Hoisting a sail and stretching a canvas. A tempting similarity comes to mind in the gestures of Thomas Auriol. From his studio facing the port, one sees the boats coming and going, a possible stroll emerging at low tide, and on sand, more than anywhere else, the traces of this coastal temporality. Oil painting is part of this flow, from first sketches to setting down blocks of color, then the more nuanced touches...Attention to the environment is no afterthought, Auriol places it at the heart of his work, and sees himself as on board. Each of his paintings place the viewer in medias res, in the middle of things. Before beginning the series Ibiza Solo, Cockpit put the viewer in the driver’s seat. From the vehicle’s interior, the framing displays the dashboard, windshield, and rear-view mirror in an unusual way. Details of rain on the windows dispel any impression of perspective; the artist depicts a particular moment in the first person, a movement of the driver, leaning to the side, as if to exit or to check the blind spot. In the construction of the scene, one might even find an epiphany: is the light emanating from outside the frame? At the other end of this journey, in Ibiza, a grasshopper on a windshield attracts all the light and places the series under the auspices of gonzo journalism and Hunter S. Thompson, author of insider reporting of asserted originality.
From canvas to canvas, Auriol unfolds an art of the narrative. Terms from narratology are useful in elucidating the structure of the pictorial and maritime voyage that makes up Ibiza Solo. Begun during the first lockdown, the performative aspect of the solo journey is worth mentioning. Convinced that night clubs and bars would not recover from the pandemic, the artist dreamt the renewal of an art community on the island. While in the 1930s Ibiza was a haven for intellectuals, like Walter Benjamin, it later became a tourist destination known for its parties, as much a symbol of night life as its cliché. Yet, beyond the destination, the journey interested the artist, with its preparations, detours, and obstacles. To see his project through, he bought a boat, serviced it, furnished and equipped it before setting sail. The journey begins in Bretagne with trips between the shipyard, ship handlers and home, leading him to take a fresh look at hydrangeas. In La route aux hortensias, the emblematic flowers of the region become synonymous with a green, luxurious nature, reversing the order of exoticism. The light colors and pastels might recall greeting cards, but what’s kitsch is swept away by an impression of speed, the frame of the car again, and the collusion of flowers on the windshield.
Ibiza Solo develops through an ensemble of fragments encapsulating moments from the voyage, moments which, like memories, can be deceptive. There’s no time to paint on deck, where one must attend to slight changes in the wind, where rather than surrendering oneself to sleep, one programs micro-naps just to keep going. The permanent state of wakefulness is conducive to hallucination, and the artist tries to restitute that very subjective vision, as in L’approche de Cascais where a neon-colored snake overlays a view of the shoreline by night, where the pattern on Auriol’s surfboard mixes with light from a distant port. The artist’s work on micro-perceptions, perhaps in reference to Avery Singer, is perfectly suited to the large format, which lends tactility to texture. Thus, painting a navigation screen, or textile patterns, like those of the blankets, pillowcase, and comforter in Point météo avant la nuit, generates decor. Like many paintings within paintings, the sets of color contribute to the feeling of coziness and evoke the work of composing in a studio.
At port, Auriol paints using photos taken quickly on board, not hesitating, in evoking a particular moment, to condense several. In Mouillage après le cap Finisterre, the stairway descending to the cabin seems too long relative to the size of the deck; two points of view are mixed to evoke, rather than reality, a feeling, perhaps anxiety. If he passed Cape Finisterre during the day, he submerged his composition in a twilight-red that renders the purple waters and shoreline ominous. Day for night. His story finds drama through devices that might be found in cinema and painting methods. The artist uses several digital tools in his process and is not afraid of analogies between his work and that of an editor or air brusher, whose techniques he may have used. Indeed, he works on his image in layers, embedding images within each other, replacing colors, and, as in Carré, introducing phantom forms. In this painting, an iridescent sheet drapes the composition, exuding a form of presence. Truly painterly, the sheet, declining colors that seem to vanish, is a stroke of technical prowess. When Auriol hesitates on the direction his paintings will take, he uses his finger to draw potential gestures on his tablet. Using the screen, and despite himself, like other painters of his generation (e.g. Thomas Lévy-Lasne), he remains the master of his colors.
Technological turning points should not be neglected by art history. It would be hard to understand the 19th century without considering the revolution born of tubes of paint, or the diversification of means of transportation, as Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days, was so pleased to inventory, noting: “The world has grown smaller, since a man can now go round it ten times more quickly than a hundred years ago.” The world was becoming finite, its boundaries were clear, even as perspectives on it multiplied. Scientific understanding of optics allowed painters to work color differently. The speed of trains surely figured in Monet’s artistic development, like aerial photography for painter André Devambez. The 21st century also had innovations that Auriol’s painting integrates from within this long tradition. The drone, the action camera, and software like Photoshop influence perception in the world. The artist’s fondness for kitesurfing, and other water sports, like sailing, add to the attraction to speed, and the “intense life” that Tristan Garcia describes in his eponymous work.
Thus, Ibiza Solo is a travelogue which, from one painting to another, lends itself to raw or fantastic visions. Auriol isn’t trying to hide the faults, and paintings such as Réparation du gréement dormant or Silent bloc show the realities of sailing with, on the one hand, an almost elegiac vision of a boat blocked at port after a party, and on the other, a hyper-realistic one with contrast imposed by the glow of a head lamp. Like Jean Gaumy, who captures life on a submarine using angles constrained by its structure, Auriol doesn’t mask down time, he frames it. Thus, moments of tension and calm alternate and the pavement in Porto like the bench in Amarelo reflect feelings of waiting, if not melancholy. In general, within the artist’s practice, moments of tension in large, composition-laden formats are interspersed with moments of “calm,” in which he reuses his palettes from the end of the day for more abstract, gesture-driven compositions. His touch is more assertive, the composition becomes lighter graphically, like a haiku, with tones that are often pale, sometimes made with a single stroke. Far from anecdotal, his paintings enlighten. Borrowing a line often linked to the nouveau roman, it is less the painting of adventure that interests the artist as the adventure of painting.
Translated by Elaine Krikorian.