Love and Anguish in Jacques Roch’s “The Kiss and the Castle”
With the French-born artist now approaching his mid-seventies, Jacques Roch’s paintings have never been more wise, more limber, more animated and more manically sensual. And yet, too, his paintings combine the use of lapidary colors and washes that are more redolent of the luxurious serenity and earthy eroticism of Scheherazade’s Persian garden than of the sultry nightlife of the cabaret. Roch’s colors leaven his hyperkinetic tendencies with intimations of a type of “divinely untroubled” condition that is perpetually challenged and undermined. His languorous, even sumptuous, palette is assisted by (infected by) his signature use of antic silkscreened line work, abuzz with frenetic activity. There is grace and mischief combined here, surely. But what is most affecting with Roch’s work (and what makes it genuinely complex and in a true sense “slow” work) is the way we receive pleasure in viewing it precisely because we are entertained by Roch’s unsuccessful attempts to be joyful, by exemplifying through his work, as part of his process, what Herbert Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man, termed “euphoria in unhappiness” an affective condition Marcuse suggests is symptomatic of the cultures of advanced industrial societies. With “The Kiss and the Castle” we see Jacques Roch’s paintings swelling with melodiousness and sensuousness and richly fragrant as well with earthy crudeness. His new works are vigorous, frenzy-filled, and anarchic, to be sure. More importantly the pathos that permeates his vision has never been more clear. Exemplifying the conditions of profound ambiguity and instability that are part of the inherently vitalizing energy of his paintings it might be useful to propose that Jacques Roch’s aesthetic participates (in part if not in full) in what culture historian Sianne Ngai in Our Aesthetic Categories calls “the zany science.” The “ physical bombardment” of the zany, as she describes it, involves libidinal psychic overproduction as a means of distraction from pain, as a defense mechanism that is an expressively acknowledged futile means of counteracting the actualities of and feelings of vulnerability and exploitation. She interprets the zany’s effects and affects through the lens of Nietzschean activity involving experimenting with “ …modes of thinking that do not function as knowledge, that do not report and describe and depict, that mean instead to bring new things into the world.” The zany, according to Ngai, exceeds the bounds of mere animatedness. She continues “… [it] involves the subjectification of processes of production and their infusion with affect and personality…points to a body driven passionately from within…confronts us with a certain overproduction of subjectivity, of charisma and personality, that exceeds consumer demand…” The viewer’s genuine pleasure upon gazing at Roch’s work --- and there is much of it---, I would think, must be linked to a sympathetic identification we make with Roch as conflicted subject : we connect with the manifestations of feelings of pleasure and of displeasure assumed to have been taken on by the artist as essential substrate upon which his creative drives have been engaged.
In his maturity the artist has reached new thresholds of realizations, experiences inlaid with melancholy that have permeated his comically-inclined aesthetic, charging his wit with added depth and poignancy. Roch paints when the mood strikes him as his art combines what he calls “goofy angst” (“…it’s not heavy but it’s there, he says…”) with harmonious, languid coloration. In a recent exchange with art writer Jessica Henderson he remarked: “Color is really the door to a kind of joy. In the last 10 years I’ve been dealing with light because there is enough darkness around.” He added: “If you go a little beneath the surface of the painting, it’s getting personal, it is about you, about life…Humor is really a kind of Trojan horse to infiltrate anxiety because if you make people happy with a joke they forget to think about the seriousness behind it, but it’s still there…” I like to think of Roch’s art as not creating meaning as much as it charges the air around it so that meaning can occur. His art does so by a series of moves that infer the use of indirection as signaled, for example, by the way Roch applies a (seemingly) off-hand, insouciant, attitude toward image making. This attitude, with its Mallarméan digressionary panache that has never made claims towards world-historical import or seriousness. Roch, instead, has devoted himself to his small world of self-scrutiny and to the stage (and stages) of erotic life seen through a gimlet eye. Ever the caricaturist, the former underground commix illustrator, (the Parisian parodist of old --- he’s been in Williamsburg now for twenty-five years) with his bright ebullient canvases irradiated by clear translucent colors as light as pixie-dust, have a frenetic carnivalesque topsy-turvy quality. Equally intense in its own way is a certain Matissean voluptuousness that clings to the work. There is, then, also, the palpable attempted serenity that gives a lilt to the mordant humor that permeates the work in the form of Roch’s scrappy doodles that festoon the pictorial surfaces. Here we see a variety of free-style and heterogeneous marks that take the form of words or outlines or renderings or patterns that appear to be random samplings, un-self-conscious layered mashups sourced from the artist’s accumulated sketchbooks. Roch’s curiosity-cabinet of often but hardly exclusively carnal imagery is a means, perhaps, for him whereby he can adopt and use personae and masks to suggest the clashing of feelings. His imagery includes a mixture of raunchily transposed body parts and orifices, animals, and all sorts of visual cacophony characterized by polymorphously perverse visual phenomena alluding to the fantastic and to the mundane: homunculi, variegated deimologia, teratological wonders, abnormal formations, interior views and street scenes, domestic items such as plants, and pots and stoves, female