Gerard Titus-Carmel: 1991 - 2014

Paintings, works on paper & engravings 1991 - 2014 


We present here a selection from Gérard Titus-Carmel’s last quarter-century oeuvre (1991-2014); a more recent, more mature, more synthesized (we may also say – better) half of an extremely significant fifty year opus marking the important stages of comparatively recent French fine art. As the present selection of art work shows, the expression of the artist, tentatives and demonstration, progresses at regular intervals in closed cycles, in series of motifs with a succession of different versions and variations. The cycles mutually supplement each other, but on occasion fiercely contrast with one another, in order to create an extremely dynamic (I would even say almost dialectic) whole with calculated contrasts.

“Dédicaces − Tondo II” (1991) seems to recapitulate previous experiences, leading to subsequent phytomorphic and biomorphic suggestions and associations, exemplified by cycles with botanical titles: “Forêts” (1995), “Feuillées” (2000), “Jungles” (2004) and “Viornes & Lichens” (2013-14), intertwined with no less organic cycles, but with less botanical connections, such as “Quartiers d’Hiver” (1999), “Memento mori” (2001-2002), “La Bibliothèque d’Urcée” (2006-2009), “Brisées” (2009-2012), and “Figures du Double” (2012).

 In terms of technique and discipline, we see in Titus-Carmel’s works how the artist goes from drawing to print, from print to painting (or vice versa), sometimes combining them in a collage. We see that the painter directly applies paint and fixates lines, thus reviewing his actions in a meditative and (self)critical, no less imperative manner. This is particularly evident through the interrelation of a print matrix with a print, as well as in the relationship of the original frame setting with additional interventions made by adding subsequently painted elements. This said, we should not forget the extraordinary sensitivity for the physical properties of canvas, paper and specific values of diversified applications of pigment, and the refinement and delicacy of all the components and levels of the performance.

If we look at the most characteristic work of Gérard Titus-Carmel, we see dominant rhythmical similarity of elements, the pronounced structural correlation of parts linked together, sometimes in parallel manner, or in a cluster, or even radially. We know at once that this is not mere ornamentation or decorativeness : deliberate empty spaces, irregularity, vivid contrast between the whiteness of the background and the animated strokes, make relative the appearance of strict orderliness, and refute the idea of any mechanical order.

In many paintings and drawings by this artist there is a polyptych-like programme, the juxtaposition of frames of different origin and technique, assembled with utterly different elements succeeding each other, of a chromatic “wave length” and gestural determination. The arrangement of elements, the organization of a plane, the compositional coordination of Titus-Carmel's “solutions” have long been compared to an antique procedure of tiling, arrangement of bricks or stones, named opus incertum. Indeed, systematic repetition, arranging and parallel accumulation of seemingly standard visual units may look like the structure of flooring of late Roman buildings, it may sometimes also look like formations named opus mixtum, opus compositum, and even opus spicatum or opus tesselatum, but the idea of opus incertum imposes itself as the most suitable, most adequate, since it speaks of uncertainty and variability, of properties congenial to modern and contemporary sensitivity, and in particular to the artist who prefers the challenges of the privileged moment, and who is dedicated to collected reactions to the temptations of the occurrence.

Elements or “tiles” with phytomorphic motifs (palm leaves, vines, accumulations of lichen) can also bring to mind arabesques, oriental reduced and stylized options, or “azulejos” (characteristic Iberian and Portuguese ceramic tilework in shades of blue). The comparison is not in opposition with either the modernism or autonomy of Titus-Carmel's signs, forms of distant organic provenance. With Titus-Carmel, it is never a matter of mimetism, and even less of descriptive and illustrative intentions, it is about following vital lines of force and energy emanating from energetically drawn lines and skillfully applied tones, particularly created by the productive tension of darker, more defined coats of pigments and lighter, more neutral tones of the background, so to speak, an elastic binarism of positive and negative.

It is not by accident that a significant part of Gérard Titus-Carmel's work is dedicated to engraving, in other words to the experience of nurturing the inner polarization between the model and the finished version, between the obverse and reverse. This is how the premise of imitating nature was eliminated, as well as the idea of a one-time originality of the engraved sheet. The forms are crystallized in the interaction of sketch and performance, engraving and printing. In his cycle “Brisées” (2012), we can observe how a relatively strict grid of geometrical lines, the result of firm scratches and the fierce eruption caused by applied metallic carborundum, gains the expressiveness and persuasiveness of an acute process, a sort of work in progress.

It is also interesting to observe modifications created in the course of transformation from drawings to prints, as is particularly evident in the series “Viornes & Lichens”. In the works made by brush, we follow all the oscillations of shivering strokes and indented spots, thin and thick stave lines with pronounced tone differences, while in graphic – otherwise also multifaceted – versions we recognize more disciplined plotting, in particular a stronger definition of linear traces of thick and deep black, which seem to be emerging from the background to the foreground, forcing itself upon and taking away the space. The paintings with the same motif (vine, lichen) seem to link the said virtues well, bringing together the opposites, and keeping the warmth and directness of freshly fixated phytomorphic signs in a more concise frame structure.

In large formats, in powerful cumulative compositions, the seriality on the verge of stereotypy is even more evident, but at the same time – as a counterpoint – there is an interpolation of disparate elements giving to the whole a dynamic balance. The series “Jungles” (2004) is exemplary, due to its systematic managing and gradual differentiation of the prevailing motif of palm leaves, while the series “Figures du Double” (2012) in a diptychal, mirror reflection plays both with the suggestion of multiplication, the multiplication of objects, as well as with the required dialogue between the geometrical, orthogonal strips and organic, action-accented fragments.

In the series “Quartiers d’Hiver” (1999) and “Memento mori” (2001), Titus-Carmel makes a certain rupture from the guiding principles of “Cartesianism” and “Manicheism” where, on the one hand, we find suggestiveness of contours, along with the freedom and softness of execution of gestural interweaving on the other. In these and the other works we feel the best, by the pars pro toto method, we see how the surface vibrates as the result of accumulated elements and how the imagination skillfully selects visual facts in favour of the magnetic tension of the outlined frame.

We conclude by saying that Gérard Titus-Carmel has created a persuasive system in which the integrity of composed solutions is nourished by the capillarity of fragments and elements. Furthermore, by commencing from the empirical fragments, the painter seems to follow Novalis's thought – dear to him – that we, “in the form of a fragment, still find the incompleteness more tolerable.” However, his work does not offer self-satisfaction and comfort from “small flashes” and “pretty details”; it accepts the challenge of measuring its strength to the weight of the relevant visual-art discourse.

        Tonko Maroević

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