Paris

Olympe Racana-Weiler, Citeaux, 2018, oil, acrylic, ink, enamel spray paint, and polyurethane on linen, 70 7/8 x 63".

Olympe Racana-Weiler, Citeaux, 2018, oil, acrylic, ink, enamel spray paint, and polyurethane on linen, 70 7/8 x 63".

Olympe Racana-Weiler

Galerie Jérôme Pauchant

Olympe Racana-Weiler, Citeaux, 2018, oil, acrylic, ink, enamel spray paint, and polyurethane on linen, 70 7/8 x 63".

Olympe Racana-Weiler announces a gut craving, a physical manifestation of desire and ambition, in the title of her first solo exhibition, “I came back from paradise and I’m frankly hungry.” The phrase also alludes to a return from another realm, a passage that might be a kind of metamorphosis, evocative of Ovid’s compendium of transformation myths. In a published conversation with Jim Dine, with whom she works as a studio assistant, Racana-Weiler tells of her own metamorphosis into a painter, and cites the ancient text. In this context, Racana-Weiler also speaks briefly about dancing as a child. She describes performing for an audience, eyes on her body as she moves. “At eleven,” she recalls, “I felt the other persons’ look on me, it was almost intrusive.” By displacing the movements of her figure, hands, and inner force onto the surface of the canvas, she seems to have found a means to protect herself from this imbalanced gaze. Through painting, she regains her power, confidently wielding it on a stage that she creates to perform her own desires. Her work is clearly not figurative, but she insists that it is not abstract; rather, she claims it is marked with the dynamic motions that radiate from her body, motions that are emphatically present and alive.

In this small space, the visitor was instantly immersed in the intense color and the lyrical, at times agitated, gestures that make up Racana-Weiler’s paintings. The massive triptych RA Epiphania, 2016, dominated the scene. In it, the artist layered oil, acrylic enamel, ink, and enamel spray paint in a composition that churns across three canvases, each nearly seven feet high. She embraces this abundance in order to capture a physical presence. “I can begin with acrylic, then add oil, then polyurethane, and so all these additions, without waiting for them to dry, create something else, a sort of object, a bodily presence,” she says. She intensely works the surfaces of her canvases, building up layers of vivid pigment and scratching back down to the stretched fabric. In almost every painting, each roughly the height of a door or portal, the artist also creates a sense of depth and the suggestion of a passageway. In Citeaux, 2018, for example, dense expanses of coral and dark turquoise and short bands of indigo and fiery red surround thin washes of ocher and black that pool at the heart of the canvas. Surrounded by turbulence, the core of this work is calm and direct, like the eye of a storm.

Racana-Weiler’s canvases are charged with the agony and euphoria implicit in an artist’s search for genre, voice, and the freedom that allows one to truly live. Her works are embodiments of life’s real anxieties. “In the painting something about the material that one uses is infused with the life that comes, something that you cannot make disappear, something that you have to face,” she says. In A Man in Love (2009), volume two of his epic My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgaard writes about the directness of a work of art. “What is a work of art if not the gaze of another person? Not directed above us, nor beneath us, but at the same height as our own gaze. Art cannot be experienced collectively, nothing can, art is something you are alone with. You meet its gaze alone.” Racana-Weiler is no longer dancing, but singling us out with each canvas and looking us straight in the eye.

Lillian Davies