“A few months ago, for example,” wrote Yves Klein in his Chelsea Hotel Manifesto, “I felt the urge to register the signs of atmospheric behaviour by recording the instantaneous traces of spring showers on a canvas, of southerly winds, and of lightning (needless to say, the last-mentioned ended in a catastrophe). For instance, a trip from Paris to Nice might have been a waste of time had I not spent it profitably by recording the wind. I placed a canvas, freshly coated with paint, on the roof of my white Citroën. As I drove down Route National 7 at 100 kilometres an hour, the heat, the cold, the light, the wind, and the rain all combined to age my canvas prematurely.” “After all,” he concluded, “my aim is to extract and obtain the trace of the immediate from all natural objects, whatever their origin – be they human, animal, vegetable, or atmospheric.”
Making the journey from Marseille to Nice at the start of summer 2019 to attend the opening of Adrien Vescovi’s show at the Galerie des Ponchettes, I found myself thinking about the trips Vescovi had often made between Paris and the Savoie with his rolled canvases, then latterly between Paris and Marseille, and my mind drifted to the image of the artist’s large canvases now hung facing the ocean on the Promenade des Anglais, exposed to the wind and the sun for several months, and to Adrien’s statement that his paintings function to “register the landscape”. Adrien Vescovi’s paint work is a rather curious dish. Without the assistance of a roller or brush, he instead cooks his canvases in an infusion of plants picked from the alpine pastures of the Savoie before offering them up to the elements. “To read making longitudinally, as a confluence of forces and materials, rather than laterally, as a transposition from image to object, is to regard it as such a form-generating – or morphogenetic – process,” wrote the anthropologist Tim Ingold. “This is to soften any distinction we might draw between organism and artefact.” Vescovi’s paintings, which might better be termed dyes, are therefore the product of different atmospheric forces which all have a stake in the outcome of the processes put in place by the artist – processes that result in the canvas “loading” or rather “taking on” the landscape in which they are inscribed: components in a temporality of faire – doing – that shifts to share itself with a more passive laisser-faire. A useful parallel might be drawn with the artist Vivian Suter who, after a storm which ravaged her studio in the Guatemalan jungle and lashed the canvases stored there with rain, earth and leaves, decided to leave her paintings out in the open air and to use what the environment had put at her disposal as paint: the juice of herbs, flowers and plants. In this way she used unexpected obstacles for her own purposes rather than trying to combat or protect herself from them. The developing bath of plant infusions in which Vescovi soaks and boils his canvases is not to be found in the darkness of a lab but in the open air, where the canvases are quite literally exposed and sometimes even overexposed to the light that accelerates their disintegration. Heatstroke. This makes me think of the heatstroke to which the artist Katinka Bock makes her folded materials vulnerable, placing them directly under the sunlight on the roofs of the museums in which she has been invited to exhibit. As I wrote in an essay dedicated to Bock’s work, these processes don’t undermine the activeness of the artist’s hand, but rather allow forms to be inscribed in temporalities which might otherwise have passed them by, thereby creating an equilibrium between human and atmospheric forces. Notions of disclosure and unveiling endow this materialist phenomenology with an unexpected sort of spirituality. The way Adrien Vescovi arranges his canvases – sewed together so that large sections of colour are suspended or superimposed on top of each other – constitutes a strange hieratic assemblage. Might this be due to the fact that apart from the cotton of his canvases he also uses embroidered and embellished bed covers as material: pieces of fabric from another era which evoke the material used to make chasubles? At the Galerie des Ponchettes, Vescovi’s works are arranged so as to resemble a church’s nave and the public is free to circulate among large strips of free-hanging fabric, while jars containing his colourful concoctions are placed on the floor alongside ropes that run the length of the gallery walls, giving the impression of a ritualistic or even liturgical apparatus, which nonetheless has nothing confessional about it. One might be more inclined to draw parallels with Hélio Oiticica’s ‘Parangolés’, performed on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, or with Franz Erhard Walther’s colourful wall formations which Vescovi would have encountered as a regular visitor to Mamco when he was a student in Geneva. There are so many ways of making paintings experiential, of uniting the living, moving body with colour; of producing an unfolding, an extension of the head-on relationship with the painting in order to generate a more immersive environment from the coloured surface, as evidenced in Vescovi’s installation at the Palais de Tokyo where the arrangement of suspended canvases over 16-feet in length created a vast tent through which the public could walk. This sort of shelter undoes any notion of monumentality. A critic once compared Walther’s works to “sleeping giants” but one might rather confer a metaphysical and meditative propensity to their overpowering size and the silence that it provokes, rather than a form of disempowering domination. Folded in such a way as to give shelter, the canvas offers a form of immersion and absorption which thwarts any of the aggressiveness that might commonly be associated with monumentality.
The colours Vescovi uses are impure – neither bright nor strong – though this statement could probably do with further nuance and revaluation because Vescovi’s latest work, exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo, includes much more radiant colours for the first time and strangely recalls the shades of Georgia O’Keeffe’s layered landscapes of skies, deserts and flowers, arranged in more stratified layers than in his previous work. Due to the experimental aspect of Vescovi’s process, colours are usually washed out, stained and mottled so that they never become abstractions. These colours inscribe the paintings within a period of time, and consequently reference the human in all its impurity, finitude and vulnerability.
The same can be said of the pieces in which Vescovi presents canvases rolled around old steel bars whose rust at times seeps through and engulfs the fabric. The comparison with ancient manuscript seems difficult to avoid but Vescovi is more interested in the process of oxidisation which usually goes unnoticed. Around a sculpture of a Cyclops in the forêt de Milly near Fontainebleau, Vescovi placed white cotton canvases, lain over steel rails, held together by wooden logs and iron bars, which quickly became swollen with water and covered in leaves. His aim was to obtain a trace of the immediate. Immaculate canvases corrupted by time and meteorology: another way of negotiating monumentality and vulnerability.
Adrien Vescovi by François Piron
Réseau documents d’artistes, december 2019