BEIRUT: Massive, coarse, uneven and intriguing. These words spring to mind when looking over the work of French artist Jean-Michel Solves, now on display at Alice Mogabgab Gallery.
“Mother and Child” is comprised of nine sculptures, accompanied by 16 mixed-media paintings and sketches. Meandering through the gallery’s immaculate space, onlookers will find variations on a theme of feminine figures arrayed in multiple situations. Whether holding a child, sitting, gazing at the horizon or standing in a vessel, these figures stand as vignettes from the artist’s vision of motherhood.
Solves’ representation of motherhood is not typical or clichéd in any way – large bosoms and childbearing hips are nowhere to be found. These figures hold intermediary points between representation and inspiration.
“Layer after layer, the whole body takes part in a dance of gestures,” Solves remarks in the show’s catalogue essay, “fluid at times and more tense at others.”
Though entitled “Temple,” the three sculptures of Solves erected in one corner of the gallery are evidently not meant to depict religious figures. Insofar as these brown, ochre and white polychromatic cement figures are evocative of temples, it is because their conical shapes – with their thick bases tapering to head-like ovoid points – are redolent of the quality of architecture.
Since Solves is fond of representing the feminine figure, these sculptures may represent the temple of motherhood – hearkening back to the animist practice of worshipping the feminine form as the vessel of life. The use of cement emphasizes the importance of weight, of being anchored in the ground – with some assistance from industry – as though these sculptures are bridges between earth and sky.
Solves’ paintings also evoke something religious – albeit not one of the revealed religions.
In the mixed-media work “La Barque” (“The Bark”), 128x226cm, viewers find the silhouette of a feminine figure standing on a boat. Though both the figure and her vessel are depicted in black – and with an impressionist’s feeling for figurative precision – there is nothing obscure about this work.
In the shape of the figure’s head some may find an afterimage of unearthed Phoenician figurines, or some techniques of African sculpture. Her body seems to form a contiguous unit with her bark, a single entity or element.
The background wash is composed of black, yellow, brown and orange spots, as if Solves sprayed paint over the canvas. The effect of this shattered representation is to recreate primitive depictions of a nighttime sky, astral or solar explosions, giving the canvas a mystical quality.
The mixed-media work “Cathedrale” (‘Cathedral’), 231x153 cm, appears to represent an elongated female figure depicted in white silhouette. She might be holding two children. Alternatively, the piece could represent a totem-pole-like structure, with three distinct figures at the top.
The work’s totemic quality is accentuated by the figure’s apparently being attached to the ground, or growing from it. To the left of the figure, a black cross projects from the top of a hill. The white figure appears to be gazing upon the cross, which, it seems, is not meant to represent Christianity, but more a general vision of the horizon and guidance.
The ink-on-paper work “Empreinte” (‘Imprint’), 120x66 cm, depicts that same type of elongated feminine figure, this one with her hands raised from the elbow. The drawing appears to have been augmented by the addition of some oily substance, which provides a rudimentary background or patina to emphasize the figure’s importance.
Solves’ works are postcards from a mystical and sentimental world, in which the mother figure is sanctified while posing questions.
Jean-Michel Solves’ “Mother and Child” are up at Alice Mogabgab Gallery until Feb. 22. For more information, please call 01-210-424.