placed at a distance by the comic characters and puppets found in works such as D’ici on n’entend rien du tout (From here you can’t hear anything at all, 1993), which points a finger at painting, perhaps to signify its durability.

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Diana C. Stoll.