BEIRUT: A blond adolescent, wearing a mask and a blue-and-red costume is currently squatting at Gemmayzeh’s ArtLab Gallery. Speedboy, as the figure is known, is the protagonist of French artist Severine Deslions’ work.
“World (Ex) Change,” the exhibition of Deslions’ works now up at ArtLab, gathers more than 40 mixed-media canvas works and 35 artist notebooks.
From the center of the gallery, the artist’s sculpture of Speedboy keeps an eye on members of the public, as they take in Deslions’ other depictions of him.
Full of dynamism and vaguely naive, the artist’s works mobilize an energetic palette of bright reds, blues and yellows, casting onlookers into childhood memories of comic books.
The art of Deslions (born 1972) is not only reminiscent of comic strips but also an homage to a better world to come. To arrive at that point, however, the works embrace such themes as globalization, oppression, climate change and the near-apocalyptic events in Fukushima prefecture.
Winking at Alain Resnais’ 1959 classic “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” the artist portrays Speedboy cruising through the radioactive haze about Japan’s stricken nuclear plant, in a piece called “Fukushima mon Amour.”
In “Mo’ Money,” visitors find Speedboy striking the pose of an entitled Wall Street broker, like a greedy ogre waiting for its meal.
With Speedboy, Deslions sets out to incarnate each facet of the human condition, apparently enjoying the accelerated pace of life without noticing the toll it’s taking on the world.
“World (Ex) Change” is a call to return to a simpler world, one whose bywords are not “globalization” and “consumerism.”
Some viewers will notice several of these works are adorned with numerical tags such as “H2SO4” and “357.” The first refers to the molecular formula of sulfuric acid. Deslions explained the second represents a person’s evolution. At 3 years of age, for instance, we walk properly. At 5, we master language. Seven is known as the age of reason.
The exact relationship between the chemical formula of sulfuric acid and the stages of human development is left undisclosed – though her paintings depict adults as well as children.
Deslions’ influences are wide and varied. Her palette was somewhat inspired by Dutch painter and sculptor Karel Appel, considered a founding father of the avant-garde in the second half of the 20th century.
Aspects of her figuration – particularly her skeletal, two-dimensional figures – are reminiscent of the naive work of Haitian-U.S. artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Her art enacts the disjunction between what “is” and what “should be.”
Titles such as “Enjoy the Silence,” “Follow the Leader” and “Game Over” intimate that individual consciousness has been devoured by consumerist popular cultural. Her cluttered canvases – which deploy varied media such as paints and cardboard in the same manner as Kraft’s works – suggest that contemporary society has become something of a labyrinth.
Deslions’ works function like a wake-up call, her figures reflections of who and what we should not be.
There seems to be a dichotomy in the works. The catastrophic situations she represents reside in a sort of contradiction with her colorful palette. The bright reds and yellows do not suggest that the artist is – or that her public ought to be – pleased with the current state of the world.
The colors are her way of reassuring us that a brighter future is still possible.
Severine Deslions’s “World (Ex) Change” is up at ArtLab Gallery until May 24. For more information, please visit www.art-lab.me.