These reading notes are brief, fragmentary and multifaceted reflections that attempt to clarify some of the peculiar aspects of Nathalie Du Pasquier’s singular work: a figurative and plastic world inhabited only by objects that for years has been developing with almost obsessive coherence and refined aesthetic values, through meditated and free compositional procedures, within the confines of the painting but also, with forms constructed, increasingly, in the environmental space.
From life. Everything takes place inside a white studio, with a very high ceiling and large, bright windows. Light is a fundamental component of this painting workshop because Nathalie is among the few artists who still paint directly from life, without photographic mediations and without indulging, apparently, in more or less fantastic inventions.
Her painting, however, has nothing veristic, in the common sense of these terms, let alone naturalistic. On the contrary, it has a well-defined visual tension that stems from a slow and concentrated process of observing objects, from a focus of extreme lucidity that transforms optical perception into images characterised by a sharp mental perspective. In other words, it can be said that here a process of formalisation of reality is realised, that of the objects staged, which maintains the intensity and sensitivity of the direct gaze, but which at the same time has connotations that are in many ways abstract.
Metaphysics of Objects. Although direct cultural and stylistic influences are fortunately absent, there seems to be a distant echo in the artist’s paintings of the metaphysical enchantment of Giorgio de Chirico’s still lifes, with their alienating and enigmatic plastic solitude, and in particular of the extraordinary poetic ‘simplicity’ of Giorgio Morandi’s still lifes. And there is also some reference to the plastic pictorial purism of Amedée Ozenfant and Le Corbusier. But it is more, I believe, a sort of elective affinity common to all painters who have chosen to circumscribe their thematic horizon to the world of objects, starting with Chardin. And the seemingly paradoxical aspect, in this case, lies in the fact that the more objects are linked to our everyday universe, the more they are charged with a particular aesthetic fascination when they are freed from their strictly practical identity, and are placed in a context of relationships that are not functional except to a purely compositional logic.
These objects nevertheless remain what they are, but tend to lose all connotations of meaning determined by the encrustations of habit, showing themselves in a surprising way in their specific and mysterious object nature: motionless objects, defined by precise shapes, volumes and colours, which enter into unprecedented relationships with the other objects and elements of representation.
All objects, including a motorbike engine, are chosen ‘exclusively’ for their formal characteristics, their full and hollow volumes, colours, compactness or transparency of materials. There is never any intention to use them with metaphorical or symbolic values. The plane of meanings is, apparently, reset to zero.
Every kind of human presence is strictly kept outside the confines of the canvas (except for a few instances of a simulacrum of a hand or a head seen from behind, which confirms the rule). It is the more or less interested and attentive gaze of the observer who, sucked into the painting, animates the scene with his vital energy, stimulated and conditioned, but only in part, by the artist’s occult direction, well present behind the scenes.
The two stages of the work. The process of realising the work takes place through two distinct phases, both important. The first is the elaborate one of the concrete construction of the composition with the choice of the objects that will be the protagonists, their combination and careful arrangement on the supporting surface. The latter is located at a suitable height next to the easel, so as to allow, normally, a slight glimpse from top to bottom. The play of light and shadow, and the colour arrangements are also defined very carefully. It is strategically crucial that the scene is always the same and does not change at all. The setting is fixed by viewing a frame formed by a small window cut out inside a cardboard and placed in front of the eye. With a few preparatory pencil studies, the final focus is briefly verified.
The second phase consists of the transfer of the drawing onto the canvas and the slow and careful execution of the painting: of the flat drafts of the background, the basic colours of the individual elements, the tonal variations, the plastic volumes and the luminous effects.
When the setting of the painting is frontal, a two-dimensional vision tends to prevail, reinforced by the closing of the borders, and the objects almost seem to float in the background. But when the composition is placed between two corner walls, it tends to open up towards outer space.
Closed system/open system. One could say that these paintings find their formal balance through the dialectical tension between two opposing thrusts. On the one hand, there is a kind of centripetal force that tends to reinforce, in more concentrated terms, the system of relations that binds the various objects together, enclosing them, so to speak, inexorably within the precise confines of the frame. From this point of view, the spirit of tight composition, the logic of static balance, seems to prevail. But on the other hand, there is also a centrifugal tension, enacted in a nevertheless always very controlled manner, which is determined in particular by two significant elements of visual strategy. The first is that of the somewhat exaggerated accentuation of the oblique foreshortening of the base plane, which makes the support of the objects slightly unstable and tends to make them tip forward. This visual effect is accentuated by the slight deformation, even axonometric, of the objects themselves. The second element that favours a more open reading of the compositions, and produces a more dynamic balance, is the framing method. In many cases the objects are not represented in their entirety: the framing, with an almost photographic cut, excludes pieces of them. In this way, the conventional authority of the frame is intentionally undermined, and the space of the virtual representation must necessarily refer back to the external one.
This game of refined ambiguity between closing and opening, between inside and outside, often also takes place inside the canvas with the presence of boxes, trays, or even painted frames, which delimit and circumscribe the space of existence of a part of the objects on stage, creating internal theatres or picture-within-a-picture effects…
Beyond the frame, in the environmental space. The dimension of the painting, as a physical surface and as a space of virtual representation, is the fundamental and primary dimension of Nathalie Du Pasquier’s artistic operation, but especially in recent times the artist has felt the need to break out of these enchanted confines to involve external space in her work. A need for three-dimensional physical concreteness has taken hold and begun to take shape through plastic realisations, spatial installations and actual built environments. His previous experience as a designer in the Memphis group certainly had a significant influence on his decision to return to making real objects.
But instead of vases or other objects of applied art, sculptures have appeared. These are small white or coloured wooden constructions, whose structure is articulated in various geometric ways, with some references to the neo-plastic or constructivist tradition, but fundamentally the expression of a free will to invent structures and forms of great lightness and elegance.
These sculptures have been completely integrated into the micro-universe of the artist’s objects, and it is no coincidence that they also often appear within the painted compositions.
But the paintings, in turn, also become objects in space, when they become part, together with the sculptures, of combinations that develop as articulated wall installations.
Motorised paintings. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but ever since the motor of a motorbike, in itself motionless and powerless, entered the repertoire of objects, the compositional dynamics of the artist’s work (which for a long time had played on more calibrated combinations and balances) began to open up to freer and, so to speak, more animated choices, even to disorderly accumulations and dilations of the pictorial scene in very large formats. It could be said that the presence of the motor has, in some way, set in motion an unprecedented acceleration in a direction open to who knows what future surprises.
Built environments. The process of dilation in real space has been realised in the most complete and involving way through the creation of two kinds of painted wooden cabins, small rooms with an entrance door, where on the inside and also on the outside walls various sculptures are placed with studied balances, forming as a whole a coherent and unified plastic complex. The paintings also become part of this organic combinatory play. The result is astonishing: one finds oneself in front of rooms (also practicable) that are at the same time large sculptures.
An operation of this kind, characterised essentially by the same dialectic of closed system/open system that has been discussed with regard to the paintings, could be further expanded if the artist is given the opportunity to involve an entire exhibition space in a totalising project.
One single great work. Taking into account the extraordinary coherence of the operative method and the developments of the research, it can well be said that Nathalie’s work appears as a whole as one great unified work, without solutions of continuity. A work that each time defines its limits but at the same time continuously opens up to new possibilities for growth, like a pictorial and plastic organism endowed with its own self-determining endogenous energy.