Jacques Roch, Slumber Party, Kim Foster Gallery
Art News, December 1996
Back in the subversive 1960s, Jacques Roch drew satirical comic strips for underground newspapers in Paris. A vein of dark humour still runs through his latest work - paintings that can best be described as comical-lyrical, or lyrical-comical. Against a backdrop of freely painted, acid-hued acrylics, Roch deploys a small army of witty characters silk-screened in white, black, or gold. Some of the artist’s cryptic messages appear to have symbolic import. There’s a creature in a garbage can on wheels, dolefully contemplating the lid; and a wide-hipped, big-busted, cartoony nude. others are not so easily deciphered, but tease at another level of consciousness. A bulging figure with skinny arms reaches towards a pair of schematic breasts, above which is stencilled the word “ceiling”; a headless, birdlike apparition struts saucily across the bottom of Love is Blind ; and in The War of the Roses, winged “insects” swoop and swarm around a textured shape that might be either a crown or an especially torturous form of women’s underwear.
Some of the works have a gleefully malevolent edge to them. In the upper right of The Kiss of the Mermaid, a bespectacled, unctuous-looking character - repeated in triplicate - kisses a woman’s hand. At first glance, Worries and Their Children looks like a flock of delicate butterflies: closer inspection shows the shapes to be half-insect, half-critter. in The Birth of Venus, the buxom nude is menaced by an equally bulbous beast with a tentacled snout. It’s a tribute to the skill of the painter - or the restraint of the cartoonist - that these works never seem overly cluttered.
Though the loosely painted backgrounds recall certain Abstract Expressionists, such as Joan Mitchell or Helen Frankenthaler, there is something ineffably European about Roch’s marriage of caricature and lyricism, the playful shapes and the titles recall Paul Klee and Joan Miró, and the artist’s offhand visual wit is as Gallic as the cryptic doodles André Malraux used to make in the margins of notebooks and manuscripts.