Caroline Achaintre, FANTÔMAS, De La Warr Pavilion
In this exhibition Caroline Achaintre presents a new body of work developed during a joint residency between the De La Warr Pavilion and West Dean College, an arts and conservation college founded by British poet Edward James. During this residency Achaintre continued to explore properties of clay and wool, her primary and long-standing materials. The artists’ commitment to these mediums and her instinctive investigation of them creates a unique sensibility that emerges across her work: one which feels rigorous and utterly alive.
Like many of her previous exhibition titles, ‘Fantômas’ alludes to slippages between the imaginary and realism. In this instance, the title refers to a French criminal invented by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre made into a TV adaption in the 1960’s, where the protagonist’s face was seen behind a mask. Over the years, the image of masks has become an increasing preoccupation for the artist, enabling a alternative route through which to play with contesting notions of the carnal and carnivalesque, the sinister and the humourous.
References to masks find large-scale form in two tufted wool works which flank Fantomas’ interior. The allusion to the face-covering device is clear in 'Cape Count', which appears to hover on the gallery wall, watching over the series of ceramic sculptures. Achaintre's work with wool is informed by an intense and unrestrained approach she developed in painting small watercolours and a desire to reapply this process to space and scale. The resulting textile works recall anthropological relics from the past, fantastical animal kingdoms and creations from the future, possibly from a post-apocalyptic world, where Primitive and Expressionist tendencies collide. Created using boldly coloured wool, often in primary colours, these dominant textile pieces exude energy, which in the magnificent 'Barbette', is heightened by the loose strands which suggest a phoenix rising from the flames.
The act of viewing Achaintre's ceramic sculptures is to observe works made by the hand of an artist who utterly understands the expressive, pliable properties of the materials she uses and one who embraces the unpredictability inherent in the firing process. A close study of them is reminiscent of finding forms and faces in clouds. In addition to masks they bare shifting resemblances to helmets, handbags and characters which sit proudly on totemic, pastel-coloured posts. Their anthropomorphic qualities - charismatic, ominous and at times playful- are highlighted by their onomatopoeic and assertive titles; 'JimBo', 'Ssush', 'Dappler' and 'Schlapp'. Replete with personality, doubling or inverting sounds and text, these titles recall Dada’s absurd approach to language.
A similar form of manipulation is applied in the artist's combination of materials. Despite toughening the ceramics with the occasional use of leather, such as in 'No Bra', for the most part a malleable quality remains, signifying a moment of material change which has been frozen in time. Not that this necessarily suggests a final, static state: it would come as no surprise at all if a work or two slid off or slithered across the backgrounds on which they are perched or mounted.
The role of chance in the encounter between artist and material presents Achaintre with the opportunity to play with and subvert the expectation of the mediums she uses. It is the artist's phenomenal handling and managing of the unpredictability within her process which manifests as an impression of restlessness amongst the objects she creates, despite their composed, choreographed presentation. A nagging sense remains: that on re-entering the gallery, all that comprises ‘FANTÔMAS’ will have reformed, regrouped and redefined itself once the gallery lights have been dimmed.
FANTÔMAS continues until Sunday 29 April
De La Warr Pavilion, Marina, Bexhill-on-Sea TN40 1DP | www.dlwp.com
Images: from top and left - right;
- BeStroke, 2017, Ceramic, 41 x 23 x 9 cm
- Installation Views
- Cape Count, 2018, Hand-tufted wool, 244 x 290 cm