Paul Bertier's pictorial practice is based on a very keen interest in the built forms that dot our urban landscapes. Buildings of all kinds, buildings that go from the most ostentatious to the least prosperous, as well as a variety of architectural carcasses are brought to bear mainly by means of charcoal and paint.

Paul Bertier exhibition at Espace Icare from April 5 to 29, 2022

Studio view Monument and building series – ©Paul Bertier

The pencil stroke is precise and orderly; the overall physiognomies are arbitrated by globally geometric laws. The black and white, in force in most of the series, strengthens an impression of elegance and sobriety, almost austerity, which does not contradict, possibly, the silky texture of the charcoal tints. If it is to underline the figurative nature of the compositions – as well as the proximity with the architect's drawing – they are however far from reproducing identically what the artist will have meticulously observed. More or less obvious deviations from the perceived world are indeed apparent; in some ways, this is what goes to the heart of Paul Bertier's work.

Indeed, here is a work which, on the one hand, undertakes to lean on a fundamentally three-dimensional reality – that of voluminous spaces and inhabited buildings, that of the places that one crosses really, concretely – whereas it is question of representing them on surfaces that are forever flat and two-dimensional; this aspect suggests, almost in essence, a loss, a gap with what is nevertheless so rigorously taken into consideration. In the same way, here is a work which, on the other hand, tends to represent elements whose necessary rigor and inevitable regularity can be guessed in its motifs – which are, in short, architectural motifs –, whereas in Simultaneously, these same elements are reproduced in such a way as to deviate from the truth, and consequently, to be part of a journey that is imaginary.

Paul Bertier's pictorial preoccupations are therefore more ambiguous than they initially lead one to believe. This ambivalence between rapprochement and deviation vis-à-vis reality is accentuated as one progresses in the work of the artist. Also, it expresses itself abstractly in three ways.

First of all, the facades, the fragments of walls or the places of life represented – thus of the series Building, Island and Border – are more or less nondescript. Devoid of context and henceforth anonymous, these “places” seem generic, as if they point to a kind of universal motif of construction in an urban environment. The absence of signage and the concealment of any human presence reinforces this impression of dissociation with regard to a reality to which we generally add a framework, a culture or a population. At the same time, a kind of languor is made palpable, especially in the colorful compositions of the Border series, which more or less recall the depopulated paintings of the surrealism period, where loneliness is also a way of reflecting worlds. interiors.

Paul Bertier exhibition at Espace Icare from April 5 to 29, 2022

Exhibition view Matter of Dreams at the Arts Without Borders space – ©Paul Bertier

Then, the elements represented in these same series highlight a singular use of whites and blacks, voids and solids, so as to extract more frontally the patterns from reality. Thus, certain motifs represented form a blackish mass arranged in the center of the composition, the contrast with the whiteness of the surrounding paper becoming more pronounced. The plots of architecture then seem subtracted from the real world, as if removed, being devoid of any foundation, perimeter, floating in the air. Other compositions are designed by reserving the white of the paper or the canvas where the constructions should have been shown, again contrasting with the thick vegetation and the residential grids which surround them. Surfaces deprived of the slightest relief are no longer able to mention any volume, they end up describing abstract masses, immaculate spaces underpinned by invisible geometries. The eye is now invited to scrutinize intriguing shapes and silhouettes, because they no longer refer to anything specific, while simultaneously seeming to hold a kind of truth.

Finally, some of Paul Bertier's compositions distance themselves more viscerally from reality, turning architectural motifs into sorts of autonomous morphemes that can be reinjected onto a paper surface, playing with repetition or symmetry effects. that is, by exploring the variety of configurations offered by geometric processes. This is among others what emerges from the Home and Monument series. The first gives more precisely to see a panel of habitable structures composed of architectural fragments which, assembled, repeated, juxtaposed, end up constructing buildings carried by a resolutely reckless imagination; they are what in Paul Bertier comes closest to utopian perspectives, where it is a question of looking into the distance, and of conceiving ways of inhabiting a more or less achievable future. The second work more radically on the side of pure abstraction, with these repeated fragments whose basic motif has faded. Here too, an overall frame reminiscent of habitable structures, sometimes subtly interpreting angles and inclinations so as to give just what is needed to recall the initial building.

Paul Bertier's practice therefore consists in gradually robbing architecture of its physical reality in order to reintroduce it into flat spaces, that is to say spaces capable of deploying a form of fiction, however summary, which would frames the spaces that everyone is likely to inhabit. As a result, the reality of an inhabited space is no longer apprehended for its symbolic, social or cultural significance; it is now collected for its pure morphology and the evocative force that accompanies it. Also, no doubt you do not insist enough in this work on the role played by perception, the gaze, and perhaps, the love of forms. Paul Bertier indeed seems to constantly ask himself what makes a silhouette, a morphology, capable of signifying an inhabited space. Is it the way in which the hollows play with the solids, the surfaces with the depths, the recesses with the projections, in order to produce doors and windows? Is it more the life that we do not see, but that we guess, behind these same openings that the artist most often depicts in an opaque way? Hard to say, except, no doubt, when one is an artist.

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Thursday April 7 2022

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