Parker’s Box is delighted to present the first solo exhibition in New York of the French painter, Denis Castellas.
The artist has been exhibiting his work for over thirty years, most often in France where he has developed an eclectic following of collectors, critics, scholars and museum directors, all excited by the fact that the artist has sailed relentlessly along in the grand regatta of the art world, ignoring the requirements of the mainstream and unconcernedly weathering all and any storms that may come along. As we scan the horizon to see which sleek and expensive, new-fangled art world vessel will speed into view first, we are just as likely to spot Castellas, looming into sight, stylishly dressed at the helm of an ingenious, homemade skiff, somehow inexplicably slipping discreetly into his port of destination ahead of everyone, and gaily stepping onto the arrival jetty, just in time for an excellent dinner.
The early period of so many young artists sees them believing with great idealism in the unstoppable potential of painting, whether figurative or abstract, which they then quickly go on to reject in favor of a “more sophisticated” medium. In contrast, through the 70’s and 80’s, Denis Castellas gained recognition as an installation artist, juxtaposing found objects and surfaces in works that brought together connotations of arte povera, the poetic elegance of unexpected juxtapositions of familiar things, and a degree of cool conceptual sophistication. But, for over twelve years now, the artist has devoted himself entirely to a practice of figurative-based painting. He has done this with endless wonderment and complete communion with painting’s ability to act as a complex interface with existence.
Castellas appropriates imagery from diverse sources, transforming it quite intuitively to the demands of each work in a way that makes it seem as if he is almost simultaneously channeling information from multiple elsewheres, directly into his paintings. Drawing vocabulary with great facility from different visual languages, Denis Castellas is certainly in the business of making new sense from them, sometimes appearing to have analyzed them carefully from the vantage point of a self-built time machine. As if Doctor Who himself (the hero of the cult TV series of the same name) had finally found a way of exploiting the data produced by his own brilliant nineteen-fifties invention for processing information being beamed back to earth by a distant simultaneous interpreter, posted millions of light years away, translating languages that exist only in the future – or is it the past?
The artist’s tireless curiosity has always fuelled a bulimic consumption of literature, music, cinema, sport, science, politics, philosophy etc. along with a childlike excitement over images from ancient and ethnic artforms, photography, modern and contemporary art of course, especially sculpture, as well as numerous other obscure and sometimes bizarre images pulled from unexpected sources, and that sometimes get repeated even obsessive treatment. The portrait, and/or figure/ground composition recur often in the paintings of Denis Castellas. However, this conventional and familiar framework simply provides the structure against which the artist can react. Portraits of Artaud or Rimbaud might peer out from a Mondrianesque grid of color or conversely from more anarchic strokes of paint. Invented sculptures by Picasso, Gonzalez or Caro might hold their ground as substitutes – or upgrades – of human presences. An unrecognized, indeed faceless jazz singer with 1940’s microphone might sing a duet with amorphous zones of color, or an unidentified fencelike object might find itself repeated in different works, providing a framework, or stage, for various sketchy and rather Elizabethan (or Shakespearean?) figures.
In the recent works, (the “This Year’s Paintings” of the exhibition title), Castellas has adopted acrylic paint in place of last year’s oils. Rather than necessarily being a more American option for his year’s residency in this country, the medium has allowed him to work more spontaneously and rapidly. Indeed he has worked feverishly – eager for the next canvas even before the sensations of the previous work have had time to diminish.
The great Duchamp scholar, Thierry de Duve, has spoken of Denis Castellas’ process as being like the gambler’s addiction with always wanting to start a new game (a fresh canvas), as soon as the outcome of the previous one is established: “The pathological poker player wants nothing more than to gamble the game again…it is urgent for Castellas to pick up a new canvas and play the game of loss again”(1). De Duve sees painting for Castellas as a repeated act of mourning a loss, though what “Denis Castellas mourns in his paintings is his private affair”. De Duve may be too caught up in his obsessive dissection of Duchampian practice (Duchamp the erstwhile painter repeatedly playing chess
as art as a metaphor for life and death), but Denis Castellas’ paintings are unquestionably imbued with a kind of other-side-of-the-looking-glass nostalgia. However, as noted earlier, this does not necessarily need to be dealing exclusively with the past. Indeed, it seems safe to say that in his impatience to continue painting, Denis Castellas is unquestionably nostalgic for the future.
Denis Castellas was born in Marseille, France in 1951. He lives and works in Nice.
His most recent solo exhibitions include those at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO) in Geneva, Switzerland; as well as gallery shows at Galerie Bernard Ceysson, Luxembourg; and Galerie Eric Mircher, Paris. Previous notable solo exhibitions include those at the Villa Arson National Contemporary Art Center, Nice; the Criée Contemporary Art Center, Rennes; the Picasso Museum, Antibes and the Regional Fund for Contemporary Art (FRAC), Dijon. Among the artist’s very numerous group exhibitions are those at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, (MAMAC) Nice; the Crédac Contemporary Art Center, Ivry; the Lyon Biennial of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium.