Monstres et merveilles. La nécessité du fantastiqueMarch 04 - April 22, 2023
Monstres et merveilles. La nécessité du fantastiqueMarch 04 - April 22, 2023
The art of Jim Peiffer raises many questions which, once brought up, should immediately be buried under the bric-à-brac of histories. When looking at his works, we might be quick to abuse categories predicated on an art respectful of the societal, cultural, and esthetic norms thought to have been definitively established by the qualified, labeling, and mainstream history of art. All these categories are ways to define works as “inside” or “outside” said mainstream. Since the interest taken in popular forms of “art” made by artists quickly called “naïve” and sometimes “genuine”, we have soon come to laud the production of children and lunatics. According to Arthur Danto, these distinctions belong [...] to the nature of artistic creation” and although they suggest “a state of excludedness, [they don’t entail] a political boundary between the enfranchised and disenfranchised” of the so-called art world. It seems that the recognized quality of their art transcends these fortuitous frontiers. But we would be jumping a bit ahead of ourselves. Especially since Danto admits that the history of modern art is one of appropriations. Such history therefore slightly overlaps with that of colonialist predation. When Picasso discovered the “obscure power” of primitive art, he turned it into a “medium” nonetheless. After Klee, Dubuffet, and many others, the interest we now take, as Danto writes quoting Roger Fry, in the “expressive plastic forms” of artworks created by artists from marginal and fringe communities, is tinted with political discrimination we try to purge out of a sort of remorse. And, let’s admit it, we should stop associating such productions with supposedly therapeutic participatory, and discharging treatments and approaches which aims are sometimes very ambiguous. However, so-called “inside” art sometimes also undertakes such social reintegration “missions”...
Jim Peiffer’s art plays both sides. Graduated from the famous Belgian school La Cambre, his drawing and painting dexterity flirts with masterful virtuosity. To some extent and at his own convenience, the artist alternatively resorts to the knowledge, techniques, and themes of both “inside” and “outside” art. And he does so with convictions and an irony akin to Combas, and, more explicitly, Basquiat, from whom he draws the same contradictory impulses, without copying them: the claim of a monadic “insularity” on one hand, and on the other, the search of a qualifying recognition by the art world. Jim Peiffer is sometimes gripped by irrepressible fears. As a result, he experiences a surge of images coming from a world where reality, as perceived by our physical eye, meets the reality as experienced by our inner eye.
We know it since Francisco de Holanda warned us way before Nelson Goodman: artists “make” worlds. And the more they learn and develop their capacity to refine their means to reach perfect mimesis of Nature, the more they try to rectify its imperfections, meaning to rectify its Creator! Some artists have demonstrated it through an excess of mannerism that brought them on the edge.
Firstly, by surpassing reality through a minute and fascinating attention paid to details they tirelessly repeat. Secondly, by capturing all the hallucinations that catches the eye of their inner world– a world full of threats they have to stave off. Jim Peiffer has embraced this inescapable vocation. He claims and pursues it without complaints through his relentless and Sisyphean labor as a drawer and painter busy with the recreation of the world, meaning with its forever postponed re-enchantment... While the manner of some of his portrait and landscape paintings puts him in the vicinity of many contemporary artists, Jim Peiffer feels the imperious necessity to mix and merge them, especially in his drawings, in a common spatiality, which only the surface of a work of art permits. Meaning the unifying alliance in a formal configuration which in itself is totalizing. And he does so in mainly two ways. On one hand, by outlining his forms and motifs with sometimes sharp and blunt, oscillating between Artaud, Giacometti, and Basquiat, sometimes thick and soft lines and strokes, these clear outlines asserting their concrete presence in an empty space they come to occupy and fill up entirely. This is what Jim Peiffer makes visible with his “blank spaces”, which act like “forces” punctuating the accumulations and placements of the represented “objects”. On another hand, by aggregating similar carefully colored forms and patterns, each color area well delineated, in a space entirely filled with colors, which saturation he pushes to a density and intensity only known to the greatest colorists.
In the first case, Jim Peiffer puts the emphasis on the ostentatious precision of the rendering of forms sought to be immutable, like those, neatly embedded and defined, of the prototypical figures we see in icons. In the second case, the well-ordered forms repeat and cohabitate, like the shining enameled patterns in illuminations, according to the world order conceived by the artist, spread in colorful flat tints filled with figures and forms revealing of the inventiveness of his ever-effervescent imagination.
It is as if these hybrid motifs, these altogether humanoid and beast-like creatures, assembled and tangled in implausible ways, looked to exhaust and surpass not only the most extravagant repertoire of Dadaism and surrealism but also the thesauri gathered by Jurgis Baltrušaitis in his fantastic Middle Age as well as his books on the origins and derivations of ornamental motifs oscillating between realistic figuration and geometric abstraction, depending on the prevailing symbolism and the places that hosted their sometimes hectic proliferation! Without bothering too much about their provenance and functional history, Jim Peiffer has been collecting them from the makeshift repertoire built and pushed in his direction by the constant stream of Internet images. The artist has a sure eye to pick and collect these motifs, adapting them to his “assembler” esthetic and thus creating his own wonderful, paradoxical, and totally unique fantastic teratology. Monsters turn into wonders, and wonders into oddities tinted with humor, even a certain causticity toward normal daily life. The latter put us face to face with its demons, which terrabilità is emphasized and dreaded. It is not really possible to make an inventory of all the things that populate the fantastic world in which Jim Peiffer draws us.
But I would conclude with two invites: the first one, which I already began to outline, is to put this body of work in the context of a history, which, if we told it, would bring us back to Prehistory, then to Antiquity, its trivial arts and predilection for metamorphoses; then to the Middle Age and its poetical arts, entertained by the most extravagant zoomorphic hybridizations, and up to Hieronymus Bosch’s wild devilments. The Renaissance was not insensitive either to the lures of the “grotesque” revived from ancient Rome, after which Raphael’s workshop, among others, improvised luscious and subtle ornaments. And it went on until the pervasive trend of the discriminated primitive arts, which inspired the formal and conceptual innovations of modernism and postmodernism – especially after the obsessive infatuations of fauvism, expressionism, and cubism for Oceanian and African paradises. The second is to not be frightened by the recurrence of the “anal eye”, the “vulval eye” connecting Jim Peiffer’s creativity to a theme that runs through the history of painting: the freezing, stupefying eye of the deadly Gorgon. The eye of the Christ Pantacrator is an avatar doomed to be secularized. We are not the ones looking at this Christ figure, it is looking at us.
Wouldn’t it be the same eye that Buñuel slices with a razor blade? Isn’t it the inquisitive panopticon eye of all totalitarian regimes, the eye that turns what it observes into things, waste and rubbish in short, needing to be disposed of and cleaned in order to make room for a normalized and “hygienic world”, the dreadful consequence of the sorting eye of the old times in the Christian, catholic and orthodox interpretations?
The recurrence of this eye in Jim Peiffer’s world carries the meaning of inescapable condemnation. But the artist appropriates and plays with these figures taken straight out of a mythology full of istorie that enable all sorts of twists and turns of meaning required to give rise to the world theater he feels obligated to recompose. This is why he accepts the Medusan sight like a beneficial gift to reactivate, rearm, and efficiently return to the sender. Jim Peiffer sees himself as a savior, a bit like Perseus with his shield. He looks to protect us from Medusa’s gaze and its deadly modern and enslaving variants, which turn our daily reality into harrowing hallucinogenic nightmares. Endowed with sexual eyes, armed and charged with vital force, Peiffer’s figures, like mirror-shield, project and reverberate their lethal stare toward Medusa and its secular avatars.
These defensive protagonists aim at conjuring up the ill fate that could befall us when we look at their faces. It is to shield us from misfortune that Jim Peiffer wants his works apotropaic and consoling. There is nothing else to say except that Jim Peiffer’s imagination and figurative Ordo fuels and feeds on our entire culture put under the creative tension of History. We can, and we should revel in his art, in which the joyful and inventive mastery of drawing is combined with the luminous force of striking coloring. The works of Jim Peiffer have the splendor of great scenery, an obsession of so many “inside” artists in their time. This is why I need to remind you that loads of 16th-century columnists, like Vasari to start with, have commented on the quirks, moods, whims, and follies of these melancholic children of Saturn, namely artists.
About them, Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, an artist himself, dared to write: “We see that most painters are extravagant and often let their mood conduct conversations”.
Did you say “outsider”?
1 Arthur Danto, « Outsider art » in The Madonna of the future : essays in a pluralistic art world. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. P.242
2 Sylvie Deswarte, "Considérations sur l’artiste courtisan et le génie au xvie siècle", in Jérôme de La Gorce, Françoise Levaillant and Alain Mérot, La Condition sociale de l’artiste XVIe-XXe siècle, oct. 1985, Paris, France ; published by the University of Saint-Etienne, p.13-28, 1987, halshs-01120854.
Artist : Jim Peiffer
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