Humanism in transition
by Laurence Carducci, translated by Anne Malena
Alex Rabus is a patient innovator who builds his own labyrinths. He feels vertiginous pleasure in taking the time to wander from one microcosm to the next in order to plunge straight through appearances. Lucid and amused he delights in being meticulous to then take part in the great movements that flow through our society. Large formats suit his explorations of distant regions. His gaze brings atoms of images to life that little by little fall into order, intense, burlesque or tragic. Kneaded by time, destined to become obsolete, will they leave a trace ? Gaining strength from his freedom the artist seizes these remnants of existence and uses them as the raw material for his work, a way for him to script our defeat, to defy Chronos who, in spite of devouring us, allows us the ability to challenge but not win.
Other worlds exist that, even though they are impenetrable to human senses, may be accessible through nature’s tangible spectacle. Alex Rabus, fascinated by water’s depth and immutability, returns often to the source that narrates the mystery of origins and is modulated indefinitely by the presence of light. In those works that have long accompanied him, the painter often chooses oil and lets emerge on the canvas the abysses’ tones with supple brush strokes that he happily controls.
Yet he does not forget that above all he is a man of his time, caught in the obsessive surf created by swarms of emotions and calls of all kinds. The spectacle of human tragedy, a parade of multi-coloured illusions, is endless, absurdly repetitive, as if human kind was condemned to forever repeat the same mistakes… With Alex Rabus the critical distance is magisterial. He practises dissection with delicate jubilation. You have to follow him in his surprising large formats crawling with stories. You can then discover the careful and refined touch of illustrations destined to quiet children but also goblins’ capers mixed with lacerations of violence. This meticulous crop composes pictorial universes that maturate slowly. The pasted paper is as tight as an entomologist’s trap. It catches Intuitions, the results of a permanent stratification of coloured events, of misshaped truths, a kind of Purgatory perpetually recycled.
The artist has decided to snare this Time of which we are made and that escapes us more and more by dint of wanting to control it. Neither a hermit nor a revolutionary he has chosen a narrative space as a refuge and a observation post. The paintings that he proposes demand a steady gaze to be able to perceive all of the minute events inhabiting them. A small price to pay for recovering the taste for fairy tales. “I create my paintings like a novel,” he says. The unity of style in his recent narrative works is created thanks to a very particular style of visual writing, composed of tonic and regular signs according to a hybrid technique that uses acrylic paint and touches of black-lead.
The adventure consists in finding a balance between natural elements and the murky peat moss of human history as illustrated in some of his paintings. The contrast is striking. In one painting in particular, “The Flute Player,” the wish for elsewhere is still present but the opening seems blocked. It has become impossible to escape doubt, destruction and the sacrifice of the innocent. The image tells it all.
About “Speeding” (1991-95), “ Massa, Alex and Ken” (1999) and “ Dogs in a Still Life” (2000):
The theme of the dog, our beloved pet lost in our marvelous green spaces threatened by its excrements, has resulted in a series of sculptures.
Will humanity finally succeed in abandoning its insane project to appropriate the planet for its personal use and will it continue to lock itself within a uniformly controlled proximity? What will the little squatting dog do in an urban environment full of concrete cubes? Rabus, engaged in a delirious demonstration, turns into a sculptor to pay tribute to the dog.
His position outside of the peremptory tendencies allows him to favour the most humble emotional resources. The dog’s vulnerability (“ The Enchanted Hill”) reminds him of his own. Discoveries and wonderments are always possible. You only need to find the key. The explorations he proposes are not systematically somber. In his studio, in front of an emerging painting, he accepts the part played by chance, the first signs a new departure toward an imaginary and often ridiculous world. Heroes are a bit lost, doubting their power. The humanist without vanity is back in his place, in fraternity with his distant cousins, the primates (“Massa, Alex and Ken”). There is no harm in that : current scientific research proves him right.
But with what joy and delicacy these things are told. The urges for rebellion have not disappeared. The vitality of microcosms in constant metamorphoses feeds on derision again and again and still wheels about within a closely observed atmosphere of carnival. The paintings offer many refuges while inviting the spectator to follow his own path.
