HERVÉ CONSTANT - FROM INSIDE OUT
The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure...you are above everything distressing. Baruch Spinoza
Some stories start at the beginning and wind their way to the end. Others start at the end and meander back through the past seeking their source. Then there are those that find their voice in the middle of the narrative, in the hustle and bustle of life...and these are the most interesting. Such is the story of Hervé Constant, narrated through words and images, both still and animated, filtered through personal experience laid bare at the altar of art, and inner freedom.
One could say it started with a pattern of footprints. Not unusual for a peripatetic artist like Constant, tossed by the winds and whims of fate from culture to culture, from security to despair, from hope to perseverance, forging in the process a path to creative expression both boundless and grounded. And yet the expectation of images brimming with the colours and heat of his native Morocco or exuding the heady intellectual and cultural atmosphere of Paris where he grew up, are dashed in front of canvases permeated with human emotion, suffering, and an incessant dialogue with one’s spirit and that of the universe.
Speaking about Constant’s art in such lofty terms does a kind of disservice in the face of the humility and honesty that imbues his every creative endeavour. Bringing us back to his series Traces, in which stylized forms of overlapping and jostling footprints seem to reach beyond the canvas taking both the creator and
the viewer on a visual, and ultimately personal journey.
Re-created recently, as it were, from an earlier series of works, they became stepping-stones to a new form of creative expression, and visual lexicon. And an unexpected link to the past.
Constant’s art is difficult to categorize, oscillating as it does between abstraction and the figurative, between story-telling and shape-shifting. His early works, drawings in charcoal on paper, like Family Nest and Posing, take the viewer on a monochromatic path down memory lane, where shadows speak from afar and antique dolls recall familiar faces.
Children Playing belongs to that same period, but here the symbolism reaches beyond the personal and into the dark world of artists like Goya. While honing
his skills in theatre and via literature and poetry, Constant opted for the visual arts to carry on his plastic exploration, yet the other disciplines are forever
present in everything he does, and that includes the world of music, which is integral to his creative process and accompanies each brushstroke.
From Soutine to Satie, the influences are present, but the message is pure Constant, unwavering in its visual expression, bold and tactile, rendered in a sombre palette with gestural strokes at once decisive and intuitive.
This is particularly visible in Constant’s abstract works, which nevertheless draw the viewer into a narrative, with spiritual connotations. In Behind, the vaulted doorway seems both physically impenetrable and beguiling. Like a newly discovered Egyptian tomb, it holds mystery and magic, while all the time denying entry.
But once the intrigue wears off, one is left with a formidable visual composition, of light trapped by two dark slabs, and an illuminated ceiling like a promise of denouement.
Constant is an artist engagé, deeply aware of his surroundings and their impact on his psyche and art. One of his most powerful pieces is titled Incarceration and echoes a video by the same name. Both are a silent cry on behalf of all those locked in prisons around the world, for crimes real and imagined, pacing as spring erupts outside their cells, and clouds throw shadows above them, staring, as in the painting, into impenetrable darkness.
The two works are profoundly disturbing and beautiful in the simplicity of their execution. The painting is truly a masterpiece, both in its visual, painterly splendour, as in its overwhelming, undeniable emotional component. The video, on the other hand, has a meditative, yet disquieting oppressive quality, its
visual beauty barely camouflaging the underlying horror of confinement.
Constant has a following of collectors and international galleries and is often asked to produce works for particular themes, or on commission, as in portraits.
One of his chefs-d’oeuvre is undeniably Flight of Icarus, massive oil on canvas produced for the Cercle des Officiers Mariniers in Toulon.
A magnificent, dancing composition bursting with colour and form, abstract yet instantly accessible, as if via some alchemy that is at the source of all art. In this highly stylized, detailed, yet free-flowing image, Constant seems to have combined his many skills, producing a work of art, one may dare say, for posterity.
Dorota Kozinska is an international writer, art critic and an independent curator, based in Montreal, Canada.