December 14, 2019 - February 15, 2020
How to approach the works of Jim Peiffer? What seizes the observer standing before them, in this game of who sees and who is seen that they suggest, is first of all a bundle linking forms and contents with this feeling that whoever faces them is both caught within the strange narrativity unfolded by the assemblage of motifs, and at the same time kept at a distance, watching and watched, moved unremittingly from their here and now. It is, I believe, characteristic of a number of exceptional works always open to the approach of the most uncertain interpretations which, at the same time validate them and reject them, literally, in a boomerang effect, towards anyone trying to formulate them. They are then nothing more than the indiscriminate stammering, a story in absentia, “frozen words” in the texture of art. This is what happens with his works. They envelop us in their estrangement by returning us to this infans state where a world, the world, appears still unnamable to us: it quite simply is. How to untie this bundle into its components?
The motifs sometimes appear in ostensible isolation, standing out without rejecting their belonging to a whole that they constitute but without resolving it. They remain linked to it by their solitude rather like Giacometti’s figures in the squares. Like those that overlap in some Bacon compositions. What emerges from Jim Peiffer’s transformative game is this movement of forms which he would like to assign both to the word and to the eye at the same time and which remains rebellious, to misquote Jean Paris, both in text and in vision. This is, again, the hallmark of exceptional works. In two previous texts, I listed the reasons he has appropriated and underlined, if I dare say so, “the part of the eye” in his drawings and paintings. The eye registers its metamorphoses in the celebrations of rites in which the obsessive, narcissistic rituals come together and take place, which their practitioners invent and repeat to ward off bad luck. The eye is closed, enucleated, closed, sewn, crossed out. It tends to transform into a mouth, a vulva, an anus, a decorative slit. We thus move through fluctuating registers between totem and taboo. But, like most of the motifs that Jim Peiffer uses as tools, they are both artistically emblematic and diagrammatic. His architectures oscillate between the wanderings they summon and the geometries of confinements and stabilising orders to which they aspire. The eye would like to be a constructor of a panoptic structure that does not happen. Because the eye does not watch. According to the artist, it is the protector of all the human and animal bestiary with which he populates his works as well as of the hybridisations that their alliance, their fusion, make him imagine. We quickly discern a temptation for an ideal city fuelled by exotic propensities: African masks as aspirations for an elsewhere free from all restrictive and repressive legislation. At first glance, we dread the paralysing and deadly looks of the deadly Gorgon. In fact, these looks are cast beyond us to launch their aims towards those who, when we turn to regain a foothold in the supposedly real world, the world of history that never ends, will target us to erase ourselves. Each of Jim Peiffer’s works is an Atropopaion.
This apotropaic function of each of his works explains this need for repetition that animates it. Perhaps beyond their questioning of painting, they animate all the artists of repetition who, in the 1960s and 1970s, made it the modifiable standard of their emblematic brand. There is no denying that the Atropopaion belongs to magic. And magic is robbing God of his power to create and modify Nature and everything that peoples it. In a way, the works of Jim Peiffer are painted, drawn, sculpted, to tear him away from terrors of which he alone discerns the terribilità and deconstructive capacity. They enable him to reassure himself each time. It is up to him to dominate the world and not to get bogged down in “easy-to-do experiences that could tell man – that is, him – about his true position in the world”. He is this man, tormented by desires, who, according to Freud, does something that resembles satisfaction and brings satisfaction to those who see it. For him, as for Freud, the artistic illusion “produces the same affective effects as if it were something real”.
