A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, which in 2017 devoted an important solo exhibition to him, and former resident of the Villa Medicis – Académie de France in Rome, Lagarrigue develops a work that questions several deep questions not only of contemporary art but also of civil society, American in this case, and the place it reserves for the African-American community.
If the artist has always chosen human representation as a medium for his plastic research, the stake of his painting is situated well beyond figuration – a vision that has been too hackneyed in recent years – to dig into the very intimate and try to confront the particular with the universal. The majority of her models are from the African-American community in New York, and most often live in Brooklyn. The artist builds a gallery of portraits, most often of unknowns, as a taxonomy of the human race: it is as much a question of observing and characterizing the population that surrounds him as of emphasizing his place and his role in the society. “A geology of faces as a tribute – powerful and loving – to mankind”, wrote the scenographer and former director of the Villa Medicis Richard Peduzzi.
Jerome Lagarrigue’s work has been exhibited in 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the BP Awards and is present in many international collections such as the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The artist lives and works in Brooklyn and Paris; he is represented by the Olivier Waltman gallery (Paris | London | Miami).
The gallery is pleased to present the fifth exhibition in France dedicated to Franco-American painter Jerome Lagarrigue.
With Red Hook Sonata, the artist scrutinizes and questions the soul of Brooklyn, the neighborhood where he lives since he left Villa Medicis, in 2006. In this series matured for three years, Jérôme Lagarrigue gives us a metaphorical portrait of the city through a series of portraits of inhabitants or simple passersby, anonymous or known.
He often represents these individuals in very large formats, in tight framing, stripped of their appearance, almost reduced to a fragment of a face whose only gaze sometimes persists. A look that thinks of something other than the pause to take, which does not impose an ego and forgets the painter. A look that represents the person as such at the present moment, without artifice, only absorbed in the flow of his interior thoughts. Jérôme Lagarrigue captures this most intimate part of a being, suspended in the moment and delivers it to us like a whisper between the spectator and the model. The painter’s works, by his singular way of “framing” his subject, invite narration and offer a suggestion where everything is not given to see; where the imagination is required to form the complete picture.
The geology of the faces, such is the central motive of the work of Jérôme Lagarrigue. In 2006, his exhibition at the Académie de France in Rome was already titled Paesaggio del viso (landscape of the face). From 2007, the Olivier Waltman Gallery followed him in the deployment of this motif by dedicating four solo exhibitions, Boxing, Portraits, Brooklintimate et Closer. Whether it’s the face of a black or a white, a boxer or a model, a self-portrait or an anonymous met in a cafe, whatever, what we see is beyond the limits of the identity. And aims the intimate as the universal.
Excerpts from an interview with the artist during his exhibition «Paesaggio del viso» at the Villa Medici’s in Rome (September-October, 2006)
Federico Nicolao: Your representation of faces lets the view experience a new kind of attitude – far from the traditional description one can find in a painting: as if your portraits are aimed at penetrating an «elsewhere» of your characters.
Jerome Lagarrigue: (…) Intimate architecture of a face developed on a very large scale, becomes a territory of encounters – zooming in on details that are typically ignored on a day-to-day basis. (…) On an over-sized scale, the brush-strokes, the shades of color, the moves of a spatula, bring forward what is hidden behind of something we saw a thousand times. In this spacious context, the viewer can feel the parallel between the idea of a portrait and that of architecture – as if it were the right direction to try and answer the dilemmas each painter is supposed to confront with. Like this old story of the fragile frontier between the abstract and figurative.
F.N.: Photography (in your process) is only a starting point…
J.L. : One thing which I particularly like is using printed materials or their equivalent on a computer screen in order to fragment the portraits I paint. Division and fragmentation of the model are an aspect which has always been worth of interest and new technologies seem to always push more in this direction: watching deep within the substance of the subject. Artists have always been motivated by a desire to free themselves from a necessity to stick to reality but, paradoxically, for almost a century, new tools such as photography, cinema and satellite views allow artists to broaden their vision and pursue new personal quests.
This is a penetration of intimacy, raw like sex, soft like love.
This is a thief, a hunter, a fierce detective of reality just as it slips away.
This is a cap man whose cannibal ear swallows you in a black, deep abyss and stares at you like an eye at the end of the night.
This is a back and forth between the small and the large. A tonic journey to disproportion.
This is a junkyard where, under white slime and yellow pus you find maybe eyes, ears or cut fingertips.
This is immoderation becoming passion.
This is watching oneself to discover the other.
This is watching the other to understand oneself.
This is a woman, seated as if she was not in movement. A woman silent as if she was not speaking, legs crossed high in the blue of things.
This is Rome, always present, and Balthus at the end of the garden.
This is a method of advance and retreat. An oscillation against proximity and distance. An incessant movement in understanding what a body speaks.
These are two legs, two arms, two feet, two hands. An interlacing of limbs which tell more than a look.
This is black, this is white, the collision of opposites, without frustration.
It’s a cap-man whose cannibal ear sucks you into a deep, black chasm and stares at you like an eye in the depths of the night.
It is a dump where under the white drool and the yellow pus of decomposition you may find eyes, ears or fingertips cut.
It is immoderation become passion.
It is to observe oneself to discover the other.
It is to observe the other to understand oneself.
She is a seated woman if she was not moving. A silent woman if she did not speak, her legs crossed high in the blue of things.
