« La vie qui va avec »

Text from the catalogue of the exhibition « La vie qui va avec », 2015, Chapelle de la Visitation, Thonon-les-Bains, FR

As the fourth and final exhibition in the 2014-2015 season at Chapelle de la Visitation, Julien Beneyton’s show falls within a program articulated around the “Question of the Model”. The show offers the opportunity to present the work of an artist who emerged on the art scene at the beginning of the millennium. Beneyton’s art proceeds from an essentially pictorial practice, based upon the real, in a figurative/realist – even precisionist – style. The artist seeks to give an objective account of a (most often) lived moment, if not of an experienced situation, orchestrated by himself so as to appear true to reality without actually being a replica of it.

A figure poses, proud, in front of his shop sign; another makes a pretentious display of photographs of his military memories. Wearing a hat ornate with flowers, a prophet’s beard, half-closed eyes and a friendly smile, one figure displays a sign attached round his neck saying; JEZUS TICKET NAAR DE HEMEL ( Jesus is a ticket to Paradise). Figures who remain anonymous reveal their secret tattoos on certain parts of their bodies; other are posing at their work place, a landscape of blast furnaces against an ominous sky speaking volumes of their struggle and their fears about the future. Julien Beneyton’s art is lodged within the human and the social. Originally from Échirolles, near Grenoble – the very place of the artist group des Malassis (1968-81) and their activities – the artist has for a decade or so created a collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures arresting our gaze as much for their content as for their accomplished execution.

Entitled “La vie qui va avec » (the life that goes with it) – a popular expression, and a borrowed song title from French rapper Sefyu – Julien Beneyton’s exhibition at Chapelle de la Visitation brings together a group of works that immediately highlight the artist’s close connection with the world, his very own as well as the one he lives in. His approach offers a whole iconography of very diverse figures – familiar, friendly or anonymous – whom he endeavours to present in the context of a precise mise-en-scène pertaining to the production of meaning. It can in no way be seen as a simple and unimaginative reproduction of the real, on the contrary, far from it. Which by the wau indicates that these are works in their own rights, artefacts created for the benefit of painting. When working, Beneyton operates in the way of a director who composes a specific shot for his film by making sure to gather the right data and criteria, which all contribute to his communicating exactly what he wishes to express. Take for example the painting titled “L’acier Lorrain” (Lorraine steel), which he painted in 2013 and for which he got the idea when listening to the Florange workers’ own radio station. Sympathetic to their news, he decided to visit the plant and meet the workers with the view to making a painting, without knowing exactly how this could be done.

Moved initially by a kind of inner necessity prior to having any clear intentions, Julien Beneyton likes to seize upon situations leading him to bring into play the close balance between being human, his personality, living conditions and environment. He is, in this prime quality of being, in the noblest sense of the word, an “artist-witness to his times”, seriously intent on grasping his subject matter and his models, to designate it universal status. In this way, the characters outlined as “Cherr the jeweler” (2009), “Ali, soldier in the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division” (2013), the friends of his youth in the painting “The B.A.G” (2012), even the bystanders depicted in “Oujda” (2013) present themselves not only as individual figures, understood more or less according to his knowledge of them, but as past heroes frozen in time. His series “Remember that” from 2011 is another testimony, namely to the practice of tattooing, and the custom favoured by some of inscribing directly onto their flesh the images, symbols and signs with which they identify.

Julien Beneyton pays equal attention to the material world. He knows only too well the way we as individuals reflect ourselves into it, to the point of merging with it. Everyone of us willingly acquire objects that in the end ‘shape us’, whether we own them, or merely dream about them: a particular watch, a fetish car, a cd listened to ad infinitum, an addictive video game, an all-consuming book, etc. From this propensity towards fetishism the painter has produced a large series of black and white works on paper entitled “Wish list” (2013), in which the obsessive attention to detail becomes a metaphor for the one apparent in the depicted cult object. As soon as he moves into a third, lifelike dimension, as in the scathingly compassionate work of a homeless person lying on the ground under a cover of blankets and cardboard – “50 Cent” (2010) – his extreme precision factors in the principle of illusion. The gaze is confronted by the idea of delusion, and the divide between fiction and reality is ready to collapse. But the real is conveyed here, it remains forever suggestive. Julien Beneyton’s art proceeds fundamentally and exclusively from the idea of evocation.

At its source, the artist draws on a forever-replenished wellspring of photographs of his journeys and his encounters. They may be impromptu snap shots, or sought after scenes, or again arranged scenes specifically intended for the making of a work. In every instance, Julien Beneyton takes multiple shots so as to have an archive as well stocked as possible. On the computer, he then selects the motives that interest him and remixes them into compositions for future paintings or sculptures. His strategic thinking is thus in turns cultural, psychological, sociological and societal, and of his everyday life, this “life that goes with it”, to repeat yet again the title of the exhibition. This life of an artist, passionate about hip-hop music, always listening to others, mindful of the moods and rumours of the world around him. This life of an artist, whose approach resembles the idea of commitment, meaning the engagement of a true citizen, akin to Picasso who once claimed that an artist worthy of this designation is “above all a political being, constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasant events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image”.

In relation to the Rhône-Alpes region, Julien Beneyton’s exhibition at Chapelle de la Visitation has lead to his being invited to show other facets of his work at both the Museum Géo-Charles d’Echirolles and the Fondation Claudine et Jean-Marc Salomon d’Annecy, thus enabling his audience to appreciate the full extent and richness of his work. It especially demonstrates the aliveness and prospective character of trends within paintings in times when the gaze – having been directed away from painting – again turns towards it, because it knows how to draw from it the seeds of an incarnate creation, necessary for the continuation of humanist thought.

Philippe Piguet

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