The Image and its Remains
Where does the image lead to, seen from a window over a brick wall, cleverly and powerfully built with breeze-blocks in a quincunx arrangement? On the face of it, nowhere, and yet…!
Through the preciseness of his realism, this image of Xavier Theunis might remain in the easy style of illusion, or be the result of mere anecdote. Less evident seems to be a potential re-reading of the age-old interpretation of the picture understood as a window opening onto the world, a source of new visions and impressions of it. Except that, here, the window is filled in and so does not open onto anything anymore… and this is precisely what is interesting. Because what the artist is striving towards is an ongoing reformulation of the idea itself, of the possibility of the picture; questions many time posed, to be sure, but which Theunis broaches through a visual vocabulary which is developed in a special way, both visually and in its construction process.
Any allusion here to the window mentioned above clearly does not stem from chance, any more than the use of the term “construction” in these lines is fortuitous. For it is fairly and squarely such a product—and even more an analysis of the potential of the construction of the picture—that this work tackles, or, in any event, his latest works titled Vues d’atelier (2013—) and Paysages (2013—).
The two abstract series correspond to a similar work protocol which sees the accumulation on the medium of remnants of bright-coloured Scotch tapes coming from a sign manufacturer. The picture is thus built using remains which, by their very nature, will usher in questions about the end purpose of the work of art and above all its link to the decorative, in particular through an assumed relation to a double combination which might be hazardous: the game of chance in the way of retrieving the remnants and finding a way of putting them together, and a use of colour that becomes somewhat ambiguous when the artist himself admits to using shades that are “not always evident and not really chosen”, which he does not necessarily like but which enable him to accentuate tensions in their relation, and thereby in the building of what can only with difficulty be described as an image. These two series also assert themselves as being extremely complementary, because the “landscape dimension” which comes to the fore in the horizontal works immediately disappears if the frame is stood vertically, thus making it topple over into the field of a pure abstraction. Through this dichotomy is imposed the idea—essential for the artist—that in denying representation, the construction and structure of the image have precedence, potentially offering—or culminating in—different readings based on the context in which these works are to be found, executed, it is emphasized, with remains which are of no value.
So if there is any value to be considered here, it will be the decorative value, which Theunis had already tried his hand at in his series Vues d’intérieur (2003—2013) with the desire, already thanks to Scotch tape, to confront a picture with its context, with one or more objects, in order not only to denote a possible visual or formal alliance which might be activated here and there, but rather to give a living character to the whole, which becomes manifest because what often takes place in the image is an incongruous shift; as if a part of the pictorial had suddenly flowed or faded on the furniture, less by accident than through an original “deformation” which would call into question the assurance of our perceptions and the definition of good taste.
In this interplay of redefining principles and ways of looking at things, these painstaking copies, on a slightly smaller scale, of transport crates for artworks are noteworthy. Once denied their primary role, they come across like useless objects which upset values, because the container has now taken its place in the content of the work, not without ushering in an idea of disappearance.
In the end of the day, despite the vitality injected into his work, there is paradoxically something like an almost constituent ambiguity in Xavier Theunis’s oeuvre. It can be sensed through an almost ghostlike effect, in this uncertain relation, as if removed from reality, imposed on everything that surrounds the artist—be it object, landscape, views of interiors or simply the sensation of space--, which is often conveyed by a drying-up of extreme forms. Ghostlike because here nothing is ever truly represented, but rather suggested, as if to better concentrate on the intrinsic substance or on an aura of things. This is further illustrated by this series of Vases (2009—) made using micro-perforated Scotch tape placed on gold-coloured sheets. All that exists of these “Morandi-like” still lifes is a few outlines and slight reliefs expressed in a non-colour which we might imagine to be almost ectoplasmic.
In the same way that the works in the series Shadows (2013—) come across like mirrors from which no real image ever emerges, as if there were an additional uncertainty about the representation and nature of reality; which, in another chord, is also at work in the abstract Vues d’atelier.
As if, looking at these abstractions, the eye, in these mirrors, is no longer contemplating an image but what remains of it, once the stage of its actual possibility has been considerably surpassed.
Translated by Simon Pleasance