It’s Rome, always there, and Balthus at the bottom of a garden.
It’s a way of moving forward and backward. An oscillation against proximity and distance. An incessant movement to know what a body means.
It’s a spatula that will make a nose or the beginning of a smile.
These are empty spaces for others to be full.
These are traces of bright colors for the material to transpire.
It’s the disparity that has become playful.
They are degoulinades coming from the pressure of the flesh, the weight of the muscles, the density of the dermis.
It is the emerald of an immobile eye in the sunset rose that captures the living of its black eyelashes, erectile like nets.
It’s a coffee smell in the mists of the morning.
It is linen that calls oil for transparency.
It is a look that is constructed to give meaning to the face that the green ear did not want to give.
It is the permission, for those who want to join him, to enter without violence at the bottom of the painting.
It’s the familiar echo of a glassblower.
It is a face so sweet, so fundamentally delivered to you that it says everything and yet nothing of humanity.
It is the aspiration of a giant pulling on his pleasure and the tiny expiration of melancholy.
It’s fragmenting to show the whole thing.
They are two legs, two arms, two feet, two hands. An interlacing of members who speak better than a look.
It’s a black, it’s a white, the shock of opposites, without annoyance.
It’s a buffalo in dance shoes.
It’s Jerome Lagarrigue.
Noëlle Châtelet, preface of the catalog Brooklintimate
At first hand, Jérôme Lagarrigue seems to fully reveal his infinitely complex and yet infinitely simple nature. His roots are composite: he is French and American, his education and *spirit roaming freely between two continents. He owes his artistic sensibility to his father, Jean Lagarrigue, whose work is a great influence. The two now seem to be passing the torch back and forth, Jerome in return influencing his father, with whom he shares a fascination for what lies in the depths of a man’s glance.
Everything in his painting becomes tinged with humanity, the walls of the Coliseum seemingly turning and revolving around themselves, much like the Earth itself. In the manner of a tightrope walker, Jérôme is constantly seeking out the balance and bond linking the different origins emanating from him, which dance to the sound of swing or be-bop and can be sensed as much in his vision as in his way of moving, speaking, observing, painting and portraying the world.
Perhaps it is this internal rhythm that guides him along, bringing his soul’s temperaments together in harmony, the various viewpoints livening his gaze and assembling the vivid identity that is his, which far from being artificial and contrived is revealed to us as something quite straightforward, natural and spontaneous.The paintings created by Jerome during his stay at the Villa Médicis in 2006 were the result of his study of the human face, and more particularly that which resides in the eyes of men, in relation to the architecture and the geography of the urban landscape; he roamed the city of Rome and the Romans’ faces, tamed them through his hypnotic movements, painted their portraits.
The Villa and the city were somewhat of a live working laboratory to him, a constant source of inspiration, creation and freedom of expression. The result was stunning; larger-than-life sized portraits and landscapes, each containing several paintings within, each piece part of a larger ensemble of work and yet all stemming from a different perspective: the emphasizing of light or of shadow, of depth perception or color, blurredness here and contrast there… he seems to want to gather together all possibilities in one single solution, constantly approaching and then backing away from his subject as if to better grasp it, searching for everything in a detail and the detail in everything, practically physically confronting his subject as if to possess it while constantly maintaining eye contact, as if in dance, or even and precisely so, in combat.
To never let one’s guard down, to never look away, to scrutinize the opponent’s slightest of moves in order to guess his/her thoughts, emotions, weaknesses as well as the forces that will him/her to exist.This may be the origin of the new series of paintings that Jérôme will be showing in his Parisian exhibition. It’s as if his search, which during his stay at the Villa Médicis was still in an exploratory phase and moving in different directions of attraction and sanctum, has finally found its true course and a more defined objective. He seems to have taken a step back from the heart of the action, no longer residing in the midst of combat, his perspective having changed to that of invisible and privileged spectator to the most intimate and hidden moments, and movements. Jérôme’s vision has moved closer to the subject at hand, poring over passing glances, perceiving and transcribing a pause for breath, the variations of heat emanating from the flesh, as well as the feelings that bring it to life. There is once again the longing to penetrate the canvas’ space and render it accessible as well as vibrant, as if the image itself isn’t enough on its own to satisfy his desire for understanding and portrayal, as if he wants to incorporate other possibilities to the painting such as theater or film.
We are constantly penetrated by the intense and even violent passion of his work, the faces’ and shoulders’ features, his touch and workmanship as well as his choice of colors and very unique way of “framing” his subjects, extremely forthright and often stark and brutal. And yet, there is always a strong sense of tenderness and goodness in his paintings, feelings that resemble his true nature. In the depth of his own eyes can be found an element of surprised and sincere curiosity, detailed attention to and a particularly profound respect for that which, and those whom he paints. Far from conveying the rambunctious animality of hand-to-hand combat, he chooses to transmit a spare and silent image, just like the memories one has of a dream: the detail of a wounded eye, the white of a towel against a dark nape, the choreography of two souls facing each other in the dark: breathless and tense, fastened together, skin on skin.
The day he presented his work to the Academy of France in order to become a resident, Jérôme was smiling; a powerful yet light physical energy, also to be found in jazz musicians, dancers and boxers, sprang from within him.
Text by Richard Peduzzi & Cecilia Trombadori, Villa Médicis, Roma