John-Paul Philippé

Richard Salmon, Ltd.

John-Paul Philippé is an American painter who spent most of the ’80s in London, though he has shown widely in New York since participating in a group show at the Drawing Center in 1992. A natural colorist, Philippé deliberately reduced his color range to grays and biscuits in the early ’90s and began working with a small range of formal elements, which for him condensed childhood memories and his physical and emotional ambivalence about AIDS. These are all “portraits” in a most general sense. Yet by restructuring the basic elements of his paintings to shapes that resemble tears, nails, feet, bones, etc., his work demonstrates the infinite variations of expression that we find in faces. Thus his style is instantly recognizable, even when he runs against the grain of his own taste and uses cobalt blue as the ground in one series of paintings. Like Bill Jacobson, Philippé’s minutely controlled gouaches, mixing flour with his paint for textural effect, reveal an artist whose technical gifts have found a formal language that perfectly signifies his preoccupations with narcissism, desire, illness, and loss. These downlike masks, sometimes barely recognizable as faces, provide primary symbols for all that dissolves and runs down. As he remarks: “They evolve because I let the teardrops run down and they can make any number of shapes. They can generate all kinds of forms when they flow, but there has to be some kind of affinity I establish—the little fists that come up, protecting the subject of the painting from harm, a defence motif. A long flowing teardrop that flows down and puddles out at the bottom, looks like a spike, or a nail that could cause tears.”

Or in the words of John Donne, “Fruites of much griefe they are, emblemes of more.” These images strike me as remarkable and powerful icons of our times—densely overdetermined, yet striving for formal simplicity, as monumental art will. They honor our tears, and much besides. The two large encaustics on display here markedly broaden the scope of his art.

Simon Watney