Parker’s Box is delighted to present FACETIME #1, the first in what will be an ongoing series of exhibitions putting the work of two selected artists in relation to each other.
Ophir Agassi and Philippe Nuell are both painters who have been based in Brooklyn for many years, but were born, respectively, in the contrasting cultural contexts of Haïfa, Israel and Toulouse, France.
In the majority of their paintings, both artists have a predilection for the most banal of subjects. The challenge they see here is to paint those subjects in such a way that the spectator will be drawn into a reading of the work that transcends the simple communication of what it appears the artist has observed.
Philippe Nuell states that he seeks to place the spectator in the “situation of [one who] looks, scrutinizes, interprets….” in order to “sublimate this apparent banality [of the subject]”. In a similar way, Ophir Agassi wants his spectator “to see beyond the visible surface of things” and adds that “art must be seen but merely looking is not enough”.
In relation to this common desire of engaging the spectator in something far deeper than mere “art appreciation”, both artists have become deeply concerned with the question of paint handling. In their most recent paintings, the paint is used loosely and quite spontaneously, to render images in which the matter, substance and color of the paint has a strong presence. The resulting heightened sensuality in these works acts as a key factor here in drawing the spectator into an intimate relationship with the paintings. Other factors work to bolster this mechanism, like the particularly atmospheric strangeness of the choices of composition and color made by both artists. Here the two painters deliberately walk the well-trodden tightrope where the awkward and the unexpected (in terms of composition and color) might turn out to be brilliant, or else naively inept when it fails to work. That it succeeds in these paintings depends particularly on the attention both artists pay to an understanding of the way the spectator’s perception of each work is going to unfold.
A number of subtle and intriguing details occurring in the subject matter, and therefore the “visible surface of things” also contribute to luring the spectator into closer encounters with these works. For example, in many of Ophir Agassi’s interior scenes, an airplane – or what looks like an airplane – appears in the sky, visible through a window. In Philippe Nuell’s Art Fair series, a curious dynamic is set up by the representation of paintings in these paintings, that plays with the spectator’s position of being a viewer of artwork.
Reference was made earlier to the frequent banality of the subject matter used, but there are a number of exceptions that prove this rule, as both artists are easily able to transgress this boundary, slipping what might dawn on us as aberrations into the parameters of their work. For example, in a recent painting, Philippe Nuell gives us a beach scene, where the ocean is so thoroughly black that it’s impossible not to entertain thoughts of the Gulf oil spill. Recent events also swing vertiginously onto the radar when the apparent non-specificity of time and place in Ophir Agassi’s work is suddenly eclipsed in his painting of baghdad zoo. Agassi and Nuell in no way set out to be political artists, but of course that’s often how the most powerful political work emerges.
So there clearly are degrees of common ground and common preoccupations here that naturally orchestrate a dialogue between the respective practices of Ophir Agassi and Philippe Nuell. Their differences, however, are at least as interesting. The usually banal and/or frequently strange subject matter, as well as the particular, and often challenging compositions mentioned earlier, arise from very contrasting places and very contrasting modi operandi. Philippe Nuell regularly uses a camera as a notebook, and generator of source material, while at the same time remaining on the look out for appropriate images wherever they may appear. Ophir Agassi, on the other hand, has developed strict processes for challenging himself with random configurations of a finite number of chosen (though quite loose and interpretable) subjects or elements of content. In this way, he seeks to arrive at the unexpected, obliging himself to take directions (and make paintings) that he wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have embraced. This means that his imagery is almost exclusively invented rather than coming from any outside sources. These almost diametrically opposed means of arriving at imagery obviously influence the fact that the temporal parameters of the two artists’ work are quite different. Philippe Nuell’s paintings refer quite clearly to our contemporary experience and world, whereas Ophir Agassi maintains much ambiguity here, with some works suggesting an ancient world, while others refer to the here and now but perhaps seek to conserve a notion of universal experience regardless of time.
Whatever their shared concerns and differences, the deeply engaged nature and real vitality of the respective practices of Ophir Agassi and Philippe Nuell, provide further striking evidence of the ongoing pertinence of painting. Indeed, the very fact that new generations of artists, who have been raised in the computer age, remain committed to painting, itself guarantees the renewal and reinforcement of its language as the strongest of foils to the imagery or ideas generated by new technologies. The question of which will prove to have the most limitless pool of visual and sensorial potential doesn’t look likely to be answered anytime soon.