The solo exhibition Nyctalopes at Espace Robert Poulin features some of the most recent works by James Juron. The large powerful canvases create a fantastical space populated by characters out of bad dreams. Juron’s work is unified by his particular way of blurring the face of certain protagonists. Another element that ties these canvases together in a poignant and articulate dialogue is the recurrence of similar forms such as in The Benediction (2013) and On the backs of others (2012). Here a pink-red mass that seems to be inhabited by human elements can be recognized in both paintings. As only separate human parts are discernible such as teeth, breasts, mouths, noses etc it is hard to establish how many of these humanoid entities are within the form and if they are all female. In The Benediction the pink form is surrounded by five men in black suits looking down on it. The scene is placed in a gloomy room with what might be glass walls that can either be a laboratory or a meeting room; which would be well thought as the canvas itself is hung in a meeting room with large glass vitrines. Wether referring to corporate corruption or mass consumerism of the female body in media (the form representing an impossible standard with no identity remodeled so much it barely resembles a human form anymore), the author certainly opens a space for critical thought on contemporary society. Imagery and metaphors is a large part of Juron’s language with ghosts, skeletons, bleeding canvases or red roses (to mention only a few) invoking something different for each viewer. For example, ghosts may refer to the dark past of the protagonist in the painting as well as invoke the personal past of the viewer or the community.
As a whole the works presented here have a dark palette with a touch of red or pink reminiscent of blood or flesh. According to the artist’s website, by blurring the faces he aims to help uncover an underlying truth. In a sense the artist takes away the pretty mask to make visible an ugly truth. These paintings can indeed be interpreted as metaphors of dysfunctional socio-cultural infrastructure.
The series of five self-portraits, Selfhead (2013), illustrates well this point: the artist wishes to represent more than just the physical aspect of a person or what a relationship or society should be. What things look like does not necessarily give an idea of what they truly are in essence. The artist is literally taking off the first layer (the mask/the conventional representation) to reveal what is underneath. The name of the exhibition refers quite explicitly to this idea of revealing. Indeed “Nyctalope” is a character first appearing in 1909 from a novel by the French author Jean de la Hire: he is a lesser-known superhero that can see in the dark (Wikipedia). The name of the character itself comes from Greek ‘nyctalopia’ with refers to the inability to see in the dark (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). The word is appropriated with irony, as here the author wishes to make visible what is in the dark, giving the viewer the power to see the invisible.
Many other themes are dealt with through vivid imagery and metaphors portrayed with a dynamic technique that can only be experienced and appreciated fully when in presence of the canvases; this exhibition in a full-body experience not to be missed.
Espace Robert Poulin, space 411
August 22 – September 21, 2013