He is, therefore, in his own way, a “magician of the earth”. It is possible, indeed, to compare him with some artists to whom Jean-Hubert Martin has devoted a justly famous exhibition. He had added a few Western artists that he liked. He thus recognised in them this same faith in their omnipotent power to abolish reality by substituting their art for it as a kind of origin, of lost paradise. But, for Western artists, knowing their “actual place on earth”, repetition was only a kind of propitiatory incantation, not even modifying their art in this repetition, if not by variations in the order of a design. They manifested and thus manifest their power that they would wish were magic by ensuring its inanity. Jim Peiffer, we repeat, does not want to know his place on earth. This is why, his magic power delivers him from his terrors. It is only effective because it builds a world in which the placing of his figures punctuates space, builds it, engages them. They disentangle themselves from it, move there and immobilise themselves in an inaudible, visible and invisible historia, at the same time, in the images of a painting of which they themselves, neither mud nor flesh, are actually made. He is well ware, however, of the facticity of these imagined images dodging the reality of reality. This is why he emphasises it by overloading overlapping mediums. Likewise, he adapts and grafts prostheses, improbable, unexpected implants to his motifs, saving increases and hybridisations of a savage nature and world. Hence the importance of colour, which is always saturated and accentuated by the temptation of partitions in the manner of illuminators, of Byzantine mosaicists, African and primitive artists and of certain Western abstract painters. This great ability as a colourist, like his aptitude for drawing in the manner of an academic virtuoso, which he can condense in an expressiveness retained by unbreakable dark circles and agile and easy lines borrowed from Street Art, distinguishes him from Basquiat, Combas and Haring. He is like the corrector of their skilful demonstrations from which are borrowed, with an evident professionalism, the subtleties of the trade of artists known as “outsiders” or “magicians of the earth”. We can link him to these categories, but – above all – not fix him within them.
In two earlier texts, I narrowed my comments a little more as regards this relationship. However, it remains plausible without being sufficient. Here, I believe, we can gain a good idea of the purpose of my remarks: to underline that any comparison with Basquiat can only be hazarded if it highlights their differences; that, despite his propensity to fill the support, his tireless repetition of the same motifs, that is to say, the “tics” of outsiders, he is not comparable to them; that in the end, by delineating him as only one contemporary artist among so many others would not be fair and tolerable either. His work does not adapt to the doxa of the contemporary art world. But, we have to place it there to highlight its exception. Before concluding on a part of his downright realistic works, I will figuratively allow myself a comparison which might appear unfounded, even stupid, with the series of paintings by Piero di Cosimo entitled the Cycle of The History of Primitive Humanity, masterfully studied by Erwin Panofsky. Take a look at the reproductions of these whimsical paintings which are much more than “fanciful”. They swarm with strange and bizarre shapes and combine unusual motifs. Jim Peiffer’s painting is like a contemporary replica of this, the mnemonic tale of a primitive humanity and still formless world. Look again at the monster Perseus boldly confronts to free Andromeda. The same predilection for an ambiguous, unusual and somewhat parodic teratology, brings this Tamayo and Fabbri-like horse dog closer to this little credible sea creature. Jim Peiffer's teratology, like that of Piero di Cosimo, knows how to slip humour into scenes in which both artists, so close and so distant, stress theatricality, a theatricality which in Jim Peiffer's work is inspired by the fantasy world of cinema and comics.
In Jim Peiffer, there is aspiration towards figurative realism that manifests itself in portraits of an often schematised, but surprising verism. They are realised by an encirclement applied with an incisive, summary and cutting line – to use André Chastel’s formula. Their expressiveness is troubling, disturbing and it seizes us. One of these portraits always reminds me of a figure of a blind man by Brueghel. I mean by this their visionary eyes clouded like a leukoma that internalises the vision. This is what makes them exceptional. Nor would I want to overlook these landscapes seen as though through the windscreen of a car speeding at high speed along a road: landscapes as if caught up in kinetics that crumble them, or landscapes suddenly fixed like forever. They are most often painted on standard stretchers, with the swift passage of an imperious brush loaded with pigment. I will come back to this, as I will come back to the drawings with scratchy or, better, slashed lines, made of short and clean lines that in my opinion simulate lacerations. We might think here of Tal Coat, Gruber or Giacometti. More than Fontana. But, what emanates from them is the expectation of the dispersion of these accumulations of lines that nothing holds back. These portraits are as though hanging on a thread: between presence and absence. Between reality and artifice…
Luxembourg, 3 November 2019
Ceysson & Bénétière
13 - 15 rue d'Arlon L8399 Wandhaff