Yvan Salomone

Yvan Salomone makes watercolors, and yet he shows with an avant-garde space in the thirteenth arrondissement that is part of the community of galleries recently dubbed the “Scène Est” (East scene). It should be pointed out that this forty-year-old French artist doesn’t create the kinds of pretty landscapes one might associate with the medium. Instead, he depicts port cities, such as Saint-Malo, Le Havre, Dieppe, Shanghai, Dakar, or Rotterdam. Salomone lives only steps away from the port of Saint-Malo in Brittany, and he has visited it constantly for several years now, in addition to taking occasional longer trips to other urban waterfronts. He includes in his paintings not only the ocean liners, cargo ships, tankers, ferries, tugboats, clocks, and dockyards typically found in ports, but also warehouses, freight containers, oil tanks, trucks, cranes, customs offices, construction sites, trailers, and all types of industrial equipment.

In his recent show, Salomone filled the walls of the gallery with these oversized, untitled paintings. The images are not intended to serve as mere documentation, nor do they suggest nostalgia for a particular moment or place. The ports eerily resemble one another in that they are all devoid of human presence, seeming almost the fantastic creations of some megalomaniacal industrial genius. One is attracted much more by a sense of strangeness than by the ostensible subject matter. In fact, the paintings are realized from drawings Salomone creates by projecting slides onto large sheets of paper. In his own words, he then “readjusts” the image as he paints, adding details that cast doubt on any illusion of photographic verity: a metal stmcture stands out through its disquieting whiteness; the hull of a boat is covered by a black-and-white checkerboard inspired by the Florentine hat worn by a figure in Paolo Ucccllo’s Flood; a model helicopter perches on the roof of a training base for firemen; a cross set on a wall is the same pink shade as an adjacent lighthouse. The many crates scattered about in the paintings—in the absence of any recognizable merchandise—further undermine the images’ truthfulness by signaling Salomone’s preoccupation with clandestine trade.

The colors, which are fairly clear but made fluid by occasional drips, suggest a haunting atmosphere reminiscent of paintings by Edward Hopper, so that the element of exoticism in these works is far removed from the clichés found in advertising brochures. “The watercolor,” says Salomone, “becomes the measure of the struggle that I lead against the mediator that it could be.”

Anne Dagbert

Translated from the French by Rachel Knecht.

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