Dominique Figarella, Untitled, 2011, acrylic on aluminum, 86 5/8 x 118 x 5/8".

Dominique Figarella, Untitled, 2011, acrylic on aluminum, 86 5/8 x 118 x 5/8".

Dominique Figarella/Raphael Hefti

Galerie Art: Concept

Dominique Figarella, Untitled, 2011, acrylic on aluminum, 86 5/8 x 118 x 5/8".

Two distinct perspectives: French artist Dominique Figarella explores painting, its forms, its space, its material possibilities, its accidents as well as its relationship to the image; Raphael Hefti, from Switzerland, looks at the mechanical and chemical processes in the transformation of materials, such as glass, metal, and even photographic paper—processes whose effects he assembles, not only when they are successful but above all when they fail. To see the canvases of the one artist alongside the glass panels or iridescent steel bar of the other calls up reflections relating to current forms of abstraction and its possible registers—from the brutal to the precious—as well as mechanisms of vision and the visual culture they put into play. With glass in particular—the kind used for the facades of buildings—Hefti takes an unexpected approach: Rather than allowing it to fade from view or become transparent, he transforms the material into a landscape, at times exposing the dazzling illuminations of a stormy sky, at times a horizon line. One is reminded, without any overt citation, of Mark Rothko’s chromatic spaces.

Figarella’s works (all Untitled, 2011) in particular encourage such reflections. As they are for Hefti, process and the act of making are determinant for Figarella. On aluminum plates, he first spreads a more or less homogenous layer of black or red acrylic paint with a roller; then, into that monochromatic field, he randomly pours white paint that arranges itself in various shapes, from large, thick spots that crack as they dry to small droplets and fine speckles. Finally, after letting the canvas rest, so that it can dry but also so that it can be reviewed, the artist partially masks these splatters using geometrical flat colors (squares or rectangles) painted with a brush, with the same paint used for the background. A strong tension arises between the various strata of paint as well as between flatness and relief. The areas of flat color, in fact, bring the background color to the fore, carving shapes into the thickness while seeming to level the surface. And what might at first appear to be a mask is revealed to function on the contrary as a developing bath: Not only does the final layer emphasize and transform the cracks that then become outlines on top of the color, but these simple geometrical shapes, often touching one another, follow the curved movements of the material and form structures—even figures—there.

No doubt the colors Figarella employs—black, white, and red—are what make one think of Malevich’s Suprematism; it could also be the eclipse that is suggested here, echoing the Russian painter’s black square, the objective world obscured behind the objectless. But in a subtle reversal, it’s the masking itself that makes the idea of a figure appear, conjuring the highly mechanized figures of an El Lissitzky; it’s the black bar of anonymity that brings a certain determination to the formless structure of spots, much more reminiscent of the universe of Miró. There is an exhilarating tension that animates these paintings: In the emergence of a geometric order from the apparent randomness, rectilinear forms structure an always overflowing dynamism.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.