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<span class="alinea"></span>“I never saw an ugly thing in my life,” said John Constable in 1821. Vincent Gicquel would certainly concur with this statement; he may even want to broaden its scope to include not only the objects, places, and people who are possible subjects for a painting, but also our inner lives, our anxieties, our fears, our impulses. Painting is one of the few remaining elements of sentient life that does not judge, does not claim to justify or to explain what we are going through. Painting is a reality in itself, both material and fantastic.
<span class="alinea"></span>Gicquel describes his work in these terms. While the tasks performed by the characters he portrays may seem incomprehensible, they are nonetheless their reasons for existing. This implies that existence has no goal, just like painting has no goal. Gicquel nonetheless invests himself in his work with an exceptional, almost romantic, intensity: he sees no difference between living and painting, considering that both exist in the same relationship to the world. The romanticism of this attitude is then contradicted by the joyful freedom of his work, often associated with the Greek cynics, indifferent to prevailing moral doctrines; and by its pessimism, borrowed from Arthur Schopenhauer or Emil Cioran, making our hustle and bustle seem ridiculous in light of the inevitability of death. The reality of the body and a merciless sense of humor about this paradox remain. “For if there is nothing to understand in this world, there’s lots to laugh about,” explains the artist.
<span class="alinea"></span>His paintings are often populated by one or several human figures, who resemble one another. These standing silhouettes stare back at us as we look at them, as surprised by our presence as we are by theirs, making us feel like intruders, as though his paintings had solitary, autonomous lives of their own. Behind these characters, a fence or lines structure the composition of the canvas. There is a play on the contradictions between these orderly grids in the background, and the characters’ grotesque, burlesque, sexual, or disturbing actions. They never look at one another. “I don’t want to repress their regressive natures. There’s an almost naïve vitality to all these phallic symbols, and what might seem sexual is to me connected to pleasure, the pleasure of painting, of living. There is an association to springtime in all these erections, a vitality similar to that of trees, which grow and secrete.” Around these characters, of indeterminate ages and genders, Gicquel creates a complex pictorial profusion by occasionally introducing onto the canvas a painting within the painting, abstract forms, some borrowed from comic books. At times, it seems possible to discern a podium, or stars, suggesting a circus environment and pointing out the comic nature of our search for meaning. “Life isn’t absurd, but the quest to uncover the meaning of life is,” says Gicquel. “The world, in itself, is clear and simple—though without a reason for being.” He has often quipped that he decided to become a painter because he had “too much humor to become a serial killer.” He mentions the similarity between his paintings and medical imaging. “My paintings are often both X-rays of our world and cross-sections of my own brain,” he says, adding, “they’re a summation of the world. I want each of my canvases to be able to feed someone every day, for a long time.”