by Lala J.P Lestrade
It was at a flea market in Paris, at the beginning of the nineties that I saw the paintings of Jean Marc Dallanegra for the first time. They were just sitting there, some of them hung on a latticed wall, and constrasted strongly with the flea market booths displayed all around. With courtesy and simplicity, the author of these works responded to my astonishment, showing me a portfolio of his works which weren't on display, for which the most part were already sold. His paintings of cars, roads, a city highway (the real version of which one could hear nearby), in a wide gamut of grey, brown, and white and blue tones, open spaces darkened by overcast skies, an opaque lid, or on the contrary, enlightened by an intense luminosity, accompanied other paintings of roads running out towards an endless horizon. I was very astonished to discover, in this area devoted to the indescribable bric à brac of the past and present, paintings of such composition, definitely more appropriate on the walls of a gallery in the 8th or 6th arrondissement in Paris.
This omnipresence of the car, truck and road, this theme of wet asphalt and concrete, where motion and immobility turn out to be each as vibrant as the other, are typical of Dallanegra's current painting. Far from any automobile fetichism, the treatment of these subjects is powerful and yet subtle, producing an astonishing introspective force, which impels us to think about the nature of our outlook on things. In fact, of all the objects of this 20th century that have become ordinary through familiarity, which more than the automobile and its corollaries - the truck, the road, the journey - have altered our landscape and way of life as drastically? I remember that I was fascinated, on my first visit to the USSR, right at the beginning of Gorbatchev's perestroïka in 1988, to see so little traffic and cars in the streets of Moscow. At night, entire streets were totally car-free and the stunning, anachronistic effect, enhancing the beauty of the deserted streets and the architecture, created a strange feeling of having travelled through time into a sort of 19th century. We know how very few years of brand new capitalism were enough to make the streets of Moscow look like those of any big city in the world,with their explosive cocktail of traffic jams, honking horns, noise and pollution.
On the other hand, it is not so much the empty streets and spaces that Dallanegra is showing us, but the vehicles themselves passing across these settings, not through photography or film, as we are so used to, but with paint. The vehicles and the spaces they are displayed in are not oppressive and, where they deliver a silent message (a paradox for cars!), it is, surprisingly, not the denunciation of an urbanized hell, of pollution and the reduced ozone layer. From this unavoidable "industrial" reality, usually considered a priori to be highly unaesthetic (culturally, one is more to be likely impressed by the beauty of a landscape than by a motorway's clover leaf intersection), Jean Marc Dallanegra extracts the very essence of his purpose, leaving us deeply shaken and seemingly fascinated by our own fascination.
Nevertheless, his visual framing results from genuine photographic and cinematographic techniques that give the viewer the curious feeling of being transported within a T.V reportage, or a road movie, or of figuring in the first pages of a novel that starts with a road where nothing much seems to be happening. There is a touch of Wim Wenders and Stephen King - an awareness of latency, of imminency- in these landscapes of bewildering loneliness. However, nothing static, nothing stuck, nothing dead. With Dallanegra, it is the substance of the road itself that is alive and streaming, transporting cars and trucks that seem to move along in a time-space continum without human presence and yet totally inhabited. Sometimes, a car seems to move forward in slow motion on the screen/canvas, as if the object in motion were filmed from very far back with a strong lens, and it is this cinematographic effect, used intense, threatening situations, that gives the vehicle its very enrapturing dramatic presence.
At other times,the road eats up most of the canvas surface, leaving just a small area in the upper corner for the vehicles of the anonymous, seemingly caught by a sort of control radar. A suburban home, with the car parked in front of the closed garage door, a car waiting on the curb in front of looming housing projects, with no human being in sight ever, yet impregnated with man's presence and a feeling of relentless activity.This road side, instantly familiar - as if extracted from our memory by flashback magic - where does it belong exactly? Paris, to begin with. One recognizes a city highway, a flea market corner, tunnels, a timeless suburban home... This running highway (and this feeling of what American's call déja vu), is it running towards the Normandy coast? Across the Beauce, wide empty space in the south of Paris? Or is it the south of France? The Sersou, last step before the desert in Algeria ? A road in Beyrouth? Why does this city highway in Beyrouth look so much as if it were in Paris, or indeed any other city in the world? These vast horizons, all-so-familiar landscapes and settings, would they be universal as so many clones, or is it our memory which hovers questioningly between fiction and a previously lived experience? When viewing these paintings, these "thinking roads", one often has the impression of watching a selected piece of film in which we can guess both the past and future action. But where the work of a filmmaker requires a whole crew of lighting technicians and cameramen (without even mentioning the rest), Dallanegra needs only his brushes and paint tubes. A fine independance (not won without much struggle), this art of painting!
The exclusive use of oil painting has allowed Dallanegra to acquire a skillfull control of the material and a fine technique, which he uses to work the body of his subjects with generosity and subtlety. One feels his passion for this material. He handles oil paint like a mechanic in love with fine engines (and their mystery) uses oil and grease. There is in his pictures an obvious display of the specific poetry of each thing, totally non artificial, and a desire for the essential, along with a total absence of moralizing. The vehicles do not in the slightest look like the flawless models of television commercials. Incredibly present, used, even beaten up, they are like so many faces with their wrinkles, their bumps. They have a story. They talk about life itself, about hope, that "loan on happiness", which makes everything relative. Just like the humans who have made them, objects and cars wear out and die; they too have their cemeteries, which commence with our detachment and indifference.
His few still lives -to borrow as slighltly old-fashioned term - include,"Spoon","Ladle","Strainer", "Drill", and reveal these everyday objects in their vibrant simplicity, their shallow reality, but with a powerful expression which breaks free from the detached outlook of pop art (which, remember, were painted mostly in acrylic). His self-portraits, rare examples of human figuration, are intense and moving. Dallanegra seems to be saving this field of investigation for later, which promises interesting prospects for the future.
Jean-Marc Dallanegra admits to really loving the work of only two painters, Francis Bacon and Caravaggio, in addition to a number of specific paintings from various periods and styles. He manages to create a powerful and bewitching style, not hesitating to tread off the beaten track, far from the current trends of modern art. His specific singularity is to use oil paint to show us what we no longer see in our image-saturated era. One often hears that it has all been done in painting, which is certainly absurd. Dallanegra, who obviously has a tremendous career ahead of him, calmly proves the contrary. A true developer of buried emotions, the power of his painting is to allow the aura of ordinary, banal objects, each shaped by man's thoughts and desires, to rise up on the surface of the canvas and become visible. By challenging our outlook on these things, he lets us wander about the storage room that we call our collective conscious. Incredibly tangible and fleeting, recurrent and obsessive, these landscapes are definitely the stuff that dreams are made of.
Lala J.P L, ©2000.
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