« A toute épreuve »
Text from the press release of the exhibition « A toute épreuve », 2013, Galerie Olivier Robert, FR
Julien Beneyton’s painting is a “sun’s knife-stab in the back of the surprised cities”*. It deals with luminosity as well as Enlightenment, urbanity as well as humanism; backs offered to soft caresses of the sun, until sunburns. It is a quiet song of resistance.
Unity of action
In his new exhibition “A toute épreuve” at the Olivier Robert gallery, Julien Beneyton proposes four group portraits with different contents and ambitions, forming together a remarkably unified ensemble. Embraced by love in Oujda, or sealed by friendship in The B.A.G., they are gathered around a common passion, escaping from the individualism of their practice in Le pool de la Friche, or contending with adversity together in L’acier Lorrain. It is not actually about fights or claims. It is only about pictorial assertion that, facing life’s wanderings, it is always possible to stand up, walking towards an inescapable but sunny future by keeping on smiling. The intense work on the skies amazingly betrays this internal psychology of individuals who, united under each specific sky, form not groups of portraits but portraits of groups.
Unity of place
There are a back-and-forth movement between externality and internality in those four paintings. All the scenes take place outside, not in full nature, but with the city and its concrete monuments of urbanization as a setting: skate park, cinema, factory, changing city sprinkled with signs dedicated to the glory of an uncontrolled globalization. The characters find themselves slightly on the edge, in the foreground on the external limit, a little bit out of the world. Absolutely not a fringe group, but standing outside, enabling us to better penetrate the interior. Thus, we find ourselves in the middle of their groups, integrated in the circle and, in the same flow, going down in the deepest aspect of their individual interiority, thanks to this dive only allowed by painting. As we are ourselves outside of the scene and absorbed into the work, we immediately understand this ambivalence which turns their externality into a sign of liberty beyond institutional constraints.
Unity of time
Without nostalgia, nor remorse nor regrets, but with the full conscience of time flying and dashing into an indefinable future, Julien Beneyton records the present. He delivers us keys of lives caught in this hic et nunc of existence. A report, like a snapshot, capturing the impossible. Of course, he is an heir of Gustave, this “painter of the ugly” who froze reality and metamorphosed the day-to-day into a historical tribute with a simple burial in Franche-Comté. Even if we could multiply over and over again classical or contemporary references, there is no backward-looking will yet. Remembering in order to remind, painting is like an infallible vector of history. Contemplating those pictorial illuminations, we feel radiated by a strong feeling of belonging. And we can hear, resonating in a common breath, alleviated and proud: “the black heart crouched in the heart of the Storm we built on tomorrow”*.
*Aimé Césaire, “The sun’s knife-stab in the back of the surprised cities”, Soleil cou coupé, 1948 (trans. A. James
Arnold and Clayton Eshleman).