Nous qui nous sommes aimés
Nous t’avons oublié
Toi ne nous oublie pas
Nous n’avions que toi sur la terre
Ne nous laisse pas devenir froids
Beaucoup plus loin toujours
Et n’importe où
Donne-nous signe de vie
Cet Amour, [ Paroles 1946 ]
Jacques Roch, Symbolic Surface, Klarfeld Perry Gallery NYC, curated by Robert Morgan, 2004
My first trip to Nice was memorable for a number of reasons. There was the incredible azure sea, the pebbled beaches, the used condoms in themorning tide, the little guy who made delicious frappé chocolate, the taste of espresso while reading Le Monde. What evokes these memories, this bricolage of events from well over two decades ago? I recall in the recesses of memory my first trip to France where I was trying to grapple with a second language and a new cultural orientation to life. When I encounter the paintings of Jacques Roch, I am given to the mood of Nice - the ambulation through the interior streets and alleys, the illuminated recesses of courtyards and the open, ever-changing seascape. I am not sure why this association occurs, but I am reasonably sure that, for Roch, it was not intentional. Why then?
Roch’s visual language, however, is neither French nor English. It is a metalanguage of lyric vision, a particular aspect of European cynicism quite removed from the American variety. Roch’s paintings have a compulsive air about them, yet they are possessed with a sense of the absurd. They radiate with the tension of memory, the instilling of a continental way of life laminated against the New York experience. There is a violent humour in many of Roch’s paintings - closer to Buster Keaton than to Jean-Claude Van Damme. The gaze opens into a sequence of disjunctures and passes through vestibules and dark recesses, then out again into the light. A kind of mysticism is implied in these textured surfaces, as symbolic surface that is replete with hidden codes.
Roch’s paintings express the process of a personal coding; that is, the way memory occurs in relation to vision. There’s the tension, the overlay and the underlay. Ther’s the metamorphosis. The transfiguration of being into non-being is less desperate than evocative. Roch paints as a means to perpetually assert his marks of self-acceptance. I once jokingly referred to the computerised cartoons so elegantly repeated across several of Roch’s recent paintings as the “banana astronaut”. The little guy has a kind of confident, yet lost demeanour. He is tormented by forces that seem to oppose him, yet rides on through the morass. His absurd phallic space ship is a beacon, exploring the pictorial constellations between time and space. The recent tondos, circular paintings, are also quite elegant in their poetic strife. The tension is omnipresent, always moving forward into the fleeting images of a personalised science fiction, yet expressly backwards into the resistance of French Symbolism at the outset of Modernity.
Jacques Roch was born, raised, and partially schooled in Lyon. After living and working as a painter in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, he eventually came to New York in the late seventies. This is his second major one-man show in New York. His first was Exit Art in 1990). Roch has always refused to accept the signs of external theory, and dares not tread the path of the predictable. He is an original - a visual artist who uses both painterly virtuosity and the language of the computer. He is essentially given to an existential point of view - one that he is perpetually transcending through the act of painting. The feeling of the gesture and the sign completely mingle and interact. he functions as a thoroughly inner-directed artist.
What is remarkable about Roch’s paintings is how the origin of abstract experience is retained. roch’s art is an original expression - not according to some fabricated “conceptual” agenda or a tired, market-driven, politically conscious context, but according to another modus operandi - that of the deepest intuition struggling to make a mark of singular identity against all odds. At a moment when academicians are shuffling art into the oblivion of “visual culture”, the art of Jacques Roch constitutes an important oppositional statement, a necessary aesthetic lightness. it is important for this, if for no other reason.
Robert C. Morgan