BEIRUT: People entering Gemmayzeh’s Artlab Gallery will stumble upon some weird-looking characters this month. With big, globular eyes popping out of their heads, candidly regarding viewers, the characters are the artistic offspring of French artist Jean Freddy Rouy. His “Eugenes,” as he calls them, form the gallery’s latest exhibition. Five acrylic-on-wood works along with 38 ink-on-paper pieces have invaded the venue, plunging onlookers into Rouy’s comic strip-like world.
The artist invented these characters in 2008 as a way for him to escape from techniques he had been using. They imposed themselves on him as a form of evidence, a liberation from the past, he explains in the press release. Those unfamiliar with Rouy’s art will surely enjoy the show, since each of the artist’s paintings and drawings is a story in itself.
The paintings are filled with vivid reds, blues and oranges. “Terre Rouge” (Red Earth), “Le Tabouret” (The Stool), “Le Chien Vert” (The Green Dog), “La Fenetre” (The Window) and “La Palissade” (The Palisade) are among the simple titles in Rouy’s mod est artistic realm.
The 50x50 cm work “Le Chien Vert” portrays three bald characters, one of them restraining his green dog on a leash.
There is as much movement as there is stillness in the painting. They stand in an unknown location. The two other characters – whose heads can be glimpsed, one upside down, in the upper and bottom corners of the wood panel – wave hello (or goodbye) to the viewer.
Rouy’s “Eugenes” are decidedly odd-looking. Their big, lidless eyes might be considered disturbing by some onlookers, but for others they may trigger a sense of compassion and laughter.
“Terre Rouge” (33x46 cm) features two characters: one leaning through a window, hand outstretched toward a second man, who appears to be floating away like a dandelion seed on the breeze.
Only in the background can we see the red ground referred to in the title. Although this scene is perhaps negative – if we assume that one of the characters has jumped from the window – it is not confusing.
On the contrary, we can try to analyze what the artist may have wanted to show here through these puppet-like characters.
The drawings offer more interesting fodder for analysis. Words and snatched phrases mingle with characters.
In several pieces we can read sentences like “C’ est Toujours pour les Autres” (It’s always for the others), “Secret,” “Ce Matin le Bruit est Plus Lointain” (The noise is further away this morning), “Ma Bonne Etoile ou Mon Vortex” (My lucky star or my vortex) and “Tellement de Mots” (So many words). It is a way for Rouy not only to fill space but also to give depth to his drawings.
Where some artists would have put the words in the foreground as a statement, Rouy uses the letters as decor and background. Words form a stage, a carpet, a sign or a column.
The body and facial features of these drawn dummies are eerily similar. This renders the background crucial, as it enables a different story to unfold in each scene.
There is, however, one point in common between all of Rouy’s works: All these “Eugenes” seem lost. Do they embody our own loss of identity? Or are they just expressions of Rouy’s will to entice spectators to lose themselves in his world?
There is no certainty, but one thing is sure: Whoever enters the gallery will be immersed in an artistic bubble, where Rouy’s eccentric, humorous characters bring a new breeze to the art scene.
Jean Freddy Rouy’s “Eugenes” are now on show at Gemmayzeh’s Artlab Gallery until Sept. 28. For more information, please call 03-244-577.