The remedies for the worst diseases are not always found in pharmacy.
[…] There have never been wizards on this earth, but their power has always existed for those whom they have been able to cajole into believing them such.
Giacomo Casanova, History of My Life, 1789–1798 (t. I, vol. 1, chap. I)
Casanova, the new exhibition by Thibault Hazelzet at the Galerie Christophe Gaillard, celebrates the return of summer. Under the patronage of Giacomo Casanova, the writer of a thousand masks, now doctor, now soldier, abbot, public letter-writer, violinist, magician, libertine, gambler, financier, spy, dancer, lover, seducer, captain of industry, adventurer… the exhibition invites us to celebrate and calls for a return to spontaneous freedom and the blithe voluptuousness of the Venetian man of letters.
A painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and photographer, manipulating materials with alacrity, this year Thibault Hazelzet has returned to his initial medium: painting. After presenting several series of photographic prints (Babel, 2007; Narcisse, Danaé, 2008; La Guerre, L’Orage, 2009; Autoportraits, Soldats, 2011) more recently associated with major sculptures (La Parabole des aveugles, 2012; L’Atelier, Calais, 2014) assuming masterful autonomy (Demoiselles and Vagabonds, 2015–2017) and striking up a dialogue with drawing and painting (as in his most recent exhibition Mars et la Méduse, 2017), today he presents an ensemble of paintings and sculptures in a new style, thus giving his work a remarkable new lease on life.
The Casanova series, which pays tribute to the man considered “the most alive of living beings” in Stefan Zweig’s words, grew out of a hybridization, an energetic intersection between painting, photography, and sculpture. “An orgy of diverse materials enabling, through the discomfort it provokes, the creation of a dialogue between the artwork and the beholder1 ” explains Thibault Hazelzet.
These new paintings are hybrids first and foremost owing to their technique, since they include photography thanks to a transfer procedure allowing a photographed image to be reproduced onto canvas2. Progressively covered over, the image is transformed by the artist’s interventions with a paintbrush, pastels, or oil sticks. The expressive gesture of his hand blurs and deteriorates the clarity of the photographic background, and the textural effects – for instance when he chooses to allow the bare canvas to appear or to show that the paper has been torn in places – recall the action, the presence of his body.
The singularity of this new series is that it stages the artist’s body, perceptible throughout his work but rarely figured, replaying his Autoportraits here in a more parodic mode. Above all, it takes the gallery space itself as a decor, with some of the sculptures exhibited there. These artworks are also hybrids in terms of their subject, which combines reality and fiction, figuration and abstraction. Reworking his photos using Photoshop, accepting retouches and mechanical and pixelated edits, Thibault Hazelzet multiplies the levels of interpretation and confers a density to his images that is at once mental – conceptual – and sensitive.
The artist reworks a concept that he had invented in 2012 with the Parabole des aveugles and the Bourgeois de Calais and complexifies it. He brings his paintings into conversation with some of the sculptures that they represent and, this time, inserts into his paintings the image of the very location in which they are visible. This layering phenomenon questions the system of display of artworks and the gaze we bring to bear on them, creating a spectacular effect of proliferation, of incremental augmented reality, via intermediary planes.
Thibault Hazelzet’s approach is conceptual in this sense, within the tradition of artists whose work is seemingly far removed from his, such as Dennis Oppenheim (who presented within the same premises the photograph of a sculpture created in nature, opposite the sculpture itself) or Japanese photographers such as Masaki Nakayama, whose works associating sculpture and photography were recently presented at the Christophe Gaillard Gallery. In a more expressionist than minimalist register, in which gestures, flesh, and the living world dominate, imaginary spaces and contemporary architectures are interwoven and fictional or real objects meld, creating a play of mirrors that forces the eye to advance to the point of losing itself in a joyous – orgiastic! – multiplication of gazes.
As Michel Poivert describes it, the modus operandi of Thibault Hazelzet is “that of a choreographer, an orchestra conductor, or a stage director interpreting his own creation. The studio represents the first – possibly primal – stage for him, from which he orchestrates his rituals.”3
He now joins the gallery, the place of exhibition of his work and of encounters with his audience.
The artist stages himself with humour and mischievous exhibitionist delight, appearing with his face masked and body entirely naked, like a buffoon or satyr suddenly appearing in the rooms among his sculptures. In the form of totems or “mystical altars”, the sculptures are made of hollow terracotta bricks, geometric elements used in architectural construction or public works, and diverse materials such as wood, ceramic, or fabric, on which little gallant scenes can be discovered, drawings of parties or amorous phrases. Eros is everywhere, from the interlacing of monstrous bodies and the flesh-like colours glowing on the enamel of the ceramics, down to the mystery of the contrasts of light and shade. With Casanova, Thibault Hazelzet – who ascribes to artists the role of exorcists or shamans – presents a new collection of artworks charged with energetic power 4.
Text by Armance Léger.
1 Thibault Hazelzet, interview with Alain Berland, Mars et la Méduse (Paris: Galerie Christophe Gaillard, 2017).
2 The artist glues a photocopy of the image onto the canvas then withdraws the paper, leaving only the ink and sometimes torn strips of paper.
3 Michel Poivert, Les fantômes photographiques de Thibault Hazelzet, text published in the monograph: Thibault Hazelzet, Photographies et Sculptures (CAP - Centre d’Arts Plastiques, Royan, 2015).
4 Alain Jouffroy, Une révolution du regard, À propos de quelques peintres et sculpteurs contemporains (Paris: Gallimard, 1964).