Rina Sherman
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Pierre-Luc Bartoli, Fumeur, 2006
150x150 cm
Technique mixte sur toile
(huile et acrylique)

Pierre-Luc Bartoli 2004 – 2009

CatalogueRecent Paintings

I first met Pierre-Luc Bartoli in 2004 under rays of light streaming through the glass roof the glass roof of his Paris studio in the Faubourg St. Antoine. I remember the paintings, still fresh, almost dripping with paint, and now that they have dried, and are reproduced here, I look through the pages and go back a little in time.

With Bartoli, the themes change with his obsessions, and come to the fore through their visual and physical qualities, as a pretext, as a trigger to painting. Bartoli has always painted strange genre scenes. Here we discover his principal themes of exploration: libraries, subway crowds, drinkers and smokers that form a synthesis of his previous technical and stylistic explorations. As I turn these pages, the paintings and the themes follow one another like the scenes of a film, evoking a sensation of fleeting form and movement.

Sitting on a sofa covered in cracked paint, with his studio cats moving about, the painter talks about his work: "When everything has come and gone, the only element that remains timeless is the poetic glimpse of a movement that merges with an emotion. My painting is about rendering sensations, I do not paint anything on a voluntary basis, I wait for a feeling to come, to become expanded, until it takes on a physical and visual existence. When I think I recognize it, I start painting. Of course, the rational is always present, and seeks to impose its dynamic. In my work it intervenes through the representation of urban trajectories, those of crowds, of gazes, of sighs. Movement is the unifying element in that it integrates past, present and future. In a certain manner, the idea comes from a feeling that becomes so powerful that it finds its way onto the canvas. First the emotion comes, then the idea, which slowly takes shape, and draws the outline of a narrative that gives meaning to the image, nothing more”.

Bartoli paints an epoch of accumulation, archival edifices, tunnels, basement backrooms and smoking rooms. But whether he fills them with a stream of creatures or a solitary face, it is always a suspended moment that he seeks to grasp, and a feeling, an emotion that he renders.

Sometimes the artist creates the impression of closeness through an almost cinematic approach. In his representations, the figuration embodies a present that alludes to what could have preceded and what could possibly follow the image on the canvas. "What if?" With us, these creatures interrogate a plausible past and a possible future. The artist places them in configurations that generate mobile points of tension, and for the observer, a sense of continuity in which the formal is barely present on the canvas; sensation takes over to strengthen the image and make it more direct. The painter thus bypasses any rational choice, and draws the viewer into his personal version of figurative expression.

In the postmodern crowd, hands are stretched out, faces are jostled, their eyes have no gaze, and their mouths smile or grimace. City crowds under the glow of neon lights, towering stacks of books, smoking mouths, heat, noise, shadows and vanishing lines ... The human condition.

If the technique of the artist has grown and changed over the years, his most recent style shows the use of a mixed technique composed of oil and acrylic superimposed in several thin layers. In this accumulation of stratum, he rubs, scrapes and dilutes. The result is a strange light suggesting movement by a combination of reflections, textures and relief; the most prominent form arises from the ensuing textured matter, from a chance dripping without a fixed point of departure, drawing the viewer into the painter’s quest.

Convection of colors, swirls of vivid paint, acrylic painted onto the oil, which consumes and transforms it. Smoke, visual matter!

These paintings, made of heat and fear, tell both of the anguish and the necessity of living; in this they are optimistic. This inherent duality, I think, emanates from a Latin soul, embodying sadness and joy, and should not surprise the viewer; Bartoli is Mediterranean, of Corsican origin, he was raised in the light of Aix-en-Provence, he is now located in the urban magic of Paris, to paint. Self-taught, his painting is an extension of the figurative tradition, that of gestural expressionism, in the tradition of artists such as Honore Daumier, the Montmartre painter Gen Paul, or even his great Spanish contemporary, Miguel Barceló. Shadow and light intermingle, merge, and continue to exist beyond the frame of the picture. The expressive essence of Bartoli could be defined by the sensation of light that remains after having viewed his dark paintings. It is a physical vision of the human condition that the artist gives us: here the dry trace of dripping paint, the raging battle of the brush, there a shimmering oily glaze, a magically colored transparency.

Rina Sherman
Paris, January 2010