bodies, clothed or not, as well as female parts--- congealed or scattered in intricate and convoluted patterns nesting within involuted spaces. These notations are transferred and applied onto the surface of his canvases (and reapplied at will and whim) through the deployment of an artillery of small, precision-scaled nimbly applied, silk-screens. To call these forms hallucinatory depictions is to deny them their true existence as inspired energy placeholders, intra-psychic, trance-like contagions, visual glossolalia suspended between connotation and denotation, between signifier and deferred signified. This pretendedly insouciantly pointless “croquis” (as the French would say it) energy, these doodles, have an apparitional quality; they appear as signifiers of afterthoughts, as minutiae, as expendable detritus held in abeyance. Within Roch’s aesthetic they take on the quality of familiar distraction patterns, eidetic floaters that serve as chorus, reciting refrains outside of the bounds of articulation, alluding to a knowingness of some sort yet severed from intelligibility. These are as quavering incantations, their cadences are perhaps in visual terms are not so much sung or recited as much as they are scatted, mischievously, in a reverie. They are not so much as marks as they are notes or notations that allude to unconscious situations, settings, characters. These seemingly ad-hoc, ad-libbed forms that converge and break up engage and entertain the eye with their detailed and loopy vibrancy. They straddle coherency and chaos, control and dissolution while suggestive of a buzzing, sprawling, proliferating universe of marks and lines fed by the suggestion unchecked mutability and alterity. These manic, zany linear iterations and re-iterations, that seem to fragment and coalesce in alternating arrhythmia, recall voluble force fields of automatic writing propelled by the surges of involuntary memory. Gaston Bachelard in his 1943 “ L’air et les songes” (“Air and Dreams) (1943) he writes in one of his essays “L’invitation au voyage” (Invitation to Travel) on poetic expression, its grounding in what he calls “…the immanence of the imagination in the real, the continuous passage from the real to the imaginary.” Bachelard makes certain remarks that are relevant in describing Jacques Roch’s aesthetic susceptibility of trying to fuse differences, of exalting destruction as part of creation, of trying to emerge in a new place altogether indefinable. Bachelard writes: ”…Imagination is always considered to be the faculty of forming images. But it is rather the faculty of deforming the images offered by perception, of freeing ourselves from the immediate images; it is especially the faculty of changing images. If there is not a changing of images, an unexpected union of images, there is no imaginative action if a present image does not recall an absent one, if an occasional image does not give rise to a swarm of aberrant images, to an explosion of images, there is no imagination. …The value of an image is measured by the extent of its imaginary radiance. Thanks to the imaginary, the imagination is essentially open, evasive. In the human psyche, it is the very experience of openness and newness…” Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenological insights into what one might call the physiognomic and intrapsychic workings of the creative imagination seem so pertinently reflected on a dynamic, energetic level in Roch’s work. Roch’s paintings affect us emotionally and somatically because they never cease to address us in terms of sensuous, physical experience; the primary, formal levels of his art correspond to that physical level of experience in which we are beset by a variety of responses to his work including bewilderment and irritation as well as joy. The late, great art critic Amy Goldin made some comments some while in which she disavowed the link in art between morality and meaning in art that in a round-about way pertains to the condition of receivership that takes place when viewing Roch’s art. In her essay “Deep Art and Shallow Art” written for the New American Review in 1969 wrote: “ …Most artistic ideas are not the sort of things we usually call ideas at all. They are fragments or clots of feeling-about-something, intrinsically complex, like ordinary experience. It is because new artistic ideas are in part new feelings that we don’t know what to do with them. They can interrupt old patterns of feeling and demand a place for themselves while we are still uncertain about whether we want them…But now feelings, like new ideas, can disrupt the psychic economy. A “ new” feeling, of course, is not a heretofore unexperienced emotion. It is a new complex, a new feeling-about-something.” I have for example for so many years been moved over the years by seeing an essential quality of aliveness and vitality and freshness of movement in the artist’s work. This aliveness is seen and sensed through the combination of the soft cadences of his colors with the guttural, stammering and staccato pulsations generated by Roch’s line work. This combination serves as a means of radiating meaning as well as a way to deflect or pre-empt known meaning, thus encouraging non-sense as a way of entering into what Goldin describes “ a new feeling about something.” The risible becomes an effective counter-agent to prescriptive reading. Roch’s generating of sublimity through visual cacophony and the risible becomes effective counter-agents, challenging to prescriptive, conventional reading of his work. Vital evasiveness of meaning emerges in and through Roch’s paintings as do conflicted otherness, joy and tenderness. Here a super-surge of energy, a surplus of instability (invoking what Georges Bataille in his seminal 1953 essay Nonknowledge, Laughter, and Tears would term “a complete absence of presuppositions” that forms “nonknowledge”) pervades. In the end Jacques Roch’s high-spirited wisdom and generous laughter that supersedes meaning allows us to enter into his delightful multivalent visual world that is buoyed by the twin dynamic of love and anguish.
Dominique Nahas 2013