Hervé Constant’s transformative sensibility
Hervé Constant is a poetic painter – Like the poet in Baudelaire’s text, his images give form to fleeting and at times fragile things, unnoticed, perhaps in the ordinary performance of our lives. Waking up, organizing one’s day, travelling through the city, dealing with the hundred and one things that occupy us, interfacing with our fellow citizens, friends and family, tuned in to the broader geo-political events which form the background of our lives and over which we may have little control. Each of us comes to our own way of personalizing and navigating through our day. For some, perhaps, survival is already enough.
The sensibility of the poet/painter is attuned to these moments and fragilities, and from this awareness, is inspired to encapsulate a thought in form. A battered suitcase, mundane in almost every way, is nevertheless worthy of our attention. Let us stop and think about it – its myriad journeys, the service it has done its owner, obliged to pack up and transport only a handful of worldly possessions on some journey; a synechdoche for the larger home it encapsulates and displaces to some foreign place, a metaphor for the roving spirit of the poet and the transitoriness of life. Its mundanity permits it to stand in for everyman, whether refugee or holiday-maker, and embody their aspirations and anxieties at the journey ahead.
To an unfamiliar eye, the range of Constant’s work may appear baffling: portraits, Tarot cards, checker boards, videos of prisoners and hostages, paintings of kinetic sculptures by other artists, moving in the wind; the fleeting forms of wax candles as they burn, forming luminous caverns of light and shade; photographs of the artists’ hands enacting a ballet of interrelationship; Paintings of Japanese stone carvings of heads and paper prayer strips (Omikugi). But after brief exposure, their common threads lead us to overlapping themes and preoccupations. The notion of transformation emerges repeatedly – a form emerges from another, an idea gives rise to a further idea: one thing becomes something else, and of course, always an image. Throughout, it is the magical transformative power of the poet/artist which he is celebrating: to the ancient Greeks, a ‘poema’ was a ‘thing made’ – an artifact, constructed by skill and sensibility over time, using the material of language and the structures of grammar and scansion. In our own times, the painter Braque observed that when the poet writes, “The swallow knifes the sky,” he makes of the sweeping motion of the bird, a metaphor. So too, the painter: Brushstrokes, heavy and opaque, which never let us forget that they are made of paint and matter, stand in for and ‘become’ the agitated strips of paper at a Japanese shrine. The letters of an incantation, repeated systematically in paint, render the spell material, and determine, as they are determined by, the triangular shape of the canvas. The reiteration of pictorial forms echoes and metaphorises the verbal repetition of the spell, and the magic transformation (of word to image) is enacted before our eyes.
It is this poetic transformation which characterises Constant’s work, the search for which motivates the artist, and whose discovery uplifts us, the viewer, beyond banality.
Kenneth G. Hay, Larroque, 2017