Thu 31 Aug 2023 to Sun 5 Nov 2023
Artist: Jean-Philippe Delhomme
Et son modèle
(Jean-Philippe Delhomme, Studio Poems)
For his first solo exhibition at Perrotin Tokyo, Jean-Philippe Delhomme presents a series of new portraits produced in his Paris studio during traditional model posing sessions.
Delhomme’s portraits are created through direct observation and, unlike much contemporary “figurative” painting, not mediated by photography. His work could be characterized as a painting of representation, “re-presentation” in the etymological sense as a “bringing before one” of an image or figure that substitutes reality. Each portrait records the presence of the model in the controlled situation of the studio. The artist is less interested in likeness than the exchange of gazes between painter and model, continuing a long tradition of portraiture predating photography. The exhibition title visage(s) suggests that the paintings’ focus is on the face rather than the body. For the artist, “The face is the place of vulnerability, fragility, and change; just as a landscape changes with the light, the face changes from one day to another, and very often during a sitting.” Delhomme likes to paint the same models in an ongoing process that creates new impressions each time.
The malleable studio space allows the painter to create changing moods and atmospheres through basic props and color backgrounds taped to the walls. The compositional setup is simple: minimal staging and instructions regarding the postures of the models, who wear their own clothes. The latter exhibit a sense of neutrality, similar to the subjects of Warhol’s screen tests, the famous short films of near-motionless individuals in front of simple backdrops that Warhol initially called film portraits. In a similar vein, Delhomme’s focus on the reciprocal gaze undercuts the typical male painter- model dynamic. The models are usually painted looking directly into the painter’s eyes, creating a sense of distance and mutual questioning where no answer is expected, a situation Roland Barthes would describe as a suspended moment of “the neutral.”
For the series at Perrotin, Delhomme relies on a dark, almost black background as the only decor. It has a greater depth of field than the brighter colors used in other portraits, which are more surface than depth. Delhomme selected this specific ambiance for the Tokyo show as a homage to 17th-century Dutch portraiture, where the models also appear against dark-toned backgrounds. It is also a reference to Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, a book Delhomme encountered when he first visited Japan in the early 1990s. This seminal text explores the differences in how light is perceived in Western and Japanese aesthetics. As Tanizaki argues, the concept of beauty in Japan “depends upon shadows and is inseparable from darkness.” On the occasion of the exhibition, a book of poems and black ink drawings will be published, paying tribute to Tanizaki’s aesthetic principles: “Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall.”
As a counterpoint to visage(s) at Perrotin, Delhomme will present The Studio, a selection of works displayed in the exhibition space and windows of Isetan Shinjuku department store (ISETAN THE SPACE) from September 2 to September 15. Exhibited alongside still-life paintings, these portraits feature brighter backdrops, giving the viewers a glimpse into the artist’s studio.
Lucien Terras, Paris July 2023