Louis Soutter: Un Présage
Galerie Karsten Greve Paris
Tuesday - Saturday 10 - 19 Uhr
on Tuesday, August 29, 2020, 2 - 7 pm
Julie Borgeaud on Louis Soutter. Un Présage
© Nicoals Brasseur and Galerie Karsten Greve
From 1923 on, Louis Soutter created a prolific body of artwork seemingly out-of-step with society. But the depression and isolation prevalent in Europe in the 1920s and ‘30s do indeed resurface in the artist’s phantasmagorical and peculiar worlds inhabited by struggling beings. He portrays their scheming, foreshadows a murder, and unfurls ominous tales trumpeting mankind’s release from the guardianship of the gods, and bloody biblical narratives - as well as events of historical and personal significance.
Whilst all of the artist’s work may well carry a prophetic tone echoing the tumultuous era between the two world wars and foreshadowing the Second World War, history grows hazy amongst his figures from pagan ritual or like forest spirits. Using a steady flow of images plucked from mythology and theology - dance scenes jostle with frescoes depicting torture - the artist turns History a holding pen of characters and events that he dips into at will. Soutter toys with linear time; inserts gaps and leaps - he skips from Mannerism-style drawings including an array of portraits, over to paintings rooted in Primitivism. His primitive-style finger-painting phase may bring to mind regressive behaviours or physical defects, but it also provides an opportunity to reconsider the act of creating; particularly with regards to merging the essence of Art with that of History. Memory is the base of his approach to drawing; with scenes reminiscent of pictorial representations done on rock by First Nations people in the Americas.
Night scenes of backlit figures join scattered layers of repetitious finger-drawn stamp-like shapes gathering and dancing across the surface of the paper with stars, crosses, grids, raindrops, ropes or sinew. Characters are shown squeezed together, framed in cinematic close ups; captured in states of judgment, fate or fear.
While quite detached from others in everyday life, in Soutter’s creative endeavours he clearly belongs to the early 20th century’s group of ‘sighted’ ascetic artists who favour exhausting walks to heighten body and mind; a fundament of their creative process. The technique of coating his fingers with ink or paint and applying it directly to paper makes him hyper-aware of his surroundings. His naked and skeletal figures with hands raised high appear have an invisible net unfurled above their heads, draped out infinitely across the universe; perhaps as a metaphor of Hamlet’s far-reaching question: to be or not to be? Shakespeare’s plays, to which Soutter makes many references, are also found in his ‘fourth wall’ compositions that borrow from the theatre world. The set’s decor is either stripped down or overloaded with lines and dots that intrude on the action. Characters are lined-up as though in a bas-relief, or as pieces of crowded compositions that they are struggling to stay inside of - similar to the way Soutter’s artwork clings to the edge of civilization.
The strangeness and pathos that appear regularly in these images build bridges across gaps in the abyss of Time. By creating links between disparities, these drawings gather together like a collective figurehead representing humankind overwhelmed by its loss of intelligent thought. Serving either as legend or as a commentary on the world, these ensemble compositions, often with footnotes, are like sheet music for a sort of “psalm of the daily news”.