Howl

Presentation

My Howl series are drawing upon counterculture, psychedelic rock, the practice of tagging territory and works by French neurosurgeon and philosopher Henri Laborit and by American Anthropologist Carlos Castaneda. With the exploration of oil, oilstick and spray paintings and I textually capture the eponym poem by poet Allen Ginsberg (1926 - 1997). This text is considered to be one of the greatest works of the Beat Generation. The principal themes of this post World War II movement are : rejection of received standards, innovations in style, use of illegal drugs, alternative sexualities, interest in spirituality, rejection of materialism and explicit portrayals of the human condition.

Graffiti writers use a variety of materials, but mainly, spray paint, to inscribe their name, symbol, or sign on the surfaces of their streets. Still heavily associated with gang activities, graffiti serves an underground function to claim and identify space, demarcating lines of ownership and belonging. In my hands, the spray paint is replaced by oilstick to scribble a selection of Ginsberg's verses directly on the canvas or paper sheet. The tagger's aerosol can is nevertheless sometimes used, but very softly to paint light dots and blurry lines. 

I then partially or completely erase the text by using oil paint applied directly on the canvas, most often diluted by turpentine and washed away with pieces of cloth, like window cleaners or graffiti removers, when they are trying to leave the walls pure of tags, insanities and signs of rebellion. By doing so, I produce a dirty image, a murky field, where nothing is clear, but where remains of the vibrant and revolutionary poem still appear, as they cannot be erased completely. The drawings and paintings suggest that layers of writing and acts of defacing eventually turn abstract. Words cease to have a clear order but in the end they never lose their original meaning and authority.

Both my material and my almost monumental size paintings gesture toward the urban space of a wall, first occupied and covered by illicit graffiti but now partially erased in an utopian and desperate attempt to draw a sanitized society by politics and powerful conglomerates. The diluted oil paint leaves both a hazy, washed-out look and a swampy effect on the surface of the big canvases. 

Philosophically, my art is going further towards what hippies retained more about the Beaten Generation: bliss… a sort of religion of universal love and of a link with nature. I am now trying to reach a particularly sensitive spiritual dimension with my art, to speak to the mind and the senses and bring the public to a sweet, sensual and deep transcendence.

My work incorporates a steadfast criticality and welcomes contradiction. Through process, technique, scale, composition and imagery, it tries to accentuates the tensions and contradictions between the act of writing and painting, the construction of a picture, its physical attributes, the visual experience of looking at it and the possibilities of playing with and pushing open the origins of its meanings.

Stéphane Ducret
Geneva, 28.02.2016

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