For his second solo exhibition at galerie Anne Barrault, the British artist presents three groups of new paintings, under the titles of Jules and Victorine, the Three Graces, and Six Fornarinas.
In these works Alun Williams links his appropriation of accidental paint-marks, found in the street, with representations of historical characters gathered from the history of painting.
A world in a nutshell…
In its own way, Alun Williams’ work is a reinvention of history painting. Of course, it’s not a matter of returning to the great frescoes of the 18th and 19th centuries, which glorified the adventures of whichever prince, king, pope or emperor, through the representation of various events. Exit Paul Delaroche, Hippolyte Flandrin or David. Instead, history is dealt with here through forms discovered through initial research partly based on chance (in the street of the same name or the place where the character lived) as well as through genuine examination of the subject’s characteristics, details of their life – their “profile” as it would be termed in police investigations. All of the characters are chosen in relation to the inventiveness or imaginative qualities of their lives, both literally and figuratively. It is no coincidence that we run into Jules Verne, Edgar Poe or Antonio Meucci (all inventors of intense scientific or psychic musings), along with Julie Bêcheur, Hester Leisler-Rynders, Giuseppe Garibaldi or John Adams (political and revolutionary personalities with multiple lives), Joseph Gaultier, an enlightened hero of his time, as was Victorine Meurent [Manet’s model]. In this way, we come across multiple aspects of existences that are as dense as they are varied. History is not treated as a heroic (and idealizing) composition, but like a puzzle in which characters’ paths might cross (as their real and invented adventures unfold). At the same time, they might come across other heroes, irrespective of resemblance or the sublimation of outward appearances. All of this brings to mind the Woody Allen character, Zelig, who takes on the outward appearance of his creator, and is grafted onto historical events, sandwiched between situations and famous people, like a witness or extra, present at all the important events of our collective memory. Over and above the farcical and ironic aspects of the film (especially in the weak and cowardly character who becomes a universal hero), the American filmmaker recreates original historical archives, by making connections that nobody else could have possibly imagined. The same system operates in Alun Williams’ pictures which exploit these incongruous juxtapositions, allowing absurd situations in which we find, for example “Joseph Gauthier before the Priory where he lived at La Valette du Var, John Adams in front of the mansion in Paris where he was the first American ambassador to France, Julie Bêcheur in the gardens of Versailles, or Jules Verne in front of the house with a tower where virtually all of his literary production happened. All of that is very logical and literal at the same time, but, since the paint-mark exists, and detaches itself from the context where it was discovered, it can also detach itself from any fixed context in time or space. For me, there’s nothing to stop this piece of paint from wandering across time and space, taking along the character it “represents”. In this way, Jules Verne may find himself in a landscape of science fiction, or visiting Charles Aznavour’s 1960’s swimming pool, or even on a ground of bright abstract colors (this is still Jules Verne after all!). In the same way, John Adams might be interested in the campsites of the 1970’s (in relation, perhaps to his social concerns), and Julie Bêcheur may visit the beauty contests of the 1980’s (in view of her innate curiosity in this domain).”1
An excerpt of a text by Eric Mangion in Alun Williams’ catalogue Lest, which is to be published on the occasion of his exhibition at the gallery.
1. Interview with the artist by the author in the spring of 2007 for the review, Trace, published by the City of La Valette du Var on the occasion of the exhibition “Aux Etoiles Disparues”, June 23 – October 26, 2007, which was the inaugural exhibition of Le Moulin Art Center.