SURFACE AND SYMBOL BY DAVID COHEN

January 11, 2015

Herve Constant is keenly aware of the gulf between the meaning of a sign and formal qualities such as its shape, colour, or scale, which get lost in the process of communication.

 

Herve Constant is keenly aware of the gulf between the meaning of a sign and formal qualities such as its shape, colour, or scale, which get lost in the process of communication. An early series of paintings of telephones explored the visual qualities of a familiar object we all use but rarely look at. For the last two and a half years he has adopted the nineteenth century symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud as both his subject and his muse. Rimbaud, of course, was hero of the Surrealists, but it is not this aspect which appeals to Constant, nor indeed the superficial coincidence that the poet travelled in Africa, Constant 's birthplace.

 

Despite Rimbaud's torrid, heavily laden style, Constant was attracted by his 'fresh, direct, colourful' use of language. The wild and tragic life of this ambiguous and complex figure also appealed to Constant at a time when he felt ready to explore 'existential' themes in his painting. He uses Rimbaud on various level, from pursuing actuals metaphors (flags, 'the drunken boat' ), to depicting memorabilia relating to the poet's life, such as the photograph of the poet as a young boy, the drawing of him in older age made by his sister, the bier he designed for his Arab chargers to carry him during his illness on expedition. This last image was the starting point of 'Box', where a diagramatic rectangle is placed within a simplified, flat composition of vibrant colour and textured surface. Constant listens to tapes of Rimbaud poems in the studio to generate an atmosphere, allowing the words and sounds of the poetry to detach themselves from their meanings and work rather like music, in the hope that this will emotionally charge the paintings. Symbols like the spiral, eyes, flags and so on shed their direct meaning of context and become agents of form. Even words, like 'J'ai vu', once depicted, almost cease to be words and become calligraphic form, like the writings around a mosque. Constant's art can be said to be about that imaginary moment when a 'signifier' joins its 'signified', that is to say when the arbitrary union takes place between acoustic sound and conventional association. 

David Cohen, Gallery Gammelstrand, Copenhagen 1991 

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