For his second exhibition at M. & T. de la Châtre gallery, News/Garden, Benjamin Hochart extends the series of Dodecaphonies (inaugurated in 2007) and reactivates the method that determines their production. As a reminder, the artist chooses “a number of tools (pencils, felt pens, inks, spray) for which he decides on an order of use, each of which must be used once before it can be used again; moreover, a particular gesture is assigned to each tool” . It is essential to go beyond this way of producing, recorded in the Répertoires, and richly commented on , to stop in front of the finished work and unfold its effects.
One could see in his large compositions a return of the French pictorial repressed, the one that the domination of American art since the fifties has obliterated: the new school of Paris (Wols, Hartung or Riopelle) and its American descendants (especially Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis or Mark Tobey). This art of expressive gestural energy and colourful composition has been eclipsed by Duchampian distance and calculation. But that would be too simple; it is clear that here the filling and saturation of surfaces are meticulously organised like marquetry or tapestry. Other avenues have been opened up between these two visions of art, too caricatured and dated in their antagonism.
We can no longer distinguish so clearly between the well-behaved irony that would rather think than look - art in Sunday clothes, we might say - and that other art, dishevelled or in charentaise, that cannot even speak. The stars of grunge now know how to wear a suit. We know how to deal with noise. The forms born of modernity have spread outside art, into popular culture (commercial or folk), which artists have in turn integrated. Moreover, Benjamin Hochart is not a painter, but a careful eye will be able to compare his work, his line and his gestures with an art of drawing that is both noble and uncluttered, the comic strip. Comics, cartoons, illustrated books, mangas, albums and fanzines have been a bath of freshness for artists like Dubuffet, Lichtenstein, Erró or Falhström. This universe allowed them to rethink (among other questions) the link between the pleasure of making and that of seeing.
In the first series of Dodecaphonies, spirals and volcanic efflorescences swarmed: crevasses, scum, clouds, tongues of fire, lightning, crystals, rain, sparks, radiation, all very dynamic meteorological, thermal and organic phenomena which, if they are imagined under the pencil of a comic book writer, must be reinvented visually, to tell a story or punctuate a page. In the new Dodecaphonies, foliage, feathers, wings, spirals, tentacles, corals, cells, fingers, tears infiltrate and appear more clearly in tones that are clearly acidic, tropical and radiant, aerial (and less telluric than in the past), closer to the Marquesas Islands, but after nuclear testing (or would it be even during it?)
These compulsive and extremely dense amalgams are more reminiscent of raw artists (such as Judith Scott, Augustin Lesage or Fleury-Joseph Crépin) or the bubbling of psychedelic noise music (such as Lightning Bolt and Brian Chippendale’s illustrations) or artists who play with the decorative (such as Atsuko Tanaka or Philip Taaffe). It is here the distinction with the expressionist painters of the 1950s is established, Benjamin Hochart practises cataloguing and the emergence of an autonomous and systematised language, of which Dubuffet’s Hourloupe is the matrix. He is as much into sampling and photoshopping (clipping, extracting, shifting, copying, variations) as he is into the invention of an extensive comic book box that the thick, graphic frames are meant to contain. A box where all the visual onomatopoeia, graphic outbursts, punctum, flashes and explosions that his retina has been able to memorise over the years would be printed: an exquisite corpse, but on its own. We thus lose the logic of the linear narrative to be in a total simultaneity and the hierarchical equality of all the elements.
The new series Threads (2013), created in duo with his partner, the dancer Marie-Charlotte Chevalier, seems to emerge and float in front of these tightly woven piles. Each thread stretched from floor to ceiling links different fragments of ceramic, glazed or not, which are the traces of gestures. Printed by four hands from a list of verbs derived from Rudolf Laban’s analysis of the factors of movement, they are linked in a vertical reading direction. Abstract sculptures, telegraphic sentences, recorded scores, these new climbing shoots emerge from the ground at the same time as these bits of earth rain from the sky. They underline the essential relationship of Benjamin Hochart’s work (drawn or not) with space and his particular relationship with the ground.
I like to think of this cartoonish situation, of Benjamin Hochart on his hands and knees on the pavements of New York, rubbing his A4 sheets of paper with graphite in order to preserve their imprint. I imagine him quite happy to come back with a backpack full of his findings at the ground level of the daisies, which he will then explore the material, the visual noise of the city, by enlarging these traces with a photocopier to A0 format for the Sols series (2012-2013).
His relationship with the textile and urban weave allows him to tighten the link between the top and the bottom, to mend the gap that constantly stretches between the ground, the dirty, the city and its cultural underground, its popular subculture, its adolescent withdrawal, its bad taste and the so-called high culture, those of paintings that fit on the wall. The artist uses procedures from comics, publishing and fine arts: the humble gesture of filling in and colouring, a systematised but capricious codification, paper but stretched on a frame, floating ceramics, magnified photocopies, a serial organisation of work as much as the handmade/do-it-yourself, a whole paradoxical personal mythology.
If we have to search for a link with the 1950s, we should look elsewhere: where cultural categories, under the impulse of American mass culture and its dissident movements, began to become watertight and blurred, when the avant-garde met comics and then punk. Benjamin Hochart grew up in this moment of stylistic contamination, like a sculpture by Tetsumi Kudo, similar to a mutant and bastard flower where the drawing of the comic strip has emancipated itself from the sheet and the album, where the line lives in space and in large format while remaining faithful to its energy and its imaginary reserve.
- “Le dessin par le milieu” by Johanna Carrier, in Benjamin Hochart, Ed. Adera, 2012
- See the interview of the artist by Joana Neves in the magazine Roven #3, 2010