Mirrors of Memory:
Meadows Museum, Dallas, 1990-1991
Photo Icons by Gilles Larrain
The Meadows Museum is pleased to offer this exhibition of new work by the artist Gilles Larrain. The exhibition continues our examination of contemporary art with distinctly Spanish influences and its relationship to the Algur H. Meadows Collection of Spanish Art, which forms the core of Meadows Museum.
The exhibition Mirrows of Memory: Photo Icons by Gilles Larrain represents at least the third twist in the artist’s career. After his academic training at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Larrain worked in city planning. His entree to the art world was in the 1960s as an environmental sculptor whose materials were air, smoke, light, water, and neon tubes. He next became known for his book IDOLS (1973), a collection of brightly colored dramatic photographs of transvestites. Then, after several years of traveling in what appeared to be one direction, documenting the very edge of society, Gilles suddently revived the social portrait, with straightforward soft, black and white portrait of friends, celebrities, artists, and professional models taken in his New York SoHo studio on Grand Street. A series of these portraits can be seen in the work title Windows of Opportunity.
Now, in another dramatic twist, Gilles is pluming the depths of his extensive archive of photographic images to create objects incorporating photographs, canvas, and paint, which he calls photo icons. These objects lie in the increasingly hazy ground between photography and painting. One essential difference between photography and paintings is the photographer’s reliance on the mechanical device of the camera as compared with painter’s hand-to-brush technique. Both rely on mechanical extensions to produce the work, the simple brush and extension of the hand, and the camera, increasingly complex, an extension of the eye. In Larrain’s icons these disciplines are merged in a single object.
There is an interesting, almost nineteenths-century romantic look about several of the photo icons in this exhibition. Adonis and the Seduction of Eloquence and The Uses of Enchantment, two early, related works in this series, have as their subject a dancer whose photographed image resembles the models in nineteenth-century anatomy studies. Taking their inspiration from classical subjects, both icons have a finished quality more antique than modern. In Leaves of Hypnos, a study of a monument in florida, the painted elements are very modern although the overall effect is antique, and Three Trees resembles early hand-painted photographs.
Taken over a period of time, generally in his studio, Larrain’s photographs are at the core if these new iconic works. As images and symbols of contemporary international community, the photographs are used here in a narrative fashion, to portray the emotions rather than the incidents of our society. Perhaps they may help us to regard all photographs not as mere documents of a time and place but as mediums for an emotional message from the artist.
Donald E. Knaub – Director