Jacques Roch, Kim Foster Gallery 2007
Art in America November 2008
Jacques Roch’s series “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (2007) consists of 15 abstract acrylic paintings overlaid with silkscreen imprints of Edouard Manet’s favourite model, Victorine Meurend, as pictured in his famous plain-air dining scene. Roch creates a tension between modernism and postmodernism though his appropriation of the iconic nude, his use of silkscreen and hit titular appropriation of Manet’s masterpiece.
Roch’s process involves drawing the Manet figure from memory and mixing it with current and historical associations. Some of the artist’s memories derive from his service in the Algerian War (1954-62), during which he drew portraits of his fellow soldiers. Indeed, his Le Déjeuner sur l’herbs #1 alludes to that conflict, with an explosion of magenta bleeding into a peaceful tender green, while in the foreground one sees Mourned, Seurat’s Grande Jatte couple sharing a parasol and a man pushing a hot-dog stand bearing the phrase “cold soup”. On an orange area of the painting is a stairway that leads to a maid’s room under a Parisian roof.
Starting his career as a painter in the early 1970’s in Paris, Roch later turned to producing comic strips for the magazines Hara-Kiri and Charlie. But after meeting American artist Pamela Wye, whose he married and followed to New York City, he returned to painting in 1980.
An exquisite draftsman, Roch seldom emphasizes drawing in his paintings, relying instead on repetitive imagery applied through silkscreen - a procedure that lessens the importance of the figures while highlighting the color-field ground. The silkscreened vignettes combine strange anthropomorphic creatures and cartoon versions of personages from master paintings such as Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, Fuseli’s The Nightmare, and Much’s The Scream - references all brought together in this exhibition. Typical of his deflation of grand narratives is a work that shows Titan’s Adonis holding a cell phone instead of a weapon while Venus grabs his hand, persuading him to join her for a walk, rather than going to hunt.
Nihilist inclinations are often offset by absurdity in this body of work. With their bright colors and mechanical, mildly cynical figuration, the paintings engage in a delicate balancing act - one in which quiet despair, while never absent, is routinely overcome by the possibility of delight.