JEAN-XAVIER RENAUD. INFECTER L'ŒIL
By Erik Verhagen
In Jean-Xavier Renaud, Edition Galerie Françoise Besson, Lyon, 2011
Translated by Simon Pleasance, 2015
In 2001, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam held a noteworthy exhibition titled Eye Infection, bringing together the artists Robert Crumb, Mike Kelley, Jim Nutt, Peter Saul and H.C.Westermann. The idea behind the show and the title were intended to demonstrate that, in tandem with the official narrative of the history of American art in the 1960s - the modernist-minimalist fast track -, particular trajectories had been developed (with Mike Kelley's work freeing itself from that chronological framework), which resisted the cult of an “opticality” announced by, among others, the critic Clement Greenbberg and the artist Donald Judd. In addition, the trajectories in question could not be likened to any kind of Pop Art, which was too seamless and too neat and tidy. Otherwise put, those artists did not have their place in an art history that was highly compartmentalized, not to say ghettoized. But nor could they be relegated to the Art Brut pigeonhole. And this in spite of the fact that an exceptional artist like Henry Darger could quite legitimately have been associated with that exhibition project.
The same would have applied to Jean-Xavier Renaud, had he been American and had he worked in the 1960s. The fact is that, in a certain way, the place that falls to him today in the French artistic landscape and life calls to mind that of the afore-mentioned artists, in their day and age. Renaud is nevertheless little concerned with “artistic life”, because the ongoing spectacle offered by this latter in no way replaces “a good jog in the woods with my dog, or looking at some fucking lichen”.1
Renaud, as we can see, is not given to theorization. His goal is in fact a different one, at once modest and immeasurable. Renaud trying to “observe and describe what is going on” and transcribe his observations by way of a highly diverse stylistic and technical arsenal. Yet is he is expressing his points of view ? No, not exclusively, at least, because, like Michel Houellebecq's writings, or Raymond Pettibon's drawings - this latter being a visual artist with whom it might be tempting to compare Jean-Xavier Renaud -, with Renaud we are confronted by an idea with many meanings, in which different voices are entangled, the array of styles and themes which he draws on being symptomatic of that confusion of issues and concertinaing of opinions for which the artist is a self-appointed spokesman.
It is impossible to sum up his oeuvre. It is generous and multi-facetted, informing an extremely wide iconographic and, as we have also pointed out, stylistic field in which the place earmarked for sexuality is considerable, with the artist, here too, adapting to a mimetic and reflecting perspective, and to the mega-consumption and ordinariness of the sexual and pornographic thing, as hypertrophied by the new medias. In this respect, the web and the world of video games, not forgetting comic strips, represent quintessential sources of inspiration for the artist. “I play video games a lot, and afterwards I draw. I'm a gamer [...]. There's one aspect of my work that people are not much acquainted with, which is that I've followed the whole development of computer-assisted graphic representation. So you can see how, with the progress of technical possibilities, the method of representation changes, and you can see what choices are made by designers and programmers. This fascinates me. I think my images are very influenced by these data, insomuch as I allow myself to make simple representations. A head is three dots, nothing more is needed. It's a language like any other, I can also use it. What do I care as long as it serves my idea !”
The catalogue of Renaud's works includes still lifes and landscapes, genre scenes and “portraits, not forgetting a few rare abstract compositions. Depending on the case, the artist associates images with words. The pitch may be “serious”, especially in the landscapes, but usually results from puns, obscene ideas, appropriation and hijack, and a schoolboy humour, which all evoke American neo-comedy, in the Farrelly brothers' spirit, Will Ferrell and the excellent series Eastbound and down, whose world and atmosphere call to mind, in many ways, the world according to Renaud. A strange world where you come upon a person ridging potatoes and Bernadette Soubirou (of Lourdes), a brame à poutre2 and an enigmatic double salope on the rocks close to the scie3. This is all absolutely moronic and totally regressive. But it has the colossal advantage of infecting our eye, which badly needed it.
1 - This quote, like the later ones, is taken from the interview of Jean-Xavier Renaud by Julien Kedryna, Collection#2, 2011.
2 - Brahmaputra, pronounced in French, sounds like brame à poutre: brame means a rutting stag's bell and poutre means a beam.
3 - Impossibly translated as a “double bitchsky on the rocks close to the sea (saw)”, where salope means bitch and scie means saw, but sounds like sea, or see.