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Tracing the Wind by Dorota Kozinska

Tracing the Wind

What marks Hervé Constant's oeuvre is a remarkable generosity of spirit, and humility. Profoundly engaged in his work, he is at the same time highly in tune with his surroundings, exhibiting a particular ability to extract the essence of his subject matter, revealing in the process the unseen and the unknown. He is also deeply versed in literature and poetry, theatre and music, and all these disciplines find their way into his diverse artistic production.

Hervé has a particular penchant for the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), a romantic, tragic figure that, despite his short life, greatly influenced modern French literature and art. A restless, driven soul, his wanderings echo Hervé's own peripatetic past, moving from country to country, culture to culture. But how does one walk in the footsteps of a man called "l'homme aux semelles de vent" (man with the soles of wind)? Hervé does it through the alchemy of his art as manifested in this latest series of paintings titled Traces or Steps. An idea he has been playing with for some time, it began with a series of footsteps, painted in primary colours using the soles of shoes pressed onto paper. Drawn to another subject, he put these works aside for several years, until the day when a busy London underground station, with its tumult of people weaving and jostling, footsteps mingling and overlapping, brought them back to mind.

But what often happens with resurrected works of art is that in the meantime their visual lexicon changes, or more precisely, the artist's eye sees differently. Finding the images too straightforward, figurative, Hervé deconstructed them into entirely new, boldly abstract paintings bursting with colour and form. The images became more symbolic in nature, imbued with "a sense of solitude, an existential journey" to use the artist's words. And, "consciously or not", the works became homage to the man with soles of wind.

The paintings resemble a marbled landscape, islands seen from space perhaps, and each "footstep" a world onto itself, enticing the viewer to venture further, to explore as it were these unusual offerings. Seen as an ensemble they do indeed represent a journey, both visual and emotional, as the colours together with the oblique shapes dictate the mood. These footsteps are like postcards, with bits of the land attached to the soles, mementos of the past, both lived and walked.

Hervé is what one may call a painters' painter; his brushstrokes are decisive, the texture almost three-dimensional, and yet there is great sensitivity in the compositions, with intuitive visual pauses, but never hesitations.

The paintings are accompanied by three short videos, 8 minutes in total, introducing the viewer to a very different visual dimension. They are simply mesmerizing; beautiful and disturbing, with a profound underlying message, but one left for us to decipher, as their creator elegantly steps back.

The first, Wrapping and Unwrapping, is a variation on the Myth of Sisyphus, an endless struggle with fate and oneself. A man is seen slowly wrapping his head in dark cloth, as if erasing himself, his features slowly disappearing under the fabric. As we hold our breath, unconsciously in unison with the figure, he begins to unwrap the strands, and we draw air again... We live.

Incarceration is equally powerful in its message, showing a man pacing in his cell, while images of water, wind and clouds are superimposed over him. Back and forth he walks, the walls hold still, while the clouds roll above him, the wind plays with leafy branches, waves hit a shore somewhere outside his pathetic universe. This could be any man, anywhere, at this very moment, somewhere.

The last video, titled Hand Ballet, is the most stylized of the three, consisting of a series of hand gestures which at first glance hint at sign language, and it is in a sense, but the movements spell emotions rather than words. A visual puzzle, it possesses its own narrative, but again, its reading is left to the viewer.

Hervé Constant is truly an original creator. A multi-disciplinary artist, with a talent for mastering diverse mediums, never losing his unique touch, his profound dedication to the métier, and to the public.

Dorota Kozinska is an international writer and art critic based in Montréal, Canada.

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