The return to water of the last works captivates by its iridescent vitality that makes you dream of Ali Baba’s treasure and of fireflies in flight. The painter’s minute and precise gestures leads to the scintillating fairyland of “Old Life Water”. A vision of Paradise where small angels frolic in the prism of colours. But you have to allow some time to chase them… at the risk of drowning in this broth of cultures and poetry.
Neuchâtel, August 30th, 2012
The one that does not yet exist
Confronted by art from the past and various tendencies (his and others’) the artist risks at every turn to lose himself in gesticulations and imitations of his idols…
With time and experience I think now that the desire to act and find one’s style should respond to two questions : “ What do you really want ? ” And : “ What will the painting you seek look like, the one not to be found in the museum or elsewhere, the one that does not yet exist ? ”… To follow the right path and find images that fit us it is necessary to observe what sets us fundamentally apart from those like us and then cultivate those “diseases,” those “anomalies,” water them, make them grow as one tends a garden. To participate in the world’s diversity by offering it our uniqueness is to fertilize it !
In everything I have tried to express, music and image are inseparable. May the colours, the lines and the shapes resonate ! May shadow and light be the low and high notes of an instrument ! However, my work as a painter is also motivated by an aesthetic affirmation : an ornamental and anti-minimalist jubilation stimulated by boredom ! That ennui caused by the limits imposed on the environment and our freedom of thought !
Praise for Impurity
“White on White” by Malevich was painted in 1918. Ten years before, in 1908, cubism had started to break up and fragment reality. That same year in Vienna the architect Adolf Loos solemnly declared : “ Ornament is a crime !” Unfortunately, at a time when the dream was of “ Tabula Rasa ” and “ Man Nouveau ” this ridiculous assertion did not make anyone laugh and Adolf’s pronouncement was taken very seriously since it was necessary to break away from the excesses of baroque, romantic and Art Nouveau styles in order to finally accede to pure lines and surfaces… Tabula Rasa ? As if by chance the First World War followed by the Second made room (as in Malevich’s painting) in no time. So, the playground of Loos’ admirers was cleared with the complicity of totalitarian regimes that, themselves also obsessed by purity, simplified ideas.
Throughout the twentieth century, following military, industrial, artistic and intellectual orders, the Man Nouveau is encouraged to strip the Earth of its old ornaments !
Today the future is not so brilliant but the exterminating reflex has become Pavlovian ! Who will finally stop and break the robot ?
“ Simplify to reach the essential ! ” This injunction, tirelessly repeated, has become a truth so much more seductive by its monastic connotation : renunciation, abandonment of anything superfluous… And what if, in our obstinacy to cleanse everything and anything, the essential was precisely what we remove with contempt ? … It is in the shadow of this doubt that I move softly, carrying within myself the impression of transgressing a human order applied carefully to all aspects of our lives ! The world placed in our trust could be so much more appetizing !
Tourists, those reactionaries who have not understood modernity at all, flee their standardized neighbourhoods. Forced like me to live in their own time they are the victims of an arranged marriage ! The tearful nostalgic polluters go and amass some rare still ornamented places (Venice, for example) ! … A reality both touching and grotesque that is the measure of the vertiginous gap between theories and facts. Whence this intimate conviction : a small voice, a whisper deep within myself that leads me to an instinctive refusal to submit. A savoury disobedience not to be confused with a rebellious attitude : an impasse wherein the artist finds himself most often trapped, labeled and immobilized.
In the studio, filled with music, the concept of time disappears (the sound pollution also). This is how I really manage to be at ease in my work as an anachronistic but happy painter in this twenty-first century ! … Eighteenth-century craftsmen spent an enormous amount of time coming up with a multitude of “ subtly ” useless, marvellously insignificant motifs ! … It is in this good company, in this atmosphere of meticulous yet powerfully stimulating absurdity that I like to wander, from raptures to vertigoes, guided by rigour, individualism, the exuberance of my Germanic and Italian origins buttressed by the demands of Helvetic precision !
Alex Rabus, Neuchâtel, January and December 2014