A solo exhibition of Anne-Françoise Couloumy opened this week in Mayfair. A French artist often described as La Hopper Française, Couloumy is an extraordinary artist whose talent and achievement have been acknowledged through the appointment to the rank of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. It was a real honour to meet her last Tuesday in London.
The exhibition includes recent paintings exploring new or revisited themes: French landscapes, moody skies, the terraces of Fez and beds with folded sheets and blankets. We have selected our favourite ones representing interiors: a reception room, an artist’s studio and a Parisian flat. These are all empty spaces with no human representation but with traces of human presence. Couloumy explains that she is not seeking to represent a human figure but rather to suggest the involvement of a human presence before or after the depicted scene. What is important, she says, is what is not visible.
The party is over, and the reception room is empty. There is no longer any action, just a few remainders of a past event. Who attended this reception? Did they enjoy it? What did they leave behind apart from the empty glasses and plates and the dirty napkins? It looks as if the only witnesses are the paintings in the background. As we say in French, “Les murs ont des oreilles” – walls have ears. A window was probably opened to refresh the room after the party: light enters into the room and reflects against the painting on the wall, escaping from the back door.
French writer Eric Emmanuel Schmitt wrote: “Couloumy’s paintings are part of my most beautiful reading time.” Couloumy is not keen to give too many explanations regarding the story and symbols to be found in her work and she is perfectly right. Her paintings trigger so many questions and inspire so many stories that any attempt to impose a particular narrative to the viewer would reduce the mysterious and poetic effect of her work.
Couloumy masters the use of colour and light to create an enigmatic atmosphere. Here she uses a palette of warm colours based on browns and yellowish greens.
Both “La Lettre Pliée” and “Le Salon Vide” show the empty interior of a Parisian flat. The doors and windows are open, allowing light to enter the room. A mysterious letter is left behind as well as a few books. Do they belong to someone who is no longer there? Are they abandoned? Has the occupant of the flat moved from the premises temporarily or forever? As the viewers, we are brought inside these intimate spaces. No one is watching us.
Again, in “Coin d’Atelier à Montmartre”, there is no presence of the artist. None of the studios appearing in the artists’ recent paintings represent her studio. She says it is too intimate to share. This Montmartre studio looks clean and perfectly ordered – quite the opposite of Lucian Freud’s studio style for example. The geometric shapes of the superposed canvas create an interesting composition revealing a small corner of the entire studio.
The more you look at these paintings, the easier it is to imagine being part of the story. That is the mysterious attraction of Couloumy’s interiors.
The exhibition is on until 7 July 2012. It transfers to Wimbledon Gallery from 11 July to 10 August 2012 by appointment.
Cynthia Corbett Gallery
27 Cork street