Tuesday, 16 October 2007



The paintings of Jules de Balincourt are a good example of the way painting now moderates and alternates between abstraction and the more concrete, encounters new demands even as it relaxes old ones. The grand design or shrewd diagram, a revered colour code or proportion to outline, text or ground, all beg questions of perspective and propriety, of the final allegiance for such Olympian detachment. Politics baulks at that, doubts the big picture. By the same token, there is no starting ‘bottom-up’ either, with mere detail or pure means, without appealing to some sub-class or genre. The ambitious painter cannot trust a class or its members, a style or its objects and consequently painting proceeds with a mixture of suspicion and allure.

Balincourt is a relative newcomer, recognised around 2002-3 and noted firstly for his maps in which US nationhood and foreign relations are amusingly shuffled. While the example of Jasper Johns inevitably comes to mind, Balincourt’s concern is closer to the metaphorical mapping schemes of later artists, particularly from the 80s onwards, either in extending the allegory of Neo-Expressionism (see also Posts 26, 40 and 44) or to the charts and layouts that follow from Pattern and Decoration (see also Posts 2, 24 and 53). Balincourt’s touch is lighter, looser for the most part and significantly, he is not content with just the broad sweep of the master plan. From the beginning, other works look to more concrete examples for symptoms of some overall scheme. His work there shares some of the hard edge qualities of commercial illustrative style, but tellingly, Balincourt’s temperament and informality shy from stricter detail, so that the effect is often clumsy or faux-naif.

In works such as Gathering (2003) and Peaceful Protesters (2003) we move from the schematic to generic scene, the ‘naïve’ idealism of a sect or sub-culture, but the mesh of graphics is not quite standard and generic enough, nor more forthrightly naïve, and ultimately lack conviction, cannot project. This unfocussed, technical shortcoming nags at later works, especially with figures, as in Neighbourhood Watch (2004) and New Found Land (2004). Understandably Balincourt shifts the focus to more architectural concerns in Feast of Fools (2004) and The People Who Play and The People Who Pay (2004) and looks more confident devoted to the single comic figure or stereotype such as Youth Nationalism (2004) Poor Vision (2005) and this year’s impressive Holy Arab (2007).

On the other hand, the ‘big picture’ flourishes along themes of transmission or projection, from the modest Media information Center (2003) to Ambitious New Plans (2005) Violent Peace, Violent Healing (2006) Infect You, You Infect Me (2006) and Open for Season (2007). The military agenda that accompanies many of these works climaxes in his recent show at Zach Feuer, NY, with Think Globally, Act Locally (2007) and Unknowing Man’s Nature (2007) where a city grid is target or battery for a bombardment of incomings or outgoings. It is a vision that irresistibly suggests recent American foreign policy, as it ruthlessly extends the metaphor for communication. The works attain an impressive spatial abstraction, but while assuming a lofty ‘strategic’ viewpoint, cannot then quite cede greater latitude to paint, allow more abstraction. Interestingly, works like Boxing Your Subconscious (2005) and Remembering Our Great Dead Heroes (2007) address precisely this heritage to painterly abstraction and mock the organic and gestural against the hard edge and geometric.

Balincourt also returned to his maps this year with We Warned you About China (2007) a less direct cartography now, and the show was also notable for works devoted to landscape, such as I’m Just a Fire in The Night (2007) Untitled-cliffs (2007) Untitled-lake (2007) where attention to atmosphere, stylisation of water or light to crucial panoramas, again are less than compelling, largely because the detail needed cannot be sustained by loose handling. Balincourt wants the particulars but seems undecided on what they are or how to render them.

More successful are smaller, freer subjects, such as Cycles of Morning and Dyeing (2007) – a makeshift rack of coloured rags on a beach, that with eyes, takes on a haunting persona. This intersecting of the abstract and concrete, the more and less stylised, is an issue shared by contemporaries as diverse as Neo Rauch and Dana Schutz. Balincourt’s scope and invention distinguish him, although as yet he perhaps lacks the technical assurance of either. It may be his work will never achieve greater consistency, but lack of rigour is sometimes the price for inspiration.


Jacques de Beaufort said...

stole my fame

CAP said...

So long as he didn't steal